Many individuals with autism and other disabilities struggle with challenges to access the community safely, have a job, or to pursue college studies. The hard truth is, it is up to all of us to work together to change the current outcomes from under or unemployment, languishing at home, or suffering from health issues that include clinical diagnoses such as obsessive compulsive disorders or depression. I believe we can close the gap on these negative outcomes and make real positive change.
I offer ten broad actions to enable their participation and adaptation across settings for every individual with autism and at any age and level. These are a must for adaptation, connections, life enjoyment, and safety. If you provide a professional service to someone with autism, or you have a son or daughter, adjust these 10 actions to meet the individual where he or she is in development. I can’t promise you success if you try these 10 actions. But I can promise you that the exposure, the supports, or the experience itself will benefit the individual in someway, even if to know himself a bit more, or to know he was seen and heard as an individual. To me, the effort to create these opportunities makes it all worthwhile.
1. Cultivate mentors, coaches, and caregivers who will accommodate the individual with autism at home, work, and/or college settings. Why? Because these individuals are their access to the settings and experiences. These support individuals must be able to recognize and acknowledge the adult’s challenges, and more importantly, appreciate their capabilities and strengths. Why? Because it means everything to the individual to be seen and heard for their strengths and capabilities especially by persons they trust and rely upon most. Support persons can provide assistance and guidance to experience a setting, yet, they can be much more; they can become encouragers.
2. Cultivate communication techniques. Why? Because when a communication strategy resonates deeply with the individual, it enhances personal expression about needs, enjoyment, or that which is innately important. With communication techniques:
-facilitate self-emotional awareness and the individual’s understanding of their environment. Pay attention to their expression of their emotions and acknowledge these emotions to the individual.
-enable individuals at any level of disability with supports. Here are two examples: a. an individual who has a greater need for communication support, expresses the color of a shirt he wants to wear by selecting the shirt from his closet, or, b. the anxious college student exhibits anxiety about meeting with his professor to express his uneasiness working on a project as a team member. He may rely upon a mentor to hear him out in order to get advice and direction in negotiating this meeting. The student may want to consider inviting the mentor to go with him as a support.
Individuals with autism on all levels have needs for supports and acceptance by others in order to interact: to receive information, to interpret information, and to respond, expressing oneself effectively. Approaches to communicate must meet the person’s level of support need.
3. Cultivate exposure to new settings.
Why? Because having exposure is the first step before an activity can be transformed into an intrinsic, meaningful experience. Without exposure as the seed there can be no opportunity for an experience to blossom. When exposure is persistently and consistently offered three things happen: a. the exposure may become a learning experience, i.e., responding and participating; b. the exposure may deliver meaning, enjoyment, or structure; c. the exposure if consistently provided may promote the individual’s ease and flexibility; and/or d. the individual has a chance to gain connection to others, thus be known as a member of the community
4. Cultivate approaches that light their inner flame. Provide opportunities for the individual to be connected to their interests. Why? Because using their personal strengths and interests is the essence of who he or she is and can become.
5. Cultivate employment exploration with the individual’s personal strengths. Look for the individual’s strengths in all four categories: hard skills, self expression, personal preferences, and
emotional. Why? Because when personal strengths are identified from these four areas and career options offered, all of these combined can narrow down a possibility for a career direction or field of study. See video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRVB-IH8VKs
6. Cultivate the individual’s participation in environments that matches the individual’s career or work interest. Why? Because the exposure is the introduction that can spark an interest or enable positive feelings about the job or career. Also, strive for feelings of ease that promote their willingness to explore and experience the activity, i.e., volunteer, job shadowing, or visiting a college campus.
7. Cultivate and encourage self expression of strengths in anyway possible. Why? Taking the leap to experience self expression in itself can be fun, enjoyable, and perhaps lead to more ideas. For example, encourage the individual to participate in the development of their talents and strengths, i.e., being able to sing or play an instrument can be offered in a church setting. Having a gift of making jewelry or carving wood bowls can start by selling items at a community festival and move beyond into a self employment business which offers their products in juried fine art shows and gift shops.
8. Cultivate an individualized structure that meets their capability to participate and cope: Why? Because having structure during the day and in their work life can be emotionally grounding. Most individuals with autism operate much easier when there is structure. Structure creates balance, offers prediction in what to look forward to, have positive expectations for managing an event, or simply doing a task. Structure promotes general ease. A structure that offers prediction and purpose can mean everything to one’s motivation, participation, enjoyment, and adaptation in any situation.
9. Cultivate self-advocacy and safety tips for on-the-job effectiveness, for college life, and/or interacting with authorities. Why? Because when we reinforce problem solving techniques in simulations or have prepared in advance steps to resolve difficult situations, more favorable outcomes can manifest. Make steps easily accessible, i.e., placed on an I-phone. For example, one of my clients relied upon doable steps when his car stalled on a busy city street. When people in cars honked, he became emotionally paralyzed and fearful. Now he carries a checklist to get through this adversity, if it happens again. Promote: a. the development of emotional strengths that keep one safe; and b. the choices one can make that unfolds into a favorable safer outcome. Implementing self advocacy and safety tips can offer general ease and movement through adversity.
10. Cultivate preparation techniques for emergencies. All first responders and medical staff need to be trained to assist individuals with autism. Additionally and as much as possible, teach the individual with autism coping skills to ease anxiety and manage during stressful situations. For example, entering an emergency room because the individual was injured requires skills to communicate and cope. Everyone’s cognitive ability drops significantly under high stressed conditions, and stress has a heightened multiplicative effect on individuals with autism. You Tube videos have been extremely helpful to teach my son about managing a difficult and stressful situation. Most importantly, individuals with autism need to feel they can rely upon people who are understanding, accepting of their challenges, and recognizing their limited ability to cope in stressful situations. Lastly, it is important that strategies are offered to reduce stress and enable the individual’s cooperation for medical assessments and treatments.
Unfortunately, our current culture has many adults waiting for services, living daily under stimulated, taking medications, or self medicating to relieve fear, anxiety, and depression. I don’t believe this is the best we can offer this group: a life to exist unhealthy, isolated, and without adequate supports.
We can do so much more for this group. They have rights and deserve to have meaningful purposeful living with safety, good health, and on their own terms.
I believe I have something unique to bring to the table, a strengths model to support personal preferences and emotional needs, the Capability Approach (CA). Within the CA, I designed the Marquette Strengths and Career Index (MSCI), a self assessment tool to receive career options that closely match the individual’s identified strengths in hard skill interests, self expression, personal preferences, and emotional strengths.
I listened to the voices of hundreds individuals with autism and their advocate/parents about how they found daily meaning and how they wanted to live their lives. Over three decades of study, my own research, private practice as a consultant through Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, I designed personalized vocational action plans for clients to get a job, pursue college, and/or to live independently. I looked at the data from my research, my case studies, and my autistic son, who is 39 and an accomplished artist for 16 years. I used the combined findings to create the MSCI and to help get Trent a life he has enjoyed with meaning and purpose.
My mission is to help people with autism to live their lives more fully, more enjoyable, and more safely. The goal is to enable their hopes and desires by creating work and career options that interconnect all their strengths areas: cognitive, self expression, personal preferences, and emotions.
Many individuals with autism are often invisible from our culture. I believe we can revolutionize our culture to include adults with autism and equally important, receive the benefits of their best strengths that our world needs.
Please offer your comments, because I want to hear them. I spend a lot of time writing. If you like my blog and think it can help other people, please share it.
Thank you for reading blog.
Dr. Jackie Marquette
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