Get in the Game! Sports and Autism

Athletic womanSports are a huge part of many kids’ lives.  Not only is it a social gathering for adolescents to meet friends and learn to be part of a team, it also encourages healthy active lifestyles, and as we know exercise is important for everyone – disability or not. Some parents might think that having a child with autism means playing sports may never be a reality for their child. However, sports can be just as beneficial, if not more, for children with autism.

While many team sports such as basketball or soccer may be a little bit more challenging to grasp due to gross motor coordination, sensory problems or communication issues, individual sports may be the perfect fit. Individual sports like swimming, track and field and karate provide structure and team camaraderie while at the same time being very individualized. This perfect mixture could be very beneficial in allowing the child to fully participate in the activity at their own level while not having the social anxiety that can be brought on from other involved team sports. In a basketball game there has to be that thought process of knowing when the ball is going to be passed to you or who to throw to next.  A sport like swimming permits the child to focus in on one skill only helping to keep their attention and reducing that social anxiety that can be brought on in other team sports.

This team aspect, while helping them develop their motor skills, will also help them develop their social skills too by providing the feeling of being a valued member of a group and increasing self-confidence.  Individualized sports also eliminate the fear that your child will be picked last for the team or “ride the bench” the whole game, creating a sense of failure and rejection in their heads and turning them away from the sport completely. While a child may come in last in a track race, putting the focus on just finishing the race and having their teammates cheer them on to the finish line can be a great self-esteem booster.

Another great aspect of individual sports is the ability to continue participating throughout one’s lifespan. Individuals with disabilities have a higher prevalence for obesity and one large contributor to that can be a sedentary lifestyle (although other factors are also influential). Encouraging fitness at a younger age will help to find fun inclusive ways to exercise that can be carried on into their adult years too.

The Arc’s programs such as HealthMeet and the Autism NOW Center are great places to turn to for valuable information and resources on fitness and healthy living for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. Autism NOW’s website contains printable handouts with dietary recommendations and tips that promote healthy eating habits as well as a Health Promotion Guide  containing ideas and suggestions for developing and sustaining a healthy, active lifestyle for individuals with autism.

My Definition of Autism

Andrew ReinhardtApril is Autism Awareness Month and The Arc and Autism NOW are taking this opportunity to ask individuals who identify as being on the autism spectrum to answer this question: “What is your definition of autism?” Andrew Reinhardt is working on a Master’s degree in physical science and has a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Below is his personal definition of autism. Follow the conversation this month online using #autismaware

By Andrew Reinhardt, Guest Blogger

Being on the autism spectrum to me was at one point in time a defining characteristic of who I am.  It is not anymore.  I’ve largely grown out of needing to define myself in such terms.  I am a very active individual, albeit not as active socially as I would like to be, but in terms of academics, work and family, I am very happy with my life and define who I am based on these parameters, and others.  This has some advantages, since I’ve seen time and again that having a disability, any disability, is not typically smiled upon in the hiring process or beyond in this country.  I’ve done best and even have tended to be hired more often when I learned to shut up and only open my mouth about having Asperger’s when it’s absolutely necessary.  Since I can pass for an individual who is not on the spectrum, at least at this point in my life, I find that it is better to not bring up such issues at all and play the part of so-called normalcy.

But still, Asperger’s still affects me in highly negative ways, though it affected me in worse ways historically.  I specifically avoid shopping at malls, or anywhere for that matter unless its grocery shopping.  I prefer to avoid eating out to ordering out.  These are habits born out of a general social anxiety, as well as several issues such as what to do with eye contact in crowds, the noise levels, the lighting, so on and so forth.  As bad as it is now, it was worse to the point of breaking out in hives during a full blown panic attack before.

This is progress, even if it doesn’t seem like it at times.  Historically, I’ve faced several problems worse than this, such as a severe fear of, and sensory problems with, insects, that caused me to run away from them to the point of running in front of cars at times.  I also was self-injurious at times when I thought I did something particularly bad, though in hindsight I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything particularly bad in my life.  All that said, though being on the spectrum has been a great bane to me throughout the years, it also has provided some good things to my life, for instance my mathematical skills, my analytical skills, and the drive to be more than I am today, the last of which is probably the most important because I’ve met individuals who have the skill, but lack the drive to do anything with it.  I contend that because of my life on the spectrum, particularly the hardships it’s caused, I’ve done better as an adult than I otherwise would have.

Autism Is “The Matrix”

Wendy KatzApril is Autism Awareness Month and The Arc and Autism NOW are taking this opportunity to ask individuals who identify as being on the autism spectrum to answer this question: “What is your definition of autism.” Wendy Katz identifies as being on the autism spectrum. She is living in Louisville, KY, and pursuing a career in the human services field. Below is her personal definition of autism. Follow the conversation this month online using #autismaware

By Wendy Katz

How do I define autism? It is simple but the total truth: Autism is “The Matrix.” Seriously, it sounds cheesy, but I feel that one reason that I truly related to this classic film is for this reason. What is “The Matrix?” It is everywhere and colors everything, it is the world pulled over people’s eyes to blind them from the truth.

Granted in the case of autism, “The Matrix” is a metaphor: my autism is not a veil blinding me from the truth, but it is a tangible reality, which is everywhere in my world, ever so subtly coloring and altering the contours of my reality and woven into my very fabric in such a way that I am not aware of it and cannot see it. And though I am not blinded from the truth, sometimes my altered awareness does blind me to certain realities tangible to others, whose sight is clear.

Sometimes I am not aware, for example, of subtle politics and actions, which might limit my professional advancement. Other times I might miss the flirtations of a “friend” or the tension in some of my relationships. Some other times I simply cannot see the forest for the trees: I may be so blinded or distracted by a truly “loud” sound or smell that I cannot focus on the true interpersonal undercurrents of a situation. To stretch this metaphor, I may not be “blinded” to the truth, but at times I am “visually impaired”.

When people ask me about the differences between say a psychological issue such as depression or OCD and my developmental disability, the answer comes quickly and easily. There is no slightly off neurotransmitter in my brain that can be slightly tweaked to change my experiences. My very BRAIN is a different shape, and as Morpheus says in “The Matrix”, “The body cannot exist without the mind.” Autism isn’t a social impairment or a need for behavior modification: it is an entire reality, which for better or for worse I inhabit.

One way in which my reality departs from “The Matrix” metaphor, is that on rare occasions, it seems to truly be “for the better”. Sometimes I have a way of looking at the world or solving a problem that is so far outside of the box that it is a true gift. Other times, I find myself seeing straight through a truly smooth manipulator because I am immune to his or her charms. Autism isn’t always a curse but isn’t necessarily a blessing either; it is simply the world in which I live.

So which character would I be in the movie, extending the metaphor for “The Matrix”? I tend to pass well enough in everyday life that some think I was misdiagnosed or “beat” my autism or have such a mild case it “doesn’t count”. But the world I live in, the things I see, hear, feel, smell, touch, taste, and EXPERIENCE are still colored by autism. I have one foot in the “real world”, but I am no Neo; I am still bound by the rules of “The Matrix.”

I tended to identify with Trinity: a ballsy girl with a foot in both worlds, unable to shake “The Matrix,” yet at times able to see through it. I find that when I truly focus, though I still see the world through my own eyes, I can almost extrapolate to figure out the world as a neurotypical person sees it. At times, I feel like a lingual translator of sorts, and I find myself able to translate and explain things to people on both sides of “The Matrix.” I consider this both my “savant skill” when people ask and an invaluable gift.

I remember when the movie first came out, people asked me if I would have taken the red pill out of “The Matrix,” rather than the blue one which ended the “trip down the rabbit hole”. I told them that I would not only grab and dry swallow the red pill, but I wouldn’t bat an eye to see Morpheus and would have cried out in relief, “Oh that explains EVERYTHING!”

All joking aside, autism colors everything I do and all of my many accomplishments, failures, worries, hopes, and dreams. When people ask me who I would be if I wasn’t on the spectrum, I find myself unable to even answer the question. I have accepted that I will never know.

My Definition of Autism

Amy GoodmanApril is Autism Awareness Month and The Arc and Autism NOW are taking this opportunity to ask individuals who identify as being on the autism spectrum to answer this question: “What is your definition of autism?” Amy Goodman is co-director of Autism NOW and an individual on the spectrum. Below is her personal definition of autism. Follow the conversation this month online using #autismaware.

By Amy Goodman

Being an individual on the autism spectrum means that I have a diagnosis of autism.  So what. It doesn’t matter in the long run because it does not define who I am or what I can or cannot do.  First and foremost, I am Amy, an individual who happens to have a diagnosis of autism. I don’t let it get in my way of anything. It does not present any challenges for me and if it does, I work to overcome those challenges by finding a way to jump through the hurdle and succeed at everything I do or try.

For me, it has been a positive experience finding out that I was on the spectrum. I have embraced it and used it to my advantage. It opened a lot of doors that otherwise would have stayed closed. I was able to move forward with my life when I found out. I went to Graduate school and chose the path that was best for me. It helped me to focus on what I wanted to do with my life.

Knowing I was on the spectrum, and knowing that I could be a success has helped me to jump the biggest hurdle of all, obtaining and keeping a job in the autism field. The opportunities have been endless and by embracing my autism, I have grown as an adult. I finally found what I had been looking for more than 30 years – an answer to what direction I should go, and where I fit in in this world.

Explaining to someone not on the spectrum is very difficult. They just don’t seem to understand why I do what I do. They are always being pessimistic and saying that there is nothing wrong with me, which in this case is true. There is nothing wrong with me. It’s the attitude of others that only see the glass as half empty and that I’m not capable of doing anything at all. That is something that needs to be fixed. Me? I’m the optimist. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Fine tune it. If someone is on the spectrum, utilize their abilities and accommodate their needs, don’t question them. Work with them to maximize their brain capacity. See the situation through their eyes. Give them a chance to excel and most of all treat them with respect and dignity.

We may not be the most social of beings, but we certainly can learn and grow from our mistakes. Just remember there is more than one way to skin a cat, so explaining what it’s like living with autism is different for everyone on the spectrum. I don’t need to explain anything because I’m perfect the way I am. If I don’t like something I avoid it. If it hurts my ears, I wear earplugs or noise canceling headphones. There is a solution for every problem, one just has to do what is best for them and not worry about what others think.

Autism is part of me, so it should not define me or need explaining at all. Not everyone can pass as “normal” or “neurotypical” but who wants to be like them anyway?  I am who I am and there is no changing me. Accept me for who I am and you will see autism in a whole new light.

What’s Your Definition of Autism?

Young Child With AutismAs you may know, a new edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) is coming out in May with changes to the definitions of certain disorders on the autism spectrum which is used by medical professionals, government agencies and insurers. There has been much talk about what this will mean to individuals and their families when it comes to obtaining a diagnosis and receiving services. But during Autism Awareness Month in April, The Arc and Autism NOW would like to refocus the conversation on the individuals living with autism day to day and ask: “What’s Your Definition of Autism?” What does the word “autism” really mean to you on a personal and individual level?

This April, we invite you to join us in raising awareness about what autism really means. Here’s how YOU can participate in furthering the conversation during Autism Awareness Month – be sure to jump in with your thoughts and feelings on what the definition of autism is to you and share with everyone you know using the hashtag #AutismAware:

Follow Autism NOW on Facebook and Twitter

Follow The Arc on Facebook and Twitter

Join The Arc’s online community

Read The Arc’s blog

Sign up to receive Autism NOW’s Prism e-newsletter

Join the Autism NOW forums

The Arc Reacts to New National Survey on Autism Prevalence

Peter Berns

Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc

Washington, DC – Today, the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report which estimated autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prevalence based on parental reporting using the National Survey of Children’s Health.   In the survey, the prevalence of parent-reported ASD among children was 2%, or 1 in 50, up from 1.2% in 2007.  According to the CDC, however, much of the increase in the prevalence estimates from 2007 to 2011-2012 was the result of diagnoses of children with previously unrecognized ASD.

Last year, the CDC released new in-depth research estimating that 1 in 88 children had been identified with ASD.  The CDC will release its next round of this kind of research in 2014.  While the new study is based on parent reporting, a different methodology than that used by CDC’s monitoring network, it has tremendous significance for our service systems.

“These statistics represent millions of families across the country that are looking for resources and answers to help their children.  But meanwhile, the across-the-board budget cuts in Washington are hampering the vital efforts of federal agencies like the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, which are working to find the underlying causes of autism, and could have real consequences in our society,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“And these are not the only threats – lifeline programs like Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare are on the table for real cuts that may impact the ability of these families to get services in the near and distant future for their children, as well as hurting adults with ASD who depend on those programs today.  It is not enough to say we want a balanced approach to deficit reduction – we must stand together and say that we cannot simply cut our way out of this situation.  We need more revenue to pay for critical investments like prevention and treatment, as well as services and supports for people with autism,” added Berns.

Early identification and intervention can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn new skills.  CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” health education campaign promotes awareness among parents, health professionals, and child care providers about healthy developmental milestones, the importance of tracking each child’s development, and acting early if there are concerns. CDC offers free online resources, including checklists of developmental milestones, at www.cdc.gov/ActEarly.

Autism NOW: The National Autism Resource and Information Center, a federally funded project of The Arc, is another resource for people with ASDs and their families.  The online center aims to help people searching the web separate fact from fiction when it comes to autism.  Learn more at www.autismnow.org.

The Arc’s Statement on the Military’s Pilot Program for Extending Behavioral Health Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement after the passage of the 2013 National Defense Reauthorization Act in the House and Senate.  The reauthorization will create a one year pilot program to expand the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by TRICARE, the health care program for our nation’s military.

“We appreciate this step forward for military families that have children with ASD.  We are hopeful that the pilot program will lay the foundation for making critical behavioral health therapies available to military dependents with a range of developmental disabilities that can greatly benefit from the services.

“We regret that language developed by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Patty Murray extending coverage to dependents with other developmental disabilities was not included in the final bill.  There is considerable research proving applied behavioral analysis (ABA) to be an effective intervention for a number of developmental disabilities, including ASD.  ABA is particularly effective in reducing self-injurious behaviors in people with the most significant disabilities.

“The inclusion of other developmental disabilities would also have greatly benefitted military families who have children with ASD since many of these children only receive their diagnosis after many years.   Limiting the covered services to those with an ASD diagnosis will result in children not being treated at the earliest age possible, which is shown to have lifelong, cost effective benefits.

“We look forward to the Secretary of Defense’s report on the feasibility and advisability of establishing a beneficiary cost share for the treatment of ASD under TRICARE and its Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) Program for dependents with disabilities,” stated Peter V. Berns, the Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

The Arc’s Statement on the Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

“On behalf of The Arc and the families we represent, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these children and their teachers in this horrific tragedy.  Our hearts are simply broken for the parents, loved ones, and the community of Newtown.

“There are so many questions surrounding this tragedy.  As more information comes to light, the media is reporting that the individual responsible for this violence may have Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.  As we struggle with this tragedy, it is important that the public is aware that people with autism spectrum disorders are not more likely than others to be violent.    This is a horrific event in our nation’s history, and as we mourn, we must come together as a nation to support this Connecticut community.”

Media inquiries can be sent to Kristen McKiernan, mckiernan@thearc.org

Wings for Autism Workshop: A Parent’s View

By Tonia Ferguson, Director, National Initiatives at The Arc

Plane in Sky

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending Wings for Autism Workshop at Logan International Airport in Boston, MA.  As a parent of a child with autism I didn’t know what to expect, but was excited to participate. I can’t even begin to describe what a wonderful program this is and how much of a difference it can make to children on the spectrum and their families.

I’ve never travelled with my son, Jared because I have always had concerns about how he would deal with security and the excess of people and noise that fill airports on a daily basis.  Observing the way that Wings for Autism addressed the concerns I had, and went into further detail to prepare individuals for all the aspects of travel truly impressed me.

The daylong event gave parents and children a “test run”, where they went through every step of traveling on a major airline. With volunteers from JetBlue including flight attendants and pilots, officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), ticket counter agents, and collaboration with other airlines and their staffs the simulation truly prepares parents and children for what to expect when traveling. The simulation requires families to clear security, board the plane, fasten their seatbelts, and prepare for take-off.  A highlight for the kids was a tour of the cockpit given by a pilot.

For children that are having issues with the various parts of the simulation there are behavioral specialists on hand to help parents and children work through any problems they may be having.

While this event is intended to benefit the families participating, I was impressed to see the volunteers from TSA and JetBlue benefiting from the experience as well.

The Arc’s national office plans to work with The Charles River Center (a chapter of The Arc) to expand Wings for Autism. If you are interested in the program and want to find out how to bring a workshop an airport near you please do not hesitate to email me.

This experience opens up a world of possibilities for my family and other families with children on the spectrum, the sky’s the limit. I look forward to working with Wings for Autism as they expand this innovative program and I hope to take Jared to a simulation at our local airport in the near future.

To view a video about the event visit The Charles River Center’s website.

Join Us for our First Twitter Chat! We’ll Talk About Autism with the CDC and More

Twitter Bird Logo

On Monday, April 30th at 3pm EST, The Arc will host a Twitter chat with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations to talk about the latest data on the prevalence of autism and the resources available to people with autism spectrum disorders and their families. During the hour-long chat, we will take your questions and comments – so join us for this Twitter dialogue!

We will explore topics like the early signs of autism in a child, the latest research, including the CDC’s new prevalence data, and resources available through The Arc’s Autism NOW Center.

Following the chat on Twitter is easy. First, follow @TheArcUS and @AutismNowCenter on Twitter. We’ll be using the hashtag: #TheArcChat – this link will allow you to follow the conversation.

There, you’ll be able to follow the conversation in real-time. Keep in mind, if you want to participate in the chat, you’ll need an account on Twitter. If you haven’t used Twitter before, here’s a great link to learn more about it and the basics of Twitter.

If you need an accessible version of Twitter, we recommend using Easy Chirp. Simply visit its website, and sign in with your Twitter credentials.

If you want to be part of the conversation on Twitter, simply use the hashtag: #TheArcChat when you tweet. You can find out more about hashtags in Twitter’s Help section.

We hope to hear from you on Monday, April 30th during our Twitter chat on autism.