What every parent and professional needs to know

The Autism Spectrum, Sexuality and the Law by Tony Attwood, Isabelle Hénault and Nick Dubin.

This ground-breaking book explores issues that can arise surrounding the autism spectrum (ASD), sexuality and the law.

From the book, Larry Dubin

“I know the love and dedication that is required of parents raising a child on the autism spectrum. There are so many issues that are extremely difficult to navigate. I have great admiration for parents who work hard to find and pay for necessary services while helping their children deal with the many social, sensory, speech and language, and other issues that can arise. With my deepest respect for these special and dedicated parents, let me offer this advice in light of our family’s heart-breaking experience.

  • Recognize that your child is a sexual being. Although it may be difficult to deal with your child’s sexual issues, don’t ignore them, and seek professional help if necessary. Current research indicates that a variety of problems can arise with respect to sexual development for those on the autism spectrum.
  • Make clear to your child that certain behaviors could lead to an encounter with the criminal justice system and even to imprisonment. These behaviors include viewing child pornography on the internet, stalking, unwanted touching, having meltdowns in public and indecent exposure. Your child must understand the severe legal consequences that can occur when these types of charges are brought against people on the autism spectrum who may not understand that they were even committing a criminal act. It may be appropriate to place restraints on your child’s computer to ensure only lawful use.
  • Nick’s case was processed under federal law of the United States. Although most countries criminalize possession of child pornography, the elements of the crime, the possible defenses, and the potential prison sentences are not uniformly followed. Parents should become familiar with the laws pertaining to child pornography in the country in which they reside.
  • Be sure your child knows that if ever confronted by the police, with respect to having committed a crime, he or she should be polite and ask for a lawyer to be present without making any further statements. The trusting and naïve nature of people on the autism spectrum, who typically want to please authority, make them easy candidates to be taken advantage of by trained police officers who can question them without the protection of a lawyer. The law allows police officers to make certain false statements in order to get a confession that can and will be used against the person. There is also the danger that false confessions can occur. It is always best to have a lawyer present to represent the interests of a person on the autism spectrum before making any statements to law enforcement personnel.”

Why this Book Matters—

“As you will discover reading this book, we have been through a long and horrific ordeal. Our family has suffered in silence and shame for over three years. Many would wonder why we have actually chosen to publicly expose such an intimate and personal experience. The answer is that we wanted our experience to count for something; to have a larger meaning. Our purpose in writing the book is to bring forth an issue that has been in the shadows for too long.  In the process of preparing Nick’s legal case, we gathered significant information and research that we feel obligated to share with others who could benefit from it.”

Kitty and Larry Dubin

This book is an invaluable addition to the shelves of parents of children with ASD, mental health and legal professionals, teachers, caregivers and other professionals working with individuals on the spectrum. For more information, please visit our website.

C’mon everybody – get writing!

Vanessa Rogers is the author of Working with Young Women, Working with Young Men, Let’s Talk Relationships, 101 Things to Do on the Street amongst others. In this article she gives her writing tips for aspiring authors. And, if you’re feeling inspired feel free to send in your proposals to post@jkp.com


They say that there is a book in all of us, and judging from the number of emails and Tweets I get from people in the youth work and social education field inspired to write their own, it would certainly seem to be true. So this is a collective response to those of you who have asked me for ideas of how to start writing, and to share my personal experiences of writing a book. I hope it is useful – but please remember this is only my way, which I made up as I stumbled along the way.

When I start a new resource book it is because the subject holds a compelling fascination for me. For example, Working with Young Women (Jessica Kingsley Publishers ISBN 9781849050951) came out of lots of girls’ groups that I was facilitating at the time. The young women came to the group because they had been identified as at risk of offending and aggressive behaviour, but the more I got to know them the more I thought that a lot of their behaviour was actually a response to the bad relationships they had with their peers, parents and boy/girlfriends. It seemed to me that their anger and aggression was a coping mechanism that until now had worked for them. So, this made me question how young women can build a sense of self, gain confidence and assertiveness, look at the role models they have and their aspirations for life – in a way that is interesting, non-judgemental and fun. After all, through the group work I was basically asking them to change their existing coping behaviour, (which whilst not necessarily socially acceptable to all, gave them the kudos and ‘respect’ they sought), to take a chance of being vulnerable and exploring things that hurt to find a better way with me. But it seemed that this was the foundation for everything else – e.g. if you value yourself and your body you are more likely to respect it and look after it.

So from here, as for every other book I have written, I devised a series of questions that I wanted to answer. These help me keep focused and distill the essence of what I am trying to do.

After that, I spend about 3 months researching the topic. I do this by reading around the subject and trawling the Internet for ethical and correct data and statistics, but also by speaking with other practitioners and as many young people, or in the example above as many young women, as I can, to ask my questions and test out some of my theories. By now I usually have at least one box file filled with clippings and stuff, as well as my trusty notebook (I always have at least one hardback notebook on the go) filled with points to remember and ideas for games, quizzes or activities.

One thing; all of my session plans have to be tried out with young people before I will include them. For me, this part is one of the rules of my work to keep it ethical and grounded – it has to have been tried and tested and I have to know that young people will learn from it and more importantly enjoy doing so.

As I write constantly this means that I often have ideas stashed on my computer that are developed later when the opportunity presents itself. I try my best to include lots of learning styles in the activities and this might mean that I write the same learning outcomes three times, with three different ideas for delivering them. So, as I try them out with young people I use the one that goes best and dump the rest. I also ask young people to give me feedback as the book comes together, which I value as they don’t hold back if they think it won’t work!

Once this is done, I stick my main points on bits of paper around my desk and tell everyone that I am going to be ‘writing’. To my family this means that I am likely to be distracted, a bit bad tempered and the dinners will be rubbish for a while – but the good news is that I will be in the house for days on end and easily tempted to buy take-aways!! To my friends it means that if I do see them I am probably going to bore them witless by obsessing over my blossoming (or not) book. All training and other work is put on hold. And then – I write it.

I tend to write ‘all over’ my books – meaning that I might write part of the intro, then get a bit stuck so move on to one of the later chapters.  It may look chaotic but it isn’t – more like putting a jigsaw together, because by this stage I know exactly what I want to write and how it will look at the end. I tend to really get into this bit so write day and night, with no adherence to office hours – I actually prefer working through the night so it is pretty usual for me to be writing between 2 and 5 a.m.

Once it is done – which usually takes about 7 days end to end – I put it away for at least 3 days before getting it out and editing / doing the final writing.

Then it is off to Jessica Kingsley Publishers …… and I miss it like mad …… get a bit sad, like at the end of any relationship …… do any edits or re-writes asked of me by the editors and proof readers ….. and leave the printers to get on with it. In my head it is over.

I try and build a break in at this point so that I can have fun with friends and family and shake off the topic that has been all consuming for what might have been up to a year. And then, just when I think that I have had enough of writing, something sparks my interest – and the whole cycle begins again.

I hope this helps – but as I say all writers are different and I am sure you will find your own way of working. My only advice would be, write for you and choose a subject you feel passionate about – if you aren’t at the start, you definitely won’t be at the end! My very best wishes and good luck with it – let me know how you get on.

 

In Search of Youth Work by JKP author Vanessa Rogers

An interesting and thought provoking article from JKP author, Vanessa Rogers on what it is to be a youth worker today. Vanessa is the author of a number of titles on working with young people including, Working with Young Women, Working with Young Men, Let’s Talk Relationships, 101 Things to Do on the Street, and new from JKP the Little Books on Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco Set.


What is Youth Work?

Today I realised that I have been a youth worker for over 15 years, yet I still struggle to explain exactly what that means, especially to someone outside of the profession. It is not a simple answer and I have even been known to say, ‘social worker’ in certain social settings just because it is easier.

The irony is not lost on me; that I am prepared to betray my profession, even though I feel so passionately about it, because I can’t be bothered to explain what I do and that it involves more than playing pool and sorting out squabbles about which track to play next on the iPod in the youth club. Explaining detached youth work is even harder, and has even been met with snorts of laughter at the thought of being paid to wander the streets talking to unknown young people. ‘But what is the point?’ is a constant refrain.

It has not always been so. There was a time not that long ago when it would be hard for me not to weigh in with my views. In fact, many of my ex-students could stand testament to the fact that, ‘what is youth work?’ is one of my favourite assignment titles, and the 500 words produced in response are a constant source of interest and heated debate.

Then it dawned on me that perhaps the sinking heart I get whenever someone asks me what I do for a living is not merely personal apathy, but because I have had the conversation one too many times. The sense of justifying what youth work is, why it matters and the unique place it has in supporting young people – not only amongst friends, family and strangers but also with youth workers and other professionals – has become habitual. I realised that I am a bit tired of the struggle and don’t want to spend time any more time analysing the process at a cost of actually doing it less.

It hasn’t always been so difficult, although I am in no way harping back to some mythical golden age of youth work. I am simply pointing out that if you had asked me 15 years ago what I did my answer would have been pretty easy – an area youth worker for the Youth & Community Service responsible for developing girls work, work with young parents and managing a large and busy youth wing on the site of a school in an area described as ‘deprived’. So far, so clear.

The role of a Youth Worker

Fast forward and my role, but not my professional title, has changed so many times that writing a CV can be a daunting thing. Terminology for the young people, or ‘client group’, has changed from young people ‘at risk’ through ‘vulnerable’ to ‘targeted’; youth services have dropped the ‘ & community’ tag and been variously part of the education, leisure, Connexions and social care departments.

Responsibilities have changed to include meeting parents, undertaking social care assessments, creating community profiles and measuring work by the number of accredited outcomes achieved.
What constitutes ‘youth work’ has changed so many times that it can now be tagged on to virtually any service that works with young people.

But is this a good or bad thing? Is the increase in those using traditional youth work skills to engage with young people something to be celebrated or lamented? All I know is that ‘youth work’ is a notoriously difficult term to describe, and it isn’t getting any easier. The task of trying to find a pithy one-liner to sum up the collective aims of so many different clubs, societies and detached projects is almost impossible.

Perhaps it is that so many people now describe themselves as ‘youth workers’, whilst working in areas more traditionally associated with social workers or youth justice? I have even spoken with police officers that say they do ‘youth work’. Really? Are the professional boundaries so completely enmeshed? Please note this isn’t about professional qualifications, or even the lack of them, more a questioning of how the ethos of voluntary participation and the gradual process of building positive relationships and engaging and empowering young people fits within a law and order or social care framework.

The ethos at the heart of Youth Work

Historically, youth work did not develop just to ‘keep people off the streets’ or to provide aimless amusement, it has always offered social and political education in an informal environment. Good youth work may look as if it just ‘happens’ but the success of it actually depends on good planning, clear aims and measurable outcomes. This ethos should be at the heart of all youth work – especially detached projects. Surely an exciting detached project that motivates young people to get involved should result in more, not less, youths on the street? And that should constitute success?

Put simply, providing young people with a ‘good time’ is not enough. Effective youth work should offer young people the opportunity to meet, socialise, develop new skills, explore the world around them and learn to question and challenge what they see effectively. Detached projects should not be about forcing young people off the streets and away from adult eyes, but more about building trust and developing interesting projects that are relevant to their needs, reflecting the things of importance to them. Which is unlikely to be the same as the media focus on demonizing young people as part of a lawless counter-culture.

As I see it the need to build two-way respect between young people and other members of their community is paramount – after all it is hard to encourage young people to take up their responsibilities and become active citizens if they are treated like social outcasts. Why would you want to be part of something that clearly doesn’t want you?

Perhaps the answer is purely financial. In the struggle to chase funding and secure projects we have been forced to chase the pound, rather than offer what young people truly want. Or maybe as numbers dwindle in traditional old-style youth clubs what’s on offer is simply outdated and no longer meets the needs of teenagers. In that case let’s stop hanging on to the solutions of the past and try new ideas.

Listening to Young People

Young people can be innovative and visionary, with energy and enthusiasm to shape and change the world. To do this they need to find ways to get their voices heard and be able to see that their participation in things like youth councils, forums and consultations actually makes a difference. To be honest, as an adult I am happy to give my opinion on things that matter to me but I get disheartened and then disinterested if nothing ever comes of it and I don’t receive any feedback. Too often I think young people are let down because although they are told that their opinions count, when it comes to money and budgets, they don’t. Participation has to be more than a paper exercise or a way to ‘tick boxes’.

Reclaiming Youth Work

So I think it is time for youth workers to stand up and reclaim youth work by celebrating how different it is to other work with young people. It should be seen as a whole, not as a useful pick’n’mix to compliment other services, and defined in our own terms – whether that is through a Youth Work Academy or some other collective process – before someone else does it for us.

In another 15 years time I don’t want to still be ducking the question, ‘what do you do for a living?’ – I want to be able to say (still with pride), ‘I am a youth worker’, and for that to mean something.

Relationships Q&A for men with Asperger Syndrome: What can I do to make my female partner happy?

Adapted from What Men with Asperger Syndrome Want to Know About Women, Dating and Relationships, the new book by counsellor Maxine Aston which provides the answers to Asperger men’s most frequently asked relationship questions, helping them to understand the way relationships work and increasing their confidence and ability to have successful relationships.

Question #40: Do you have a list of what I can do to try to make her happy in our relationship?

This is one of the questions I am asked most frequently. Of course it would be impossible to write a list that would be guaranteed to make all women happy in a relationship. There will be women, as there will be men, who decide they do not want to be happy and no amount of effort on their partner’s part will make any difference to that.

If you are a man with AS who tries to do the best you can to make things better and more harmonious with your partner, yet you still find your partner very unhappy or of a blaming inclination towards you, then as a couple you might need professional help. There is only so much any one person can do within a relationship, as it does involve two people, and requires both to work at ‘dancing’ to the same tune, otherwise one or other may find their foot trodden upon. You cannot make things work on your own or allow yourself to be abused in the process; all you can offer another is your best, which is why I have called it a ‘Things that could help to make her happy’ list.

Here are a few key things you could do to help make her happy:

  • Smile when you greet her.
     
  • If she is crying or upset give her a hug without necessarily saying anything.
     
  • When you hug or kiss her, try not to think about anything else but her.
     
  • Try not to interrupt her when she is talking to you.
     
  • Believe and trust that she loves you; accept and thank her for being in your life.

For the full list and answers to more relationship FAQs, check out What Men with Asperger Syndrome Want to Know About Women, Dating and Relationships!

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

VIDEO: Rudy Simone’s 22 Things a Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know

Rudy Simone is on a mission to prevent AS/non-spectrum relationships from breaking down because of a lack of information. Check out this video to find out more and for a great overview of her latest JKP book, 22 Things a Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know.

In her latest book, Aspergirls author Rudy Simone covers 22 common areas of confusion for someone dating a female with AS and includes advice from her own experience and from other partners in real relationships. She talks with humour and honesty about the quirks and sensitivities that you may come across when getting to know your partner. All the pivotal relationship landmarks are discussed, including the first date, sex, and even having children.

Creative ways to get young people talking about positive relationships – An Interview with Vanessa Rogers

Vanessa Rogers is a nationally acclaimed youth work consultant in the UK and has written a number of popular resource books for JKP aimed at those working with young people.

Here she answers some questions about her latest book, Let’s Talk Relationships: Activities for Exploring Love, Sex, Friendship and Family with Young People.

Tell us about this book – how did you develop the exercises?

This book has gathered together all the resources that I have developed (or been given) over the years that I have worked with young people around one of the most important topics: relationships.

Not just about sex and intimate relationships, this book is also a collection of ideas to work with young people to explore the values of friendship and trust, peer pressure and considers ways to build good relationships with parents through the rocky road of adolescence.

One if the key messages for teachers, social workers, health and youth work professionals, or indeed parents, using the book is that all of the activities have been tried and tested with young people – and they work!

Why is it so hard for young people to talk about relationships in a serious way?

I am not sure that it is hard for young people to talk about relationships! I think the challenge is to create an environment where young people can safely discuss their feelings, hopes and dreams, as well as ask questions about the things that are important to them, without the fear of being ‘judged’. This involves setting clear boundaries and creating a supportive space for learning to take place.

After all relationships are serious – but they should also be fun and enrich people’s lives, and this is one of the key messages running through the book. It is important to enable young people to develop the skills to feel confident, be assertive about what they want from a relationship and have self-respect, as well as respect for others and the wider community. That way they should be able to make good, healthy choices about their friendships and other relationships.

How do positive relationships with family, friends and mentors bolster a young person’s self-esteem?

Research would certainly suggest that there are clear links between self-esteem and positive relationships. From my own work I have seen the confidence that grows from a young person feeling loved and respected by their friends and family, and giving love and respect in return. This is not about everybody getting on all of the time, adolescence is a time of turbulence as teenagers struggle to find out who they are and take emotional risks, but building resilience to help them weather the knocks that life offers and come through it well.

In terms of getting young people to open up about relationships, when is a one-to-one setting preferable? What about the group setting?

Most of the activities in the book can be easily adapted for one-to-one work or for parents to use to prompt discussion with their teenagers.

In terms of preference, it may well be more appropriate to speak one to one about very personal issues, or if you have a young person who would struggle to cope in a group.

However, for the most part these session plans are around raising awareness and learning together, rather than a counseling resource. For me, the ideal for working with young people around relationship issues is a small group of between 8 and 12. If you plan to do sex and relationships work you may want to consider of the young people would talk more comfortable in a single gender group. Alternatively you may decide that the young men and women could learn from each other!

What should parents, youth workers and other facilitators do to prepare themselves for talking about relationships with young people?

I think the main advice I would offer is to learn to listen. Often young people have plenty to say, but have no one they trust enough to say it to. Set out your boundaries at the start so that they know exactly what can be kept confidential and what can’t. Create opportunities where young people can explore ideas and discuss issues, without it being personal, some of the scenarios and role-plays in the book are ideal for this.

Don’t make assumptions about the relationships that young people have or their sexuality. Remember two things – not all young people are having sex (the average age in the UK to have sex of the first time is 16), and not all young people are heterosexual! Equally, lots of young people might have taken part in sex education at school, but it is the relationship side of it that needs exploring. Offering the opportunity to talk about the relationships they have and the relationships they would like for the future can be invaluable.

Finally, set aside time and make sure that you have information about support mechanisms in place for those that need it.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

‘Exhaling Beauty’ – JKP authors host a special evening to celebrate females on the autism spectrum

Several months ago, JKP authors Shana Nichols, Rudy Simone and me – Liane Holliday Willey – decided it would be lovely to host a special evening for females on the autism spectrum to meet and greet, relax and refresh, and most importantly, celebrate the loveliness of life, despite the tangled wires too many of us have to churn through. 

'Exhaling Beauty' hosts and JKP authors, Shana Nichols, Liane Holliday Willey and Rudy Simone.

On Saturday the 18th of September in San Francisco, California, our vision became a reality when a fantastic group of ladies (and several supportive men!) joined us for an enlightening and absolutely enchanting evening we titled ‘Exhaling Beauty ~ Celebrating Females with ASD’. 

Savory hors dourves, top shelf wine and beer, art work by the very talented Kim Miller (whose mom Eileen Miller is a fellow JKP author) a luscious setting at the Kimpton Inn’s Hotel Monaco, and the musical talents of Rudy accompanied by pianist Jeff Orchard, along with the beautiful photography of Kathryn Hedges set the stage for the evening, but it was the attendees who really made the event sparkle.

I think I’m speaking for most of us when I say going out and about, especially to big public gatherings, is either something we are not typically invited to attend or if we are, not something we are very inclined to attend. Just another reason why this opportunity to have a grown-up, albeit calm, cocktail party in such a safe environment was extra special. Together, we made what could well have been an anxious outing, a time to blend and bond, have a few tête-à-têtes and revel. How cool is that?!?

From Rudy and Shana and I – special thanks to the travelers from other states and Canada who came so far to be with new friends. Special thanks to Mike Whipple and J.P. Groosman for handling the mundane stuff. Extra special appreciation goes out to JKP for being our greatest sponsor and advocate. This event proved good friends and supporters are indeed, the feathers that stuff our well-being!

The positive energy of this group was tangible. Not like anything I’ve ever felt. We have something here and I can’t predict where it is going or what it might become, but I for one am ever so excited to be a part of it in all shapes and forms.

Join us at www.celebratefemaleasd.com and on Facebook.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Liane Holliday Willey is a doctor of education, a writer and a researcher who specializes in the fields of psycholinguistics and learning style differences. She also has Asperger Syndrome, and is an energetic educator and advocate of Asperger issues.

Rudy Simone is an ‘Aspergirl’, self-advocate, writer, speaker, consultant, and coach specializing in help for adult Aspergers, particularly the areas of Employment, Female Asperger Syndrome and Relationships.

Shana Nichols, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist working in the areas of assessment, treatment, and research related to autism spectrum and other developmental disorders, and is Clinical Director of the Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders, New York.

Sarita Freedman on Developing College Skills in Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Dr. Sarita Freedman is a licensed psychologist and maintains a private practice in Calabasas, California, USA. Dr Freedman has over 30 years’ experience working with children, adults, and families, in both educational and clinical settings. She co-founded the Child Development Institute where she was Director of Special Needs Programs, and is also the founder of College on the Spectrum®, devoted to helping students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome succeed in college and in life.

Dr Freedman is the author of the new book, Developing College Skills in Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, with a Foreword by Tony Attwood. Here, she discusses the challenges young people with ASD face as students, and the benefits of planting the seed of educational success early in life.

When we witnessed the first “wave” of individuals diagnosed with some form of “high-functioning” autism spectrum disorder (ASD) around 1995, many of the individuals I diagnosed at that time were between 2-8 years of age. As time passed, these children came in and out of my practice and I became aware of several issues.

First, many students with ASD “fall through cracks,” especially when they’re bright and do not have behaviour problems. The ASD student who is more difficult to manage in the classroom is more likely to be identified and receive services.

Second, in order to qualify for special education services the student must demonstrate an “inability to access the curriculum.” Sometimes it can be difficult to prove that students need services. For example, while a fully verbal student may participate relatively well within the classroom setting, he frequently flounders on the playground due to social communication deficits. Developing better communication skills and having an adult present to facilitate social interactions on the playground could help this student improve his social communications skills, reduce his/her overall level of stress within the school environment, and be more accepted by his/her peers. However, supporting the need for speech and language therapy and/or an instructional aide for this student can be challenging because he functions “so well” in the classroom.

Third, the types of services offered to these students can be quite broad, and can include any, none, or all of the following: speech therapy, occupational therapy, social skills, 1:1 instructional aide, special instructional assistance in subject areas, and/or placement in a special day class. Finally, the general education curriculum addresses a student’s academic skills, but not practical life skills. This leads to students who are unprepared for life after high school. While some students may be able to access other government-funded services after they reach the age of 18, others may not be eligible due to strict eligibility guidelines and/or funding shortages. In any case, waiting until the age of 18 to develop independent living skills (ILS) is probably too late for students who want to go away for college. Unfortunately, without specific programming ILS and many other skills will not come naturally to our students.

In Developing College Skills in Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, I outline skills in a developmental perspective so that parents and professionals can stimulate skill development throughout the child’s life. I also recommend ways to break through some of the road blocks that commonly occur. For example, it’s challenging for students with ASD to participate in “non-preferred” tasks. As such, parents of students who go away for college worry that their student will spend most of his time playing video games, rather than focusing on college studies. Sadly, the risk of this happening is quite high. However, students can learn strategies to manage and balance their time, provided the student receives adequate programming throughout his life.

I had the pleasure of interviewing several students and their parents while writing the book, and their insights and experiences helped inform some of the recommendations I made. A handful of these families recognised the importance of ensuring that their child learns practical life skills from very early on. Reinforcing these skills became an important piece not only of the child’s educational programming, but also a natural part of their family’s “culture.” All of those students are faring well in their post-secondary studies. One student in particular has completed his college education at UCLA, passed a professional licensing exam, and is working in his chosen field!

If we begin the process of preparing students for life when they’re very young, they’ll be more likely to independently manage themselves by the time they’re ready for college and will more likely have a positive experience there.

Visit www.saritafreedman.com for more about Sarita and her work.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

An interview with ‘kindred spirit’ Shana Nichols, author of Girls Growing Up on the Autism Spectrum

Shana Nichols

Shana Nichols is clinical director of the Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders on Long Island, New York. She has worked with people with Autism for many years in her role as a clinical psychologist and has recently written the book Girls Growing Up on the Autism Spectrum.

When and why did you first become interested in Autism Spectrum conditions?

When I started college, I knew I was interested in studying psychology and that I wanted to work with children somehow. I had been a swimming instructor, coach and camp counsellor throughout high school and had many children with behavioural or learning difficulties in my groups. Though I had heard of autism, it wasn’t until I was in college that I met the young boy who helped shape my career path. I responded to an ad posted in my department by a family who was looking for students to work with their preschooler with autism as part of his home-based ABA program. After my first session I knew that I wanted to focus on autism. Though I no longer work primarily with preschoolers with autism spectrum disorders, those early experiences working intensely with families in their homes before I started graduate school have always stayed with me.

What do you like best about your work?

Most definitely teaching! Whether I am teaching a client about positive self-talk, a parent about how to use visual supports at home, a peer about how to engage a group member in a conversation, or one of my students about how to conduct an assessment, it is incredibly rewarding to see progress and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it. I have really enjoyed developing the psychology training program at my Centre over the past few years, working with students who are still in graduate school and those who are completing their post-doctoral training. Our field needs more bright and talented professionals and it is an honour to have the opportunity to be part of their learning experience.

Who or What inspires you?

Passion, creativity, commitment, and the many wonderful children and parents that I have been so fortunate to work with over the years.

What are your hopes for the future?

My hope for the young men and women I work with who have Asperger Syndrome is that the doors to all of life’s incredible experiences will open for them. For that to happen, we need to continue to think as a society about support and encouragement, acceptance, and celebration of differences.

What is your favourite book or film?

My mother tells me I was born with a book in my hands, and I have always been an insatiable reader. Like many Canadian girls I grew up madly in love with Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, wanting to be Anne Shirley, the spunky red-haired orphan with the wild imagination: “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”

I have always loved stories about creative, strong, gutsy heroines such as Anne Shirley and Jo March from Little Women, and I try to bring that energy to my work with girls and young women with ASDs—embracing challenges, overcoming obstacles, and finding a “kindred spirit” along the way.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2008