The one thing I wish I could tell every depressed autistic child

enduranceSince starting Autcraft, I’ve talked to a lot of depressed autistics, mostly children. Many of them were suicidal. This is not something I recommend for most people to ever try. It is a very heavy burden that can weigh heavy on your heart after a while.

I find that this happens a lot for me because I am the ideal candidate for this to happen to. I’m an autistic adult who’s still a kid at heart and once was a depressed autistic kid just like them. To say that I can relate is a massive understatement.

For those of you that watch The Flash, the new television series about the super fast superhero, you’ll totally get what I’m talking about here but if you don’t, don’t worry, I’ll try to explain. In the television show, there is The Flash who can run crazy fast but there’s also another guy, the villain, who they call The Reverse Flash. He runs even faster. The problem is, the good guys don’t know who this Reverse Flash really is until he slips up. In an effort to help The Flash run faster than he’s ever run before, he begins encouraging him by explaining to him how to reach those speeds, how to feel as the speeds take over him, how to handle the experiences he’s now going through. It was then that The Flash, our hero, realized who The Reverse Flash was because only he would know what it was like. Only someone that has shared those experiences could truly understand him.

In my case, these children that come to me to talk to me about their lives because they know who their Reverse Flash is… I can tell them what they’re experiencing, what they’re feeling and hopefully, how to get through it faster. I understand.

When they start to tell me how alone they feel, I can explain exactly what it is they’re feeling in words that they’ve never been able to before. When they say that no one understands them, I not only describe exactly how that feels for me as well but in doing so, I show them that there really is someone that understands them.

So knowing that, I’ve come to realize that there is only one common piece of advice that I give to most people that seems to help… and it’s the one thing that I wish that I could tell all young autistic children everywhere: “there’s an older you that needs you to endure this.”

When I think back to the younger me, I wish so hard that there was some way that I could just go back in time, to myself, just to tell myself, “I know it’s hard. And I know you never believe it when anyone else says it but maybe you’ll believe it from me, from yourself… endure this because it’s worth it.”

We’ve all heard “it gets better” but we all know that a child never believes that. Not when life is that bad. There is no one that can ever convince you of it. That goes double if you’re autistic. I can’t tell you why but if you are autistic, you know it.

But there is a future you, a happy you, a you that makes a difference in the world and is doing alright. And that future you, if they’re anything like me, would love nothing more than to have a chance to talk to you right now just to let you know that it’ll turn out alright, but first you have to endure this. And yes, it will suck. But as there’s a future you wanting to telling you this, you know that you can do it.

There are no time machines but even if there were, there are far too many autistic children that never give themselves the chance to meet their future selves. Perhaps if they could have, they would have seen for themselves that if only they can endure this… it will be worth it.

Comments { 4 }

Children with autism that do well are rewarded with cut backs

An autism parent recently contacted me to ask if I knew of any high schools with special autism programs because she feels that she may be pulling her children out of the school that they’re currently in. Why? Because her son, whom is getting grades of around 80%, is at risk of losing his EA (education assistant) as well as the aides that help him to get his work done, such as a keyboard since he can’t write. Why are they taking these things away from him? Because he’s getting good grades. Why is he getting good grades? Because he has these things.

A similar scenario happened for me as my own son approached the age to go to school for the first time. In the beginning we were promised a special program but as we made progress with him, that was changed to him having an EA with him in class. The following year, we were informed that he’d get no assistance at all and would be put into a regular class.

We moved.

So why are good kids making good progress being punished? Funding. The government only gives a certain amount of money to these programs and then it’s up to these programs to figure out where the money has to go. That means prioritizing.

If your child is making good progress, then the funding is “reallocated” towards another child that isn’t doing as well and therefore needs that money more. It makes sense on paper. In the real world though, with real human beings, that sounds like those at the top are being punished. It’s clearly not as simple as “he doesn’t need it as much.”

This sounds pretty terrible already but what happens when the funding gets cut and is now lower than it was before?

This is basically happening everywhere but you likely won’t hear much about it. Locally, where I am in Ontario, it’s happening right now. And even though I can link this news story to prove it, I can also pretty much guarantee that no one in Ontario (aside from the schools) knows it’s happening.

“To lose educational assistants? Those people help the most vulnerable students, the kids with learning disabilities, the kids with autism, the kids that are struggling. It’s shameful that this is what the government is doing and that they sold the people the opposite bill of goods in the election campaign.”

People are losing their services as they age out (become adults), as they make progress and as the government decides it. Services that they really need! It feels a lot like  “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Unfortunately there’s very little we can do. Those people at those programs can’t do anything to help even if they wanted to, which I’m sure they do. But they can’t justify continuing to give your child that money when another child might need it more.

The only real answer is adequate funding. Which seems pretty silly with all of the attention that autism has had in recent years. Most of the states in the US now include autism therapies within their insurance plans, most everyone has heard of it by now and several schools even have specially dedicated autism programs. And yet governments continue to make cuts.

The take away? If you want your child with autism to continue having services, don’t let them do well. Because the reward for doing well is punishment.

And just in case you think this isn’t a very serious and very real problem, let me leave you with these from various places and various years:

http://www.citynews.ca/2015/03/18/parents-of-autistic-kids-worried-about-ontarios-cuts-to-school-funding/
http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/b-c-plans-to-slash-funding-for-adults-with-disabilities-1.77768
http://abc7chicago.com/society/state-funding-for-autism-program-cut-on-world-autism-day-advocate-says/612111/
http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2014/05/07/rankin-county-schools-abolish-autism-program-parents-angry/8806557/
http://www.sj-r.com/article/20150406/NEWS/150409621
https://www.change.org/p/don-t-cut-the-autism-program-for-middle-and-high-school-students
http://www.yukon-news.com/news/whitehorse-parent-pleas-for-more-support-for-autistic-daughter/
http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2012/s3574820.htm
http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Parents-decry-proposed-cuts-to-autism-other-6217528.php
http://omazingkidsllc.com/tag/cuts-to-autism-programs-in-oklahoma/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/parents-protest-cuts-to-autism-program-in-arlington/2014/05/14/fae086a4-db6f-11e3-8009-71de85b9c527_story.html
http://www.disabled-world.com/health/neurology/autism/schools-autism.php
http://www.kelowna.com/2009/10/28/kelowna-moms-protest-government-cuts/

 

Comments { 1 }

How to Safely Motivate Autistic Children

Children with autism have problems interacting with others and may suffer from impaired communication skills. A challenge for parents and teachers is to find a method to motivate these children that is both safe and effective. Developing language, behavioral and social skills can be extremely challenging for some autistic children; however, some tips to aid this effort are highlighted here.

Immobilier

Getting to know the child

Before you can get started on any type of learning strategy, it is essential you get to know the child in question. This includes:

  • Creating and updated a list of the child’s interests and strengths. Include any fascinations or preoccupations that could be strange.
  • Take not of activities that cause anxiety of frustration.
  • Notice any pacing or processing issues that may be present.

When you understand these things, you can create a strategy that will be conducive to the way the autistic child will learn best. No two children are exactly the same, which means you need to carefully observe and evaluate prior to trying to motivate.

Methods of motivation

There are a number of methods that can be used to motivate an autistic child. Some of the most common motivators are highlighted here.

  • Play therapy

You can motivate autistic children with play therapy, which can help to provide a sense of accomplishment, encourage self-expression and teach new skills.

  • Provide choices

It is also possible to motivate autistic children when you allow them to select the stimulus activity, such as dancing or jumping. You can join them in with this activity until the child successfully makes eye contact or they communicate spontaneously.

  • Utilize positive reinforcement

When you are actively learning or providing therapy, prompting for another try after the wrong answer, or praising a correct choice will encourage a child to respond more often.

You can also use other types of reinforces to help children learn new skills. In some cases, children who suffer from autism are not able to be adequately motivated with traditional, social feedback. In these instances you will have to find a reinforcer that works for your child.

One way to find an effective reinforcer is to set out a number of different items and see which the child chooses. Take note of what they choose and how long they interact with that item. In most cases, the first item selected will be the most powerful reinforcing tool.

Once you have discovered the reinforcer that works best for your child, then you should deliver it directly after a correct response is give. Be sure that this is always paired with some type of verbal praise, such as “good job.” This will help them also understand the importance and effectiveness of verbal praise.

  • Cover new and familiar skills

It is important to keep learning fun and interesting for your autistic child. This means you should introduce both new activities and skills, as well as ones they are familiar with. While it is important to create a routine and sense of familiarity, studies have also shown that autistic children remain focused, give more right answers and are better behaved when the activities are varied.

Autism 5

To illustrate, you might want to help them create motivational posters with inspiring quotes such as, “Smile” or “Be Awesome.” Then, as they look as these posters they will experience both inspiration and pride knowing they helped to make them.

  • Integrate sensory activities

Utilizing sensory based activities can help autistic children learn new skills more quickly. However, it is important to introduce these slowly to begin with in order to ensure it does not become sensory overload.

  • Use music therapy

There are a number of autistic children who can sing, even when they are unable to speak, and when you expose them to songs that have repetitive, simple phrases can help them to develop new language skills. Singing may also be beneficial in helping to eliminate monotone speech patterns and by learning to match various musical rhythms. It can also help to enhance a child’s social interaction by encouraging them to participate in a group activity, such as a music group or class.

  • Implement rewards

While reinforcers and rewards are similar, you can use rewards for good behavior, or a day of completed lessons. These rewards can be something that is given at a certain time of day, if they have completed the necessary tasks and activities.

Motivating autistic children is more difficult than those without the disorder; however, there are still a number of methods that can be used to do this successfully. When you read the information here and take some time to get to know your child better, you will be able to create a plan or strategy that can help to successfully motivate children that suffer from autism.

Be sure that you work with teachers for the child in order to ensure the same reinforcers or rewards are used, which will help the child better understand the verbal cues that go along with these items. This will help to further motivate your child and help them pick up on new skills much more easily.

Comments { 0 }

This is what happens when the autism community asks the Minecraft community for help

For the second year in a row, I put out a plea to the Minecraft community to help me put a stop to the bullying that happens on Minecraft servers around the world but also bullying that happens anywhere and more specifically, how much more often it happens to those that have autism. For the second year in a row, the Minecraft community answered.

This year several people that make YouTube videos of themselves playing Minecraft made some heartfelt and powerful videos sharing their experiences and opinions, helping to support us in our mission. These people did this because they knew that these videos, as painful or awkward or difficult to make as they may be, will help at least one person somewhere and that makes it worth it.

I put some of those videos at the bottom of this post for you to watch.

On April 2nd, I decided to live stream (play Minecraft in a live video for others to watch and chat with me) in an attempt to get my message out and to explain why I was so passionate about this. My Minecraft server, Autcraft, was built specifically to give children with autism a safe place to play, free from bullying and hate. It’s a place that I wish never had to be made in the first place, and so I spoke out to what few viewers I had.

As hour followed hour, my viewership grew. More people came to watch me. I took a ten minute break for something to eat, fearing to take too long for I might lose those people. But they didn’t leave. The numbers continued to grow, as did the support.

I intended to stream for a few hours at most but more and more people came to watch me… to listen to me! And then, it happened… Arkas appeared in my live stream chat.

Now, I’m going to start mentioning a lot of names in this next part and you are forgiven if you don’t know who they are. They are people that play Minecraft on YouTube and in live streams of their own and have thousands, hundreds of thousands and even millions of people subscribed to watch them. They influence these people. When they speak, their viewers listen.

If you play Minecraft or have a child that plays Minecraft, some of these names may be familiar to you, if not, then just believe when I say that they are “celebrities” in the Minecraft world.

Arkas shared the link to my live stream on Twitter and appeared in my chat room to let me know that he supports me. Shortly after, he was followed by Docm77.  He too, shared the link on Twitter. Suddenly I had more viewers than I imagined I ever would have and they were in my chat room, talking with people and me and supporting me.. supporting the autism community that I represented.

Before I knew what was going on, I was adding them both to the server’s whitelist and they were there… on the server… with the children! Talking to them, taking screenshots together, giving those children on the server, autistic children, autistic adults and family, giving them the best day of their lives.

We had a wider audience, we were teaching so many people about bullying, autism and about how amazing people with autism can truly be!

But it didn’t stop there.

To my total amazement, another YouTuber then joined the server. Etho.

You need to understand that for me, Etho is the first that I had watched and quite literally taught me most of what I know about Minecraft and, without ever knowing it, gave me the know how and confidence to ever start a server of my own. But more so than that, he’s just as important to so many of the children on my server.

But what made his appearance truly amazing is that… that just does not happen. Etho is “illusive,” in fact, that’s what many people call him. He just does not “make appearances.” To show up on my server, with dozens and dozens of children that idolize him (some of the grown ups too)… that told me that what we were doing here truly was that special, it truly was that important. That’s when I knew that we were doing something amazing.

But wait, still not done!

Shortly after that, I was messaged by Keralis! Keralis (along with Arkas) are two of the best builders in all of Minecraft, in my opinion. He messaged me and said that he would come on too. Then another message… Xisuma Void! Xisuma Void passed along the message to the rest of the members of a server he helps to manage called HermitCraft and then suddenly I found myself in a chat room talking to a whole bunch of people that I’ve been watching for years! Biffa2001, ZombieCleo, Zuelgin and Sl1pg8r then joined the server too!

Here I was, this guy all by himself, asking the Minecraft community to help me. To help us. To speak up. All I wanted to do was help but somewhere, in the back of my mind, I thought… “what am I doing?” because I really didn’t think anyone would listen. That’s what I’m used to. I have autism myself and to be quite honest, I’m used to people not listening to me too.

But not in the Minecraft community. They listened. No, they didn’t just listen, they shared the message, they got behind it and amplified it. They didn’t just listen, they talked to me about it and helped me to reach so many people that I never would have reached on my own.

They were so very kind to me and to the kids on my server. They changed lives that day. Not just on the server but in their audiences, in my audience… in our communities and more.

This is what the Minecraft community is capable of and it’s amazing. I want to thank all the YouTubers that did this but I also want to thank the rest of the Minecraft community. I have received so many messages from so many people in YouTube comments, Twitch messages, tweets and so much more from people telling me what a great thing I’m doing and how they support me. When they support me, they support the autism community. When they support the autism community, they support these kids that need us so much.

That’s not to be taken lightly. So thank you Minecraft community, on behalf of myself, my server and the autism community.

These videos are from very kind people that have spoken out… the bottom 2 videos are from the live stream in which all of those YouTube celebrities came to visit Autcraft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments { 0 }

A few things you might not know about autistics for Autism Awareness Day

Autism ExceptionalI have had the fortunate opportunity to be able to talk to a lot of children with autism, thousands. Many of those talks are about some very deep and heavy topics. But many of these topics are either not being discussed or not openly enough to where I have been able to come across them. I can only imagine that this means that people don’t know these things. So, for Autism Awareness Acceptance Day, allow me to share with you what I’ve learned.

More Likely to be Bullied

I’m starting out with something that most people likely do know. In fact, there have been studies done regarding this. While the study does include some of the factors for why people with autism are more likely to be bullied, most people still ask me why this could be, especially on a Minecraft server where you can’t really know that the other person has autism.

Well, you don’t have to know how a person is different to know that they are in fact different, and to a bully, being different is all it takes. Many children with autism (or any other diagnosis) will behave differently in a social setting than their ‘typical’ counterparts. Whether it be obsessing over something, not understanding innuendo or sarcasm, using words or phrases incorrectly or being easily prone to emotional outbursts such as excitement or anger. All it takes is one instance of being “weird” in the mind of a bully to make you a target.

To be a victim of bullying is to be a victim of abuse. Whether it’s physical (at school or in a playground) or emotional (online), the effects are damaging and can often do far more damage (trauma) than good (makes you stronger).

Likely to become a bully

Many of the children that come to my Minecraft server end up bullying others. They tell them what to do, they get angry when someone ignores them, they say the meanest thing possible when mad and even try to destroy other people’s builds when angry. Why?

One of the reasons this happens is, as I said, a child with autism may be prone to emotional outbursts. This means that something that may seem minor to you or me may mean the world to that child. Or, maybe it still doesn’t mean much to them but the ‘act’ was taken so personally that they felt very hurt by it. Often times the child will feel terrible after but in that moment, when that emotion hits, they lose control. This turns them into the bully that they hate and fear so much.

Another reason is that the bullying behaviour is all they’ve ever known and thus, how they think they should be. They spend almost their entire Internet experience being bullied everywhere they go and therefore, when they finally find a place that accepts them and allows them to play without judgment, they slowly revert to the behaviour they know… which is bullying. Even though they hated it, even though it’s the last thing they’d ever want to do… it’s all they know.

Finally, another reason may be that they’ve become so broken by the relentless judgments and bullying elsewhere that they have a hard time of letting go of their defensive posture. They’ve been attacked for so long that they see any minor disagreement or even accident as a personal attack on them. In most cases, they’ve had to fend for themselves and so even when they find a place where they can turn for help, whether it be my server or a school teacher or their own parents, they still feel that they’re alone. Much like a soldier returning from war, having to fight for so long, it’s hard to let that feeling go.

Explanations are necessary

Most children test their boundaries but at the same time, do as they’re told because you tell them to. There’s this relationship established automatically where you’re the adult, thus you have authority and the child must do as you say. If they do ask why, often a “because I said so” response will suffice.

With children that have autism, not always but is often the case, that authoritative relationship is not automatic and quite possibly may never exist. Instead, the child will understand that you make the rules but feel no obligation to follow those rules unless it can be explained to them why it’s a rule in the first place. There needs to be some reason for the rule that they will need to understand before they are to abide by it.

Instead of getting angry or trying to use force, take the time to explain why things are how they are.

More likely to seek friends

Most people in the world think that autistics are anti-social and would rather be alone all the time. While it’s true that many with autism find it difficult and even painful to socialize, that doesn’t mean they don’t desire it. From what I’ve observed, most children are weary of adding just anyone to Skype or friends lists, or at the very least, only choose those that they’ve already talked to.

Many children with autism, on the other hand, are so eager to make and have friends that they will seek out and add anyone that will be willing without taking safety or security into account. This often gets them into trouble.

Obviously this is not always the case as some are quite shy, scared or so extremely cautious that they’d never add anyone to anything but in general, as I’ve observed, the children with autism will go to much greater lengths to seek out new friends than other typical children. Their need to socialize and have a friend far outweighs the pain and struggle that the socializing causes them.

The greatest punishment that you can never give

Guilt is by far the worst thing that any child will ever experience as a consequence of their actions but when it comes to a child with autism, that guilt can last them and be in their thoughts for the rest of their life. I’m not talking about how people say you can regret something for the rest of your life, what I’m talking about goes much deeper. Those with autism can pull up the heaviest, darkest feeling of guilt from something 40+ years ago in an instant for no apparent reason and feel it as though it happened an hour ago. That even plays out in vivid detail over and over again with no indication of stopping.

If you see this in your child or someone you know, believe me when I say that no punishment you can give them to “teach them a lesson” will come anywhere close in comparison.

It’s in these moments when you need to be the voice of reason, the one to help them to not only absorb the lesson but to move beyond the guilt. Because if you don’t, it will linger with them forever.

If you can remove that fear, progress becomes exponential

There is really no substitute for a caring and well trained therapist, professional and of course, parent but even when in the company of these people, a child will feel nervous, anxious and even scared. Afraid to do or say something wrong or nervous about not being able to live up to expectations. A child may just shut down or at the very least, not retain what is being taught to them.

I found a way to take all of that away and to allow children to talk and play and do things together all without any fear or anxiety. And from that, the truly remarkable happened… progress!

No, I’m not saying professionals don’t help children make progress but I’m talking about massive progress, exponential progress on levels so absurd that the children are learning well beyond their years about things that no one is really even trying to teach them.

When you remove the fear of embarrassment, or teasing or bullying, a child will open up in ways that you could never imagine. They are free to indulge in what interests them without worrying that people will think it’s silly. They are free to meet other people that share those interests! They are more willing to take in and process what others say as their minds become more relaxed and accepting of new information.

These children become hungry for more, pushing themselves to better equip themselves so that they can become even more involved in the conversations around them, to know as much or more than their peers and to share what they’ve learned without fear of someone saying that it’s dumb, or they already know it or it’s not worth knowing. They take the next steps on their own, no need for a push.

If you want to see a child with autism learn faster than you can teach, find a way to remove the fear and self doubt. Easier said than done, but if we can do that, there’s no limit to how far they can go.

April 2nd is about far more than just diagnosis rate numbers

If you take anything away from this Autism Awareness Day or month, please understand this: many of the children in this world that have autism are extremely bright, they’re very capable human beings that are very caring and passionate people that can exceed all expectations if only they could live without fear. But instead, many of them are dying, taking their own lives at very early ages under the heavy weight and burden of constant abuse that we attempt to make sound not so bad by labelling it as bullying.

Instead of being frightened by the number of people being diagnosed with autism this year, you should really be concerned about the number of children that will kill themselves due to fear, bullying and abuse.

Those are the numbers that scare me most.

Comments { 0 }