The Program Creating a Community for those with Autism

Community Resource: Autism Personal Coach

Having a community is one of the most important aspects of life because it creates a sense of belonging and support in your environment. The coaches at Autism Personal Coach are developing and providing a community for individuals with autism in the Cleveland area. 

The founder of Autism Personal Coach, Doug Blecher, started the business five years ago because he saw a lack of continuous support for the autistic community. He previously facilitated a support group for those with Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism, where they would meet each month and come up with strategies for the members. However, the next month people would come back without improvement from the month prior. Doug thought, “If I could just work with some of these individuals away from the group, then we could make some progress.”

Helping Others Achieve Their Full Potential

Doug founded Autism Personal Coach to give people with autism every chance to achieve their potential. The coaches meet with individuals once a week and discuss goals, what’s working and what isn’t working. The coaches teach their clients skills and will go to the environment where they will use that skill, whether it is at work or in the community to get involved or develop friendships. Additionally, the organization saw that many individuals were isolated and started hosting social events and groups in the community. These include: monthly adult support groups, dinners, board game nights, volunteer opportunities, and now a mindfulness group to reduce anxiety.

Many times those with autism come to Autism Personal Coach hoping to find employment in the community. Doug advises business owners to simply be open to having employment conversations with these individuals. Even if there isn’t a job available, businesses could even provide a volunteer opportunity a few hours a week. Getting their foot in the door is really hard. “It just takes one person,” says Doug. It’s beneficial for them to have “the opportunity to volunteer somewhere to get experience, and even have that reference from.”

Autism Personal Coach is located in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. In Cleveland, there are around 40 clients to five coaches. There are an additional 50 to 100 individuals who attend the social events held each month. 

Support Systems

What many people don’t realize is that when you first meet someone with autism, you may not even realize they are autistic. An important thing to remember is not to assume the worst about the individual. They process information differently and may not pick up on body language. Be patient and give as much visual support as possible to help explain what you are trying to communicate.

Doug leaves off with a piece of advice for individuals with autism and their families. The most important thing for families is “finding support and knowing you don’t have to do this alone.” Autism Personal Coach is one of those support systems. “Individuals with autism need a coach,” and they can find that right here in Cleveland.

Tackling Phone Anxiety

Have you ever made a phone call to schedule an appointment and the person answers and asks, “how may I help you…” and then you freeze. So much is happening there, right? You have to give an explanation of why you’re calling, you have to summarize for this gatekeeper to  schedule, and you have no idea what that person will then ask you next! Individuals with Autism are often very detail oriented, so summarizing a need briefly is a challenge in and of itself. Just breaking out the essential bits of information can be so overwhelming that people often give up and just don’t make the calls.

If using the phone is a hindrance to you setting up resources you need to take care of yourself, you’re in luck. At Autism Personal Coach, many of our clients struggle with using the telephone. Over the years, we’ve developed some strategies to help. Here are just a few tips to tackle the telephone.

Lots to Process

Conversations involve rapid processing of information from the other person, making quick decisions on the spot, and then having to form a response. Many individuals with Autism struggle with this process, and so talking on the phone is a challenge. In addition, many people with Autism struggle with their working memory so the information they were able to process could be forgotten. Can you imagine having to make a decision when you forget important information relating to that decision? It’s not easy! When talking in person, at least you can be given some visual support to help with this process.

No Script

In previous blog posts we’ve talked about how not knowing the expectations can cause anxiety for individuals with Autism. This always pops up when talking on the phone. Someone may be asked questions they didn’t think they would be asked and aren’t prepared to answer. This causes the telephone experience to be stressful. Even if a person with ASD imagines a script of how the phone conversation might go, as soon as the actual conversation deviates from the script, that person might not know what to say or do.

So given all this context, what can someone do if using the telephone gives them the sweats?

Find What Works

When you call for an appointment, the secretary (or whoever else may answer) will often suggest an appointment day/time. Many times, people with ASD just take the first appointment that they are offered. Sometimes they may not be aware that they can say no thank you and either suggest another day/time or request another appointment time. Other times it may be just really hard for them to say no and advocate for themselves. So, before calling to make an appointment, try mapping out your schedule. Are there days that never work for you? Times that are always good? It helps to make a list of general time windows, such as “Thursday evenings work well for me,” or “Mondays after 1pm are never a good fit.”

We recommend listing three or four days and blocks of time on those days and writing those down. Have your calendar ready to go when you make your call, whether that’s a paper calendar or your electronic calendar.

Practice!

Due to the challenges we have discussed, many times individuals with Autism shy away from phone calls and as a result don’t get better at the skill of making appointments. If one prepares for a phone call prior to making it then the call will be less stressful. As a bonus, we promise that this skill becomes easier with time and practice.

So, before practice comes preparation. It’s helpful to determine what questions you think the person will ask. Might they ask about your symptoms over the phone? Is this an urgent need or a general appointment need? Try to map out what you think they might ask. If you aren’t sure, you can ask a friend (or your coach!). Write down the answers to these questions so you have them ready–keep it short and simple. No more than a sentence or two for each question. For instance, you can say something like “I think I need to discuss medication changes” or “I’ve had a digestive concern lately,” but you don’t need to go into detail with the admin scheduling the appointment.

Don’t forget to prepare your list of days and times that work well for you, as well as days and times you know are not good for an appointment! You still might get questions you aren’t prepared for, but this will decrease the possibility of that happening.

Get the Logistics

If you’re calling for an appointment somewhere you haven’t been before, the logistics of getting to the appointment itself can feel overwhelming! While you’re making your visual aid for your phone call, don’t forget to include questions about the logistics of the appointment. Is there anything you’ll need to know about parking? About finding the office? Is it tricky to get inside the building? Make sure to ask for details you might need about bringing a service animal or finding an accessible entrance or any other needs you have. Sometimes offices mail out intake packets that include these instructions. In some instances, you can request that they send this information to you via email.

Phone a Friend

Before you call the actual office for an appointment, it’s a great idea to have someone you trust go through all the steps with you. Our coaches help clients prepare for important phone calls and sit with clients while they make the call to support them until they feel confident enough making calls on their own. Having someone there when you are making the phone call can really help reduce your anxiety because if you are starting to struggle, you know they are there to help you through the process and make sure the call ends up being a success and the appointment is made.

Be Ready for a Call Back

Some offices require you to leave a voicemail and they call you back to schedule the actual appointment. This is a common practice with psychologists or talk therapists, for example. If you know in advance that you’ll be leaving a voicemail, you can prepare a script of what to say–your name, the general reason you’re calling, and the best phone number to reach you. Some providers will correspond via email for scheduling appointments, so go ahead and leave your email address just in case this method works for your care provider!

Leaving voicemails gets tricky because when the office calls back, it can catch you off guard! If you’ve left a voicemail for a care provider, make sure you keep your visual preparation sheet and a pen/pencil handy for when they call back. Your friend (or Autism coach) can also help you prepare for a call back to schedule an appointment. You can practice finding a quiet space to take the call and practice statements like, “Can you please hold on while I move somewhere quiet?”

 

Shopping during the holidays

 

 

 

Most of us probably get overwhelmed when shopping for the holidays in December. There is so much to buy and the whole experience is filled with music and lights and the overwhelming smells of those cinnamon brooms that seem to spill out of every store. As you can imagine, this entire process is much, much more difficult for people on the Autism spectrum. December is one of our busiest times at Autism Personal Coach. We wanted to share some of the insights our coaches have gleaned from supporting our clients as they navigate the retail world during this time of year.

 

 

Making Decisions? Start with a Budget

There are so many choices to make during the holidays. What presents to buy your family members? Where to buy them? How much to spend? When to go shopping so you get all of your shopping done in time for the holidays? When starting to make these decisions many individuals with Autism tend to be very sensitive. These individuals care very much about their loved ones and tend to want to buy gifts that are well beyond their means. That is why it is important to develop a holiday budget before making these spending decisions.

Backwards Planning

Once a budget is in place, it’s time to make a shopping plan. When we discuss planning to go shopping we are referring to backwards planning. So many times, individuals with Autism struggle with working memory and as a result struggle to determine how long it takes to get a task completed. Therefore, what ends up happening is they will do shopping “last minute”–and you know what happens in that scenario, right? Stores are out of targeted items. Lines are longer. Last minute can mean disaster!

Therefore, sitting down with an individual with Autism and planning to go shopping is very important. Once that has been done its time to go shopping! Unfortunately, the decision-making process doesn’t stop at this point. Our society has more and more “stuff” and that equates to more choices either in the store or online. Make sure your loved one understands that there will be more choices to make once they begin shopping!

Generalizing Skills

Individuals with Autism in many cases struggle to generalize skills, meaning learning a skill in one environment and transferring that skill to another environment. Think about someone learning to successfully shop at Target, then going to Kohl’s when they haven’t shopped there before. There will be different products at Target compared to Kohl’s, there will be different decisions to be made, the transportation route will be different, as well as different sensory stimuli. If an adult with Autism isn’t somewhat comfortable and confident in going to that store, the holiday season is not the time to do it. Practice those skills in that store during the rest of the year to help make holiday shopping more successful.

Transportation

Transportation is challenging for those that do or don’t drive. If you don’t drive you have to figure out transportation, which involves planning once again, a skill many individuals with Autism find challenging. The planning either involves taking public transportation or getting a family member/friend to take you to the store. If you are driving, this time of year it can be oh so stressful because there will be more cars on the road and as a result it will take longer to go to and return from shopping. And, of course, the parking lot can be a nightmare. In many cases this is not thought about prior to shopping and can be very frustrating and add further stress.  When preparing to shop for the holidays, it’s important to discuss transportation and the increased stressors that will pop up for this part of the process.

Sensory Overload

If you have sensory hypersensitivities, then shopping during the holiday season may very well not be the most enjoyable experience. Stores are more crowded, which translates to more noise (even apart from the ringing bells from the charity workers!). The crowds mean more smells, the stores are decorated with scented candles, and individuals on the Autism spectrum are often extremely sensitive to fragrances like this. And, of course, the twinkling holiday lights everywhere can be overwhelming.

While some stores in recent years, like Toys R Us and Target, have offered a sensory friendly shopping day during the holiday season, this is much more the exception than the rule. There really isn’t much that can be done. Some things that individuals with Autism have done that have helped them include: shopping during off hours (not many of those during the holiday season), wearing noise cancelling headphones, bring fidgets or scents they like to help reduce their anxiety, or bring someone they trust who can help them identify if they are having sensory overload so they can take a break. If none of those suggestions help the adult with Autism, it may be time to go the online shopping route.

Communication

Communication is a consistent source of anxiety for adults with Autism and it is no different when it comes to holiday shopping. It’s important to talk with someone the person trusts (Autism coach, family member, or friend) to develop a plan to tackle the holiday shopping challenges. These challenges include speaking with store personnel. Individuals on the Autism spectrum might want to practice asking if an item is in stock, asking for directions to find something in the store, or other interactions that are likely to arise during shopping.

Hopefully some of these insights can help improve the experience of gift giving for you or a loved one on the Autism spectrum. Autism Personal Coach wishes everyone a very happy holiday season. We hope you’ll reach out if we can help you make this the best holiday season yet!

Making Holidays More Enjoyable: Some Tips to Ease Anxiety 

If your family includes an Autistic person, you probably have noticed that the Holiday Season can be fraught and challenging. There is so much change, so many lights, so many people…this time of year can be extremely overwhelming for Autistic people! Here are some strategies we have found to help our clients make holidays more enjoyable.
Outline Expectations
Individuals with Autism struggle with change because they don’t know what to expect in new or unfamiliar situations. They experience an increase in unanswered questions in their minds, which increases their anxiety. Suddenly, they don’t know what their day will look like, who will be coming to their home, or even what they might talk to those people about. They might be concerned with getting time to themselves (which is often crucial for them to calm down and process even an ordinary day).
To help ease these concerns, it’s important to outline expectations for the holidays. Talk to your relative about how the holidays might look and ask them what potential questions they have about their schedule, the guest list, etc. We all know that as a general rule, people with Autism struggle to communicate their feelings, initiate conversations, or plan ahead. Giving lots of advance notice with this conversation can be helpful so they have time to process and ask you questions in advance.
It can be very helpful to write down the schedule and any other pertinent information so your loved one can revisit the agenda and reduce anxiety. What might seem like a fun gift exchange to a neurotypical person could be a nest of unanticipated social interactions for someone with Autism. Having a schedule and information written down in advance will reduce anxiety. For example, if your family will be exchanging gifts, make sure to write down the rules or traditions (who opens first? At what point do people unwrap—should everyone wait until each person has a gift?). Sometimes it can be useful to reassure your loved one that they will be receiving a gift and then review expectations for what to say in response to the gift giver.
Be Visual
The schedule can include pictures, emojis, images of guests, etc. Whatever resonates best with the individual! We have found that a holiday photo album including pictures of relatives or guests who might attend an event can be very helpful for our clients in preparing for the holidays. A very successful strategy for some of our clients has been to include information beneath the picture so our client can study each person’s likes, dislikes, or even help to remember important things about that person. Having the photo book on hand as a resource can help ease anxiety before or even during a party. While it might seem like “common knowledge” that Aunt Dana has 2 kids away at college, an individual with Autism might appreciate that reminder when their mind is already racing during a social function.
Schedule in Down Time
Make sure to include down time to help individuals with Autism recharge and process holiday functions. Some people can flit back and forth between multiple parties each day, but individuals with Autism might really struggle to change gears. Less is more for many people with Autism. While they might be able to enjoy one holiday event and remember it fondly, trying to squeeze in another without giving some down time could be a recipe for sensory overload or even a meltdown.
A Feast of the Senses
The months of November and December can pack a huge sensory punch for those with Autism. Between the new food smells, the twinkle lights, and the cinnamon brooms at the entrance to the grocery store, it can be hard to navigate a regular day, let alone one with a special function!
Personal space is a very big deal to an Autistic person. They may feel overwhelmed when people are too close on an ordinary day, and we well know that people like to give hugs at holidays. Not to mention, sometimes a family gathering means tight quarters and overflowing living rooms. It can be very helpful to plan a break from activities for an individual with Autism. Taking a break in a quiet, defined space within the house would be ideal, but if that’s not possible, even taking a brief walk or just standing outside for 5-10 minutes at a time can really reduce anxiety.
Touch is another big sensory challenge during the holidays. We get it—you haven’t seen your friends or relatives in months and you want to embrace them, pat their arm, or give a handshake. Many people with Autism fear this because they very much dislike this type of touch, especially when initiated by others. We recommend taking with your loved one before an event to see how they feel about touch. From there, talk to other family members to see if they are willing to adjust their behavior to comply with your loved one’s needs. In the event of a rogue hug, it can be a good idea to rehearse some phrases your loved one with Autism might say to discourage such touch without ruffling feathers.
The winter holidays are often very noisy, with more people than usual inside spaces, competing conversations, and background music. This can be overwhelming for individuals with Autism because they often struggle to know which sounds to focus on. They hear 3 or 4 conversations happening at once and have a hard time focusing on the one they are currently engaged in. Taking breaks and putting on noise canceling headphones can help. We have had some clients wear ear buds and listen to music during parties to signal to others that they need a break from conversation.
And, of course, more people in the house means more smells. Many individuals with Autism are very sensitive to smell and certain smells really affect them negatively. Which smells are those? Having a conversation with your loved one in advance can be helpful. In addition, knowing which smells that they do like and find relaxing can be helpful. You can try to have these calming scents on hand during the holidays to help combat the negative smells!
Communication
It is commonly known that individuals with Autism struggle to communicate in some form or fashion. The holiday season brings more people together, and that means more communication. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is a source of anxiety for many people with Autism! One communication challenge this time of year is that everyone seems to ask questions, sometimes lots of them. Individuals with Autism might not feel prepared for these questions and, as a result, struggle to answer because they may need more time to process than a typical person. One of our clients explained that, “I hate answering questions I’m not prepared for because it’s not part of my script. When i have to go away from my script, my anxiety gets greater and greater and greater.” Does that sound familiar for your loved one?
Just this question factor alone will send anxiety and risk of meltdown soaring during the holiday season. We suggest just being careful of the reactions your loved one is having. If you see this person becoming agitated, it might be time to back off the questions, take a break, or move to the calming space you and your loved one planned out before the event. Prior to a party, you can help prepare your loved one for some questions they might be asked during the holidays. Having a list of questions and a few days to practice the answers can go a long way in easing anxiety!
We know all this pre-planning sounds like a lot of work…because it is. And as hard as you might work to prepare your loved one to have fun at an event, that individual with Autism is working hard every second just to process all the changes to their environment, routine, and comfort zone. 
 
If you think you’d like some help preparing your loved one for family gatherings this winter, why not give us a call? Our coaches are available to help your family come up with a plan, create visual aids, and find a calm-down space!

APC Stories #5

Our Autism Personal Coaches have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Mikayla Butler comes to us from a lifetime spent working with individuals with special needs. From her part-time jobs in college to her work with the special education department in a public school system, Mikayla has worked with families in clinical, educational, and home/community settings her entire career. She says, “Coaching embodies all the experiences I had in the past into one job.”

Mikayla knows there is a real need for APC’s services. Over the past 11 years, she’s seen the scary cliff when clients age out of services (in Ohio, this often happens at age 22). She says, “Whether people are in public schools, a private, or clinical setting, there are no more services offered and information is hard to find. It’s up to parents to figure it all out, and that leaves people vulnerable to being ‘stuck.'”

APC offers resources, support, and motivation to keep moving. Mikayla says, “we do it all with our clients: job coaching, support, connect clients with peers. We don’t just come into your home and hand you a report about what you should be doing. We go with you through the steps, teaching and implementing skills that will benefit individuals and families for a lifetime.”

Mikayla uses active listening with her clients, connecting details and offering positive feedback to seize opportunities for change. She also loves to use visual aides and templates as starting points. She says, “The problem solving template has been a great tool with lots of clients. It has allowed them to self report, take control of their problems, and find solutions on their own.” Mikayla is always there to guide clients, but revels in the sense of accomplishment they feel with self-discovery.

Clients and colleagues tease Mikayla about her go-to icebreaker: a game of Monopoly Deal, but she says the game is “a fun way to talk, break the bread, and form that coaching relationship. Plus it’s a really fun game!” Establishing trust is crucial, because it helps coaches understand underlying reasons behind behaviors that might be inhibiting change.

One of Mikayla’s favorite success stories comes from a client who was slow to make progress at first. He was in college and hesitant to allow Mikayla to be part of his home life, school life, or social life. Mikayla wanted to tap into his social sphere but he was not interested. She says, “I respect someone’s wishes, but I also know that it is hard to make an informed decision if you do not have all the experiences and knowledge available.”

Because the client was struggling to make friends, Mikayla waited patiently until they met someone who would be a good match for him both personality and interest-wise. Mikayla gently suggested the 3 of them meet together in the community, and then at the client’s home. They continued meeting as a trio and she says, “Once I felt confident they did not need me there to facilitate, I suggested they meet alone.” In the months since, the client and his new friend have been getting together consistently, and Mikayla offers support, such as creating a conversation jar to help make sure the pair is making connections without her there. “Both of them have reported to me that their time together is something they enjoy and want to continue.”

Mikayla remembers their first meeting when she asked him if he ever thought he would have a friend. The client said, “No, and I don’t care. I don’t need anyone.” Today, this client texts his new friend, drives to his house, and even invites him to family cookouts.

Are you or a loved one struggling to make friends or strengthen your social connections? APC can help! Contact us today to get paired with a coach.

APC Stories #4

Research has shown that adults on the autism spectrum are far more likely than their neuro-typical peers to live at home with their parents. Cleveland clients Ruth and Valerie have been working with Autism Personal Coach to build Valerie’s skills so that she can beat this statistic and live independently. In today’s blog post, we talk to Ruth about her work with APC to learn more about how we approach this type of goal for our clients.

One part of APC’s coaching has been helping the family shift responsibilities a bit. As many parents of an autistic child can relate, Ruth had gotten into a habit of having to be in charge of…everything. For years, Ruth had to coordinate therapies, manage phone calls from school, attend IEP meetings… it can be very challenging to step back from that role and allow an autistic young adult to find her legs and stand.

Ruth says, “It helped our family a lot when I realized that my relationship to my child was not growing into a health adult relationship. I had gotten used to being the one who fixes everything. Valerie’s coach  Stephanie helped us realize that is not sustainable and it will not help me or my daughter.”

After this shift in perspective, Stephanie helped Valerie be successful at work. When necessary, Stephanie helped Valerie complete her job search and prepare for interviews. When Valerie found a job, Stephanie was on hand to help Valerie herself be proactive or respond appropriately if there was a concern at work.

The next step toward living independently was helping Valerie learn to manage finances. “Stephanie would go over a budget and come up with inventive ideas to hold Valerie accountable if Valerie went over-budget,” says Ruth.

Stephanie was also working with Valerie on goals like healthier diet and finding a place to live on her own. Ruth says, “My daughter is moving out this week and I am so glad Stephanie will continue to see her. I feel confident my daughter will convey to Stephanie when she needs things and that Stephanie will notice things that my daughter will forget.”

Ruth is thrilled that APC helped her take a step back and also let Valerie grow to become more independent. She says, “We all had to learn that nothing will work until somebody is willing and ready to do it. Valerie was old enough to make the decision that she wanted to change something about themselves, and realized she could not do it on her own.” Ruth and Valerie can rest assured that APC is here to support them every step of the way.

Valerie moved out on her own in June and is working with Stephanie to apply independent living skills like paying bills on time, budgeting money, and keeping up a chore schedule. She and her roommate are getting along well and they are slowly unpacking their apartment!

APC Stories #3

Ever wonder just what exactly it means to be an Autism Personal Coach? Today, we talk to Stephanie, one of our coaches in Cleveland who tells us a little bit more about her career.

Stephanie is a double Buckeye, earning both her bachelor and master’s degrees from Ohio State University. She began her professional life as a special education teacher in Colorado, later moving to Bedford City Schools in both an inclusion and resource room setting. Like many parents, Stephanie struggled to find balance once her first child was born in 2013. She loved working with individuals with disabilities, but craved a more flexible schedule.

She says, “I stumbled across Autism Personal Coach when looking for a new job and was immediately drawn to the company because of its unique, individualized approach and its mission to help others.” Stephanie used her background in special education to help clients learn vital life skills in various settings familiar to them. “As a teacher, it was challenging to teach my students to generalize the skills they learned in the classroom to their everyday lives. Autism Personal Coach discovered a way to make this happen,” she says.

Stephanie loves when her clients feel proud of themselves, and she makes sure to celebrate all successes, big and small. For Stephanie, that could mean a client earns celebration whether they communicate with a family member after struggling with their communication skills or if they feel valued in a volunteer position they worked to set up. To reach these goals, Stephanie finds three core concepts crucial: consistency, communication, and consequences.

She says, “As a parent myself, I know how challenging it is to follow through in these areas.” Stephanie believes in a team approach, working with clients and their families (and often other service providers) together to apply these 3C’s to the skills and goals they’re working towards.

Many people hold false assumptions about people on the autism spectrum. Stephanie likes to reuse the phrase she learned from a woman with autism who stated”if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.” That’s why an individualized approach is so vital to helping our clients succeed–every client is different, has different challenges, and has different goals to feel successful.

As for why families might choose coaching with Autism Personal Coach, Stephanie says that the benefits to an individualized program and team approach are immeasurable. Plus, unlike many other service providers, we come to you, which helps to reinforce skills right in the environment clients want to apply them. She says, “If you feel hesitant [about coaching,] start off slow. Spend time getting to know your coach, build a relationship with them, and truly take time to figure out what goals would be meaningful in your life.”

What questions do you have about Autism Personal Coaches and the work we do?

APC Stories #2

At Autism Personal Coach, we work with adults and teens. This means that parents are a big part of the team supporting our clients. In a previous blog post, we introduced Kerri, who is herself one of our clients in Ohio. Kerri also has a teen daughter named Samantha, who is also one of our clients.

Parents often have questions about the work we do and what it looks like to be part of a personal coach experience. Here, Kerri answers some of these questions and shares how Autism Personal Coach supports Samantha.

Samantha was diagnosed with autism as a toddler by the same neurologist she still sees as a teen. Kerri has helped Samantha navigate occupational therapy, speech therapy, play therapy, early intervention, workshops, and trainings. We are sure any parent of a child on the autism spectrum can relate to the wide world of services to navigate in supporting your children!

While many of our clients in Pennsylvania can get full-service care providers to come to their home and the school environment until age 21, our clients in Ohio do not always have these options. Kerri says, “I recorded all [Samantha’s] therapies and supplemented interventions myself, through what I learned.” Given all that work, Kerri needed support to coordinate Samantha’s services and make sure she was getting the help she needed at school and in the community. Kerri hired Autism Personal Coach to help her navigate IEP meetings at school and support Samantha with life and social skills.

She works with Doug to coordinate Samantha’s care. Kerri says that, “coordinating all of the supports can be very overwhelming at times.” Doug attends meetings with Kerri, taking notes and supporting Samantha at school, counselor appointments, and even social outings.

More specifically, Doug takes Samantha on walks or to the gym. Doug incorporated a technique called bal-a-vis-x into his sessions with Samantha, which is a brain exercise done outdoors to help increase focus.

We say that our coaches help clients to build life skills to succeed in the community. For Samantha, this means Doug is teaching her how to grocery shop and navigate the checkout line. Samantha’s favorite experience with her Autism Personal Coach is going to Subway, where she can now go in and order on her own!

There is another chapter to Samantha’s story, and an additional way that Kerri wanted support from Autism Personal Coach: Samantha is a transgender teen. Our staff at Autism Personal Coach is very familiar with the intersection of LGBTIA+ identity and autism.

Kerri has a great deal of anxiety and fear surrounding her daughter’s interpersonal relationships. There are big questions like “Is she safe being truthful with this person?” on top of the already-difficult experience autistic people have in interpreting social cues. Kerri has noticed that Samantha has fear and anxiety about leaving their apartment.

Samantha has difficulty initiating relationships (or even conversation) with peers because of the question “what comes next?” For a transgender teen, the world is filled with uncertainty. Kerri says Samantha constantly worries about which bathroom to use or whether others can see what’s under her clothing. Samantha even feels anxious that something about the way she walks will give away an aspect of her identity she might not feel safe sharing with others.

Autism Personal Coach staff are familiar with the fears and real safety concerns for our LGBTIA+ neighbors. Our goal is to provide a safe and compassionate space for our clients and to create a plan to overcome obstacles.

Doug has accompanied Samantha several times on trips to the local LGBT center and even facilitated social meetings with another client similar to Sam. While the supported conversation went well, when Doug asked the teens if they wanted to exchange phone numbers, neither one of them felt ready to do that.

Kerri says Sam felt like they really hit it off together, but got stuck about what to do next. How should she reach out? How should she follow up after a good conversation with someone else? Kerri says, “Relationships continue for an indefinite amount of time, and it’s terrifying. It’s easier sometimes to just never start one.”

Social relationships are something our coaches focus on more than anything else. We hear our clients when they tell us they feel isolated, but also unsure how to fix that. Autism Personal Coach hosts a number of group events (such as dinners and game nights), and Doug will continue to support Samantha whether she’s looking to buy a turkey sub or make a new friend.

Do you have an autistic teen who is struggling socially? How could Autism Personal Coach help you overcome those challenges?

APC Stories #1

We often get questions about what it looks like to work with Autism Personal Coach. To answer some of those questions, we wanted to tell the story of one of our clients, Kerri, who lives in Ohio. Kerri does not have an official diagnosis of autism, but she is diagnosed with ADHD and has experienced a traumatic brain injury. Kerri felt like Autism Personal Coach might be able to help, and we are happy that she reached out for support!

Kerri experiences major executive functioning issues that impact her day-to-day ability to function. Tasks like sending emails, paying bills, completing paperwork, and planning meals…even grocery shopping, managing her medication, and completing household chores are difficult for her. Like many people on the autism spectrum, Kerri feels anxious about leaving her home. The outside world is a filled with unknowns that are often difficult for people on the autism spectrum (or people with sensory challenges) to navigate.

Kerri says, “This [anxiety] affects me in many different ways, but the most obvious one is that it leaves me feeling isolated.”

On top of these challenges, Kerri is also the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, and just parenting a child with special needs takes a special set of organizational skills, communication skills, and constant networking. Kerri was drowning in stress.

She reached out to Autism Personal Coach for help and began working with Doug. Kerri says, “Doug has helped me to see myself as I am and to be ok with that.” Doug has helped Kerri to learn to feel positive about accomplishing small goals. “Less is more for me,” Kerri says. “If I schedule less and celebrate small victories, I will stay consistent.”

A consistent practice among our coaches is positive feedback, and Kerri says Doug helps with this, particularly when she’s made the effort to communicate something challenging. “This has given me more confidence and enabled me to gain stronger communication skills,” she says. When they work together to find a solution that helps her day run smoother, “Doug is continuously supportive of the intervention.”

Since leaving her home was difficult, Kerri primarily worked with Doug in her apartment to start. Our coaches work with clients to create manageable goals, and for Kerri, that began with the goal to incorporate brief walks at the start of each session.

Another technique Doug incorporated was something called bal-A-vis-x, which is a “brain gym exercise done outside,” and it helped Kerri to focus. Kerri is proud to report that in the past few months, they have built up to 4 outings. “One was to get my nose pierced, which I have always wanted to do!”

When we say we adapt our sessions to the client’s interests, we mean it. This works both ways: Kerri discovered that she did not enjoy going to the coffee shop with her coach–she found it over-stimulating. This was another success for Kerri, because she made the effort to go and recognized that as an environment where she did not feel comfortable.

Before finding Autism Personal Coach, Kerri was struggling to navigate support services in Ohio. For adults, there aren’t many options and Kerri says she found that follow-through was inconsistent at best. Kerri found it exhausting to meet with intake coordinators and caseworkers. She says, “A plan is written, promises are made, and you are filled with hope. And then there is no follow through and nobody comes back.”

It’s understandable that Kerri says this experience breeds distrust for helping professionals. She found it traumatizing to tell her story to so many people and not to receive help. At Autism Personal Coach, we pride ourselves on our ability to listen. We are committed to following through with our clients, celebrating all victories–big and small–and helping each client to make a plan for success. For Kerri, sometimes success looked like walking to the park and riding the swings. Stepping outside her comfort zone and feeling successful transferred to other small victories to make each day easier.

What would success look like for you?

Decoding Dating, Chapter 2

The second chapter of “Decoding Dating” focused on how those on spectrum could meet a partner.  Internet dating, college, work, and special interest clubs were all avenues that were discussed as ways of meeting someone.

I’m not breaking any news, but internet dating has become a very popular way for people to meet. In fact, as of March this year I read that 50 million people had tried internet dating(http://www.statisticbrain.com/online-dating-statistics/). There are definitely some positives  for internet dating, particularly for those with ASD. One such positive is that it reduces the anxiety as there isn’t any face to face interaction with talking to someone online as you don’t have to read body language or facial expressions.  In addition, for those that process words at a slower pace you can respond at your own pace to messages on the internet. Then if and when the time is right you can meet the person you have been talking to.

John Miller focused on three critical elements that need to happen for internet dating to be successful.  These elements are creating an online profile, replying to a profile on a dating site, and things to look out for before going out on a date with a person from an online dating site. He says the first thing anyone must do to have success with internet dating is create an online profile because its the first thing anyone will see, it’s your first impression.  Miller suggests creating a catchy headline, sell yourself in your profile, and choose an appropriate photo. While those are good suggestions I think the expectations of what our clients would have to do regarding that would be unclear. First off, what makes a catchy headline? I would say it depends on the individual. We have some clients that are truly funny people. When dealing with those clients I would tell them to try and come up with a funny headline as it really reflects who they are(although run this by someone you trust and get some feedback, what may be funny to you may be offensive to the opposite sex). Then we have other clients who really struggle with humor and that wouldn’t work for them.

Once you figure out a headline Miller suggests to sell yourself in your profile. It tends to be hard for those on the spectrum, so this probably will be a challenging task for most. I’ve heard adults with ASD say to me “why do I have to sell myself, she should like me for me!”. Essentially when someone is creating a dating profile you are saying to the world “Hey, pick me!”. When making your profile, I think it is important to ask yourself this question: why would someone pick you based on just looking at your profile? I think you need to tell them about your wonderful personality, the awesome things you like, and what you want to do with your life. I would not just tell them, but try to tell them by using anecdotes or stories because for some reason humans like that stuff. In addition to telling  people about you, having a picture or pictures that show you in a positive light is very important as well. Miller suggests in your picture that you  should have your hair combed,wear unwrinkled clothing, and smile. He also suggests you not putting up pictures of you dressed as Darth Vader or Mr. Spock.

Once you have set up this profile then you will probably start looking at profiles of those that you may be interested in dating. When you find someone you are interested in Miller gives four tips in regarding to replying the profile. First he suggests replying in a detailed manner. This is particularly important because I’ve had a couple of clients who gave a one sentence reply or sent a message that just said “hi” and wondered why they didn’t get a response. One may ask what is replying in detailed manner? First, I wouldn’t make it longer than a paragraph.  Then I think for me its fairly simple in that you want to  introduce yourself (your name, maybe area of town you live in) and then explain what you liked about the person’s profile and why the two of you may be a good match (things you have in common). Once you have replied Miller suggests that you wait at least a day or two before sending another reply. This is good advice, I’ve seen many people who send multiple messages to someone before they reply and this can be a really big turn off. If you haven’t heard from someone after a couple days you can send one more message and if you don’t get a response at that point don’t send another message and look to reply to others profiles.

Hopefully you will get some a response to messaging someone and after messaging back and forth after a while (at least a week or two) then the two of you will want to meet.  Miller discusses  a few things before having this first meeting. The first is that the profile that someone makes may not be real. It probably would be a good idea to ask questions relating to the information on the profile to verify this information.  The second is that the photos may not be real. I think as a general rule to may be a good idea to possibly skype so you can see who this person is to who they are who they say they are  before meeting. If you have ever seen the MTV show Catfish you would know  that people on dating sites put information that isn’t true or fake pictures on their profile very frequently. Miller also offers a couple of other good tips if you are meeting them which are to meet in a very public place like a coffee shop or restaurant and just be to safe tell a loved one where you are going.

If you aren’t interested in dating sites there are other ways to meet someone to date. If you plan to attend or are in college that could be a good option as there lots of social opportunities whether its in class, the dorm you live in, or participating in extra curricular activities. However, like Miller suggests even though it may be challenging you have to create opportunities to speak to people.  If you don’t expose yourself to social situations, the possibility of having friends, not to mention a girlfriend, will be minimal. I think joining an extra curricular activity at college is a great idea (the same can be said for joining special interest groups in the community you live in) because it will focus on something you are hopefully passionate about and that can make it easier to talk to people in that environment. There is also the option for meeting people at work. However, I would be very hesitant to date someone that was a fellow employee. If problems arise in the relationship or you break up with that person than that could make a very uncomfortable situation. If you are to date someone you work with Miller suggests it would be better if you worked in a larger company vs a small one especially if you work in different departments and hardly ever see that person at work.