Your Child With Autism: Life as an Adult & Planning Ahead

The colors of my life as a young boy web

The Colors of My Life as a Young Boy   

Happy days are represented by yellow and green for the calm of doing nothing. Blue for the knowledge my mom gave me. Truly my mom gave me hope represented by white. Truly my mom was the first one who saved me from despair represented by little strokes of red. Greatly my life was mostly pleasant  represented by the color of nice light orange. Gold from above is helping. Greatly my life is better now. – words and painting by Jeremy Sicile-Kira

Thinking about when your child ages out of school services is pretty scary for most parents of teenagers with autism.  The reality is that parents can create a successful future for their child.  But it doesn’t just happen overnight – it’s about having a plan and using the IEP process.

If there is anything I’ve learned as a parent of a child with autism, it’s that you can’t just leave it up to the system – school or adult services –  to figure it out. You have to be involved.  It’s important for parents to realize that when your child ages out of school into adult services – your child ages out of mandated services. Under IDEA – the Individual with Disabilities in Education Act – all students are guaranteed a free and appropriate education.

When your teen or young  adult  either graduates from high school or ages out of school services (at age 22 in most states) – there is nothing guaranteed for your adult child.  Your adult child may be eligible for services, but that does not mean that he or she will receive services. It means they will be eligible to get on waiting lists.

This is why it’s important to  plan ahead and to use the  IEP system to get the goals and objectives on the student’s IEP to learn what they need to learn in order to be successful adults. There are life skills that  every person needs to learn to be able to get and keep a job, enjoy their free time,  live as an adult as independently as possible.   The ITP – Individualized Transition Plan  – exists to plan for the student’s hopes and dreams for their future as adults. Once the ITP is written, the IEP should have goals and objectives that reflect the ITP. Just like your child’s earlier school years, don’t accept the status quo in transition programs because ‘that’s what we do here’ if it doesn’t fit your child’s needs.

Every student is different, but  goals and objectives can be written for every type of person – every student’s ability. Everyone is able to learn – but educators and parents have to be cognizant of HOW that student learns best and WHAT motivates them. Do they have something they really like to do? What are their strengths? For some it is not as obvious. For example, Jeremy just liked to stim, mostly. He liked looking at colors and patterns on  book covers and on rugs. Then he liked learning, and writing when he learned how to communicate by typing – which was a long process.  Then he discovered painting – which he did not like as a child, probably because of the sensory aspects.  Turns out those patterns he liked, were really full of colors he was dreaming about at night. But we didn’t know that till he was 23 years old!

The point is, never give up on your child –  or teenager – or adult. Learning is forever. But it is only while your child is still eligible for  mandated school services under IDEA  that  he or she  will be guaranteed the educators  and supports needed to learn. But be cognizant that the school system can’t do everything.  What can you do that will help your child prepare for the future, or how can you support  your child’s educator  and classmates? For example, If your child has a certain interest, can find someone to mentor him in that after school? Is your child learning to do some chores? Can you find your teenager a volunteer job so he learns responsibility? Can you partner with other parents and support each other and possibly create some options together?

Obviously, this is easier in some cases that for others. We’ve had to spend a lot of time and energy over the years to create opportunities for Jeremy because of his sensory-motor challenges. Jobs or functional living skills that require a lot of fine motor skills are really challenging for him.  Meanwhile he has a productive life doing what he loves, while still working on those living skills he needs to learn. He has a great support team, and  has his independence, but we  are still involved in helping him create his adult life based on his wants and needs. And there is no way we could do it alone, or that any agency could do it alone. It does take a village!

My son Jeremy and I co-authored A Full Life with Autism  so that  parents and educators could learn more about the reality of adult services is, and to offer suggestions on how to best prepare a student with autism for real life. Model programs that parents and professionals have successfully created together are provided.  We hope the book  informs you, and inspires you to plan ahead using the IEP process and whatever else you can do. We also hope  it will inspire parents to get involved and  help create the future with other

like-minded parents and professionals. Together, we can make a difference and create the future.

Chantal Sicile-Kira is an author, speaker and consultant on autism, adolescence, transition services and the effects of autism on the family. Chantal can be reached here.  Feel free to leave comments below.

Full Life Book w Border

Transition to adulthood: Jeremy is moving into his own place!

Jeremy (a bit overwhelmed with so many people invading his space at the same time) and part of Team Jeremy.

Jeremy (a bit overwhelmed with so many people invading his space at the same time) and part of Team Jeremy.

Jeremy is moving into his own place. Months ago, when we found out that Jeremy  received the approval and supports (from the powers that be) to make Jeremy’s dream a reality, I enthusiastically stated in an AutismCollege blogpost that Jeremy and I would be blogging about the process of preparing for this major transition – in the hopes that some of the information would be useful to others.

As John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  Here it is, almost six months later, and we’ve had no time to write.  I’ve moved over fourteen times since I was a baby, so I’m no newbie when it comes to moving into a new home. But for Jeremy, moving meant more than just transferring to another living space. In the book, A Full Life with Autism, Jeremy and I described  some of the preparation that has been ongoing for years. Here’s what the last six months have entailed:

  • Learning to be more independent in certain home skills:  Learning physical tasks is challenging for Jeremy due to his visual processing and motor skills. Practicing in a familiar environment helps before transferring the skill to a new environment. We have to break down tasks into simple steps.
  • Learning what it means to be a good housemate: As soon as Jeremy knew that his dream was coming true of having his own place shared with another person; he wanted to know what it meant to be a good roommate. He asked a young man he knows at his volunteer job to have breakfast with him so he could ask him what to look for in a roommate, and how to be a good roommate. He had heard this man talk about his roommates, so he figured he might have advice. Then, Jeremy wrote some simple rules for himself to follow, ie “The first rule is that I need to do my dishes when I make food.”
  • Finding the right apartment in the right neighborhood: Jeremy has always wanted to live in the neighborhood he grew up in because everyone knows him. When he goes out shopping, or walking the dog or to the beach, people stop and talk to him. That’s important to him.
  • Finding the right housemate: Jeremy needed to find someone who would share the apartment with him (each have there own bedroom and bathroom). Jeremy needs 24 hour supports, and the apartment-mate would be responsible for being there most nights. LifeWorks (the company that was vendored to provide supports and supervision to make all this possible) found Jeremy’s housemate.
  • Finding the right staff: We are lucky in that we have wonderful support staff that have been with Jeremy for years, but we needed more people to fill all the hours on the schedule, and LifeWorks  found people that were a good addition to the existing Team Jeremy.
  • Staff training: Because of Jeremy’s communication challenges, training was and continues to be a high priority. New  ‘Team Jeremy’  members receive a certain amount of training so that they- and Jeremy -can feel comfortable and safe as they go about their day.
  • Preparing the apartment: Having the apartment as functional as possible for Jeremy helps him be more independent. Where everything is placed in the cupboards, how everything is organized is what makes him successful in completing tasks. Think about how someone with limited visual skills and limited motors skills needs to be able find and get what he needs for everyday life – that’s what Jeremy needs to be as independent as possible.
  • Having his sister Rebecca’s advice on his décor: Jeremy was very clear as to what he wanted in the apartment (very little) the colors he wanted (solid, no patterns and lots of green) and what he wanted to hang on the walls (a few paintings representing calmness, friendship, love). But he wanted his sister- whom he has helped move away to college and into different living situations there- to help him find the furniture needed in the living room and to help him with figuring out where to hang his chosen paintings and posters.
  • Earning the money to pay for his rent: Jeremy is responsible for his share of the rent, and he wants to earn money from his painting. Mom is helping with the marketing at the moment (anyone want a painting, prints or cards? Contact me!).

There is undoubtedly much more to add to this list, but this is a good start. At time of writing, September 1st is the official date for Jeremy’s full-time move to his apartment.  Just like Jeremy learning the skill of pointing to letters to communicate, being ready to move out away from his parents did not happen overnight. He has been preparing for this transition for many years (read A Full Life with Autism).  It’s a process, and it is still ongoing. There are sure to be bumps in the road, but that’s life. We feel grateful that wonderful Team Jeremy and LifeWorks are here to support him  as he takes the first steps of living his dream.

Love and Autism: A Conference with Heart

IMG_2050Months ago I posted here that Jeremy was preparing to move this summer and that we would be blogging about the preparation and transition. Well, as you all know, life is what happens when you are making plans. I’ve been swamped with work and so has Jeremy (painting orders keep arriving…) and the actual transition takes a lot of time and energy. Perhaps when he is actually moved out 100% I’ll have time to write about the experience to help others -people keep asking us to do so.

The most important aspect of life is the relationships we have with others – family, friends, lovers. A few years ago I wrote about Jeremy’s yearning for love in Autism & Modern Love . In our book A Full Life with Autism,  Jeremy and I shared our experiences in trying to help him in developing relationships or finding out more about sexuality. It wasn’t easy. It was hard to find resources then, and still today  rare is the opportunity  to help our loved ones on the spectrum prepare for this aspect of their life.

Love&Autism

Finally, there is a conference – Love and Autism: A Conference with Heart – taking place in San Diego on August 23rd and 24th that is all about having healthy relationships between family members, between couples, between friends.  No matter the age of your loved one, it’s an important topic to help with his or her emotional growth, necessary for all the different types of relationships possible.

I hope to see you there! Readers of this blog can get 20% off  registration at sign up by using the coupon code: LOVEASD. Student and Military 50% off if they email info@familyguidanceandtherapy.com, or event text (619)607-1230 a picture of their student or military ID. Regional Center clients can attend for FREE after Regional Center funding. Email info@familyguidanceandtherapy.com for links.

 

 

Transition Planning: At Times Funny, But Always Real

I cherish this flower

I cherish this flower

Recently I was invited to speak in Sarnia, Canada – which is across the border from Detroit.  The conference organized by the Jumpstart Lambton Kent Teen Transition committee was entitled “Clarity, Please!” and was about the transition to adulthood.  They launched a new website  which has lots of relevant information and will make it easier for families and teens with special needs to  find the help they need. As well, there is a partnership with Ability Online, a free monitored, supportive, online community for kids, teens and young adults of all abilities.

I love presenting at different conferences around the planet as it gives me the opportunity to hear the experiences of different families, organizations, and the young adults who are on a mission to create the life they dream of.  I presented on Autism Life Skills  and A Full Life with Autism – information that is valid for any person with a developmental disability.  At “Clarity Please!” There was a panel of young adults and their families who talked about their transition to adulthood and how that was going. Although all the stories were different, there were some traits that all the families shared. These were:

  • the parents were strong advocates
  • they raised their children to have good self esteem
  • they made connections in the community
  • they partnered with helpful agencies
  • the young adults had learned to be advocates for themselves
  • they encouraged their  young adult to work towards creating the life they dreamed of, even if it was different from what the parents had imagined for their adult child.
Karen Holland and David Schaller of Pathways Health Centre

Karen Holland and David Schaller of Pathways Health Centre

At each conference there are always some touching and funny moments. My most embarrassing moment at the conference was when I mistook  the mayor of Sarnia and a member of parliament (who were sitting at the presenter’s table with me) as upcoming members on the family panel. I thought it was funny when   Dave Schaller, Manager of Family and Community Services at Pathways Health Centre for Children recapped the day saying my talk was “at times funny but always real.” That’s how I feel about trying to access services for my son, Jeremy!

The most touching moment for me was at the end of the day.  A father walked over and gave me a flower –  fashioned from pipe cleaners that had been placed on each table along with other fidget items. “Here,” he said “My son made this for you.”  Instances like this make the traveling to share information all worthwhile.

Community Connections : Life’s a Beach

Jeremy putting the cones out

Jeremy has always loved the beach. Since moving to San Diego when the kids were little, the ocean has played an important part in our lives. Recently, Jeremy had some time free up on his schedule and wanted a way to give back to our local community that involved his love of the ocean. Beach clean-up days seemed like an obvious first choice, but those days were sporadic and by the time we heard about them, it was too late to change plans we had already made.

Then, I ran into the head lifeguard that we had gotten to know over the years. As a mom on the beach when Jeremy and Rebecca were little, I would park our stuff in front of the lifeguard tower. Jeremy was enthusiastic about swimming and I was not always sure that I or a helper could always keep him close to shore. As a child on the autism spectrum, safety was not one of his strong points.

The head lifeguard mentioned how he saw Jeremy out walking the beach a few times a week (with another adult). I asked if there was anything Jeremy could to help the lifeguards as Jeremy was looking for ways to give back. When he replied, “Well, I don’t know much about Jeremy, what can he do?,” I replied “I don’t know much about the lifeguard station, what do you need?” The Head lifeguard gave me his business card and told me to call him so we could discuss the possibility further.

We met up and talked and the head lifeguard said they needed help setting up for the day and cleaning the safety patrol pick-up trucks. It was decided that Jeremy would start one morning a week. Jeremy was thrilled. He loves helping and interacting with the lifeguard, Johnnie, who works there. Then Jeremy gets to go for his walk on the beach, and finally get some fries at the restaurant on the beach where he is already a known regular.

Jeremy washing the patrol truck

Not only is Jeremy giving back and interacting with some more people, he is also having to learn new  motor skills. As you can well imagine, he is more motivated to wash the safety patrol pickup, than he is to wash the family car.

Giving back by volunteering in a treasured environment, or at a task a person likes to do is a great way to create connections.  And community connections are an important part of every day life.

Jeremy diggin a hole with some assistance

Resources on Autism and Puberty, Hygiene, Sexuality, Bullying, Abuse

In early October I was invited by the Family Resource Network in Oneonta, New York to present for six hours  on  A Full Life with Autism: Preparing for the Real World.  It was a pleasure to meet everyone there and I promised to post some resources here in regards to puberty, hygiene and sexuality. I have added a few in regards to bullying and abuse as well.

For those unfamiliar with my book on adolescence, there are many resources listed in it on a variety of topics. You might find it useful as a general guide: Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum: A Parent’s Guide to the Cognitive, Social, Physical, And Transition Needs of Teenagers With Autism Spectrum Disorders (Penguin).

Please read descriptions of the following books on-line so you can decide which of the books would be appropriate for your tween, teen or students.

  • Autism – Asperger’s and Sexuality:  Puberty and  Beyond, by Jerry and Mary Newport
  • A 5 Is Against the Law! Social Boundaries: Straight Up! An honest guide for teens and young adults
  • Taking Care of Myself  – A Hygiene, Puberty and Personal Curriculum for Young People with Autism by Mary Wrobel
  • The Girl’s Guide to Growing Up
  • The Guide to Dating for teenagers with Asperger Syndrome
  • Intimate Relationships and Sexual Health

 

Here are some resources in regards to bullying and abuse:

Hope you find these resources useful!

 

Life with Autism: Mighty is the Fear

Two caregivers were arrested this past week in Valley Center (near San Diego, CA) for allegedly abusing a severely autistic non-verbal young man in his home. They had been in the family’s employ for over two years and were caught on videotape over a three week period.

This is a parent’s worst nightmare come true; and if it’s a nightmare for the parent imagine what it is like for the victim.

According to reports in the media, the mother, Kim Oakley,  saw changes in her son, Jamey, indicating he appeared to be unhappy on the days following the men’s shifts. Kim also realized Jamey was trying to communicate something to her. When she questioned the caregivers, “They blamed everything on his severe autism,” according to newspaper reports. Kim set up a surveillance camera after noticing that the wires to a baby monitor had been cut. Videos shot over a three week period led to the arrests.

My heart goes out to Kim and Jamey and the rest of the family. Unfortunately their story is not unique and it highlights the difficulties of all families requiring caregivers and support staff for their severely autistic loved one.

How often do we hear about a non-verbal person that “his behavior is due to his autism”? Bull! All behavior is communication and Kim, like most moms and dads, know this. Watch “Autistic Cases ‘Autism Experts’ Run From”    that Kim Oakley posted on YouTube. Jamey’s behaviors  in this video were particularly bad because he had a Urinary Tract infection and once it was diagnosed and treated, he was better. But is took five days to get it taken care of.

Recently my autistic son Jeremy was in so much pain that he became hyper and aggressive and kept trying to take showers as if that would help. Nothing could calm him down. We had never seen anything like it before. He was uncontrollable. We were lucky he could type and tell us he was in pain. But it also took five days to figure out why he was in pain, and a week to be able to do anything about it. Turns out is was due to a change in the generic brand of his medication for epilepsy – we were not warned that any changes in the brand could cause such reactions. You can read Jeremy’s comments about his experience here.

To top it off, the lack of understanding and caring from some of the people at the pharmacies we had to deal with was appalling. Seeing your child suffer and not being able to do anything about it is excruciating, and when those supposedly there to help are not treating the situation with the urgency it warrants is unbelievable. As parents, we try to remain calm and act ‘normal’ and polite so we won’t be taken for one of those ‘crazy  parents’.  We are not crazy.  But we have no patience for not being taken seriously and being dependent on people who just don’t get it. Believe us when we tell you our child is in pain and we need help NOW.

When you have a non-verbal child or a child dependent on caretakers, there is always the risk of abuse, and not just at home. The same risk exists in residential facilities, community living options and even in day programs, camps and community activities. To this day, my son Jeremy suffers PTSD due an abuse that occurred outside the home years ago. He still refuses  to participate in any activities that are not inclusive, that are intended for developmentally disabled participants. As he puts it, “They are grouping the victims.”

Although Jeremy received therapy with some help from the California Victim Compensation Program, he continues to have panic attacks which impact his ability to participate in all that he would like to do outside the home. Recently he had flashbacks and he would flail out and hit whomever was standing close, ‘seeing’ his aggressor. This adds another dimension to hiring and training staff.  As well, it leaves  Jeremy feeling terrible about his outbursts. Dealing with PTSD has become  important to him and recently he completed a painting about his PTSD entitled “Mighty is the Fear.”

Even without thinking about abuse, finding people who understand the importance they have to a person’s quality of life  and the willingness to make the commitment is not always easy when someone requires 24 hour supports. Recently, one person who was hired and trained as a support person and communication partner for Jeremy decided to extend their vacation from two weeks to four weeks, meaning the person would not be around to support Jeremy at either his college class or after school doing his homework at the beginning of the school year as  expected.  This was a big blow to Jeremy and to his ability to attend college successfully.

Most of our experiences with support staff, service providers, medical professionals and others have been extremely positive. Usually I focus on writing about  positive  experiences and strategies, but hearing  about Kim, Jamie and their family’s experience with the two caregivers hit a nerve and I couldn’t stay quiet.  I feel terrible for the family.  Stay strong, Kim!

Trying to learn from all our experiences and focusing on the positive relationships we have forged over the years due to Jeremy’s need for supports is how we continue to survive and thrive.  As Jeremy put it in A Full Life with Autism (Macmillan 2012), “I learned there were really bad people who could do things to your body, but I learned that you don’t have to let them in your soul.

Ain’t that the truth!

 

A Full Life with Autism at ASA

Jeremy and I are looking forward to co-presenting at the Autism Society of America’s  national conference this week in San Diego, our hometown! We’ll be talking about:  A Full Life with Autism: A Mother-Son Journey about Transitioning to Adulthood. 

Here is the description: Jeremy and Chantal explain each from their own perspective why the transition out of school district services is difficult and how parents can prepare themselves and their young adult for this life change. They share information they learned while researching to write A Full Life With Autism (Macmillan 2012). Practical advice includes how to assist the young adult in creating a self-determined life; how to create a circle of supports to help the person reach his/her goals over a lifetime.

Future Horizons will be selling our book, A Full Life with Autism, at their booth. Please stop by to say hello!

Why We do What We Do

Some days I wonder why I do what I do, and  at times Jeremy wonders if all the time and energy it takes him to write is worth it. So we are always happy to receive emails like the one below, from a dad, who is referring to our book A Full life with Autism.

“I am the parent of a 34 year old woman with high functioning autism.  I have started to read a number of books on ASD over the years and usually stopped – feeling overwhelmed @ about page 30.  But my daughter has sat alone in her room long enough.  Thanks particularly to Jeremy’s comments in the book and Chantal’s understanding and good explanation – I think we can do this.  I am buying the book for self and two adult siblings so we as a family as well as our daughter can begin to understand some steps to finally stop our avoidance and begin to develop a life of independence and quality for her.  THANK YOU!”