On Friday April 6 Amy Gravino hosted a LIVE Chat as a part of our 'Aging with Autism' Theme Week. Amy is a certified college coach for individuals with Asperger's Syndrome, and the founder of A.S.C.O.T (Asperger's Syndrome Coaching and Other Techniques) Coaching, LLC. She is also a seasoned public speaker, and has spoken at conferences, professional development workshops, support group meetings, and more since the age of 14.
Good morning, everyone! I'm Amy Gravino.
I'm a college coach for students with Asperger's syndrome, in addition to having Asperger's myself. I was diagnosed at the age of 10. I recently obtained my Masters degree in Applied Behavior Analysis and have opened an office in Fairfield, NJ for my college coaching business, A.S.C.O.T. Coaching, LLC.
I also currently serve on the Board of Directors for GRASP, and on the Communications Committee for Autism Speaks. I'm very happy to be here today to answer your questions!
Comment From Nanci
Hi Amy Im Nanci
Comment From Justen
Comment From laurie
Comment From Giselle
Comment From Lisa
I have two boys 21 & 13 that are both diagnosed with Asperger's, how do I help them with organizational skills...they have problems keeping track of what assignments are due, forget to turn them in on time, and therefore their grades reflect it. I want to make sure my younger son learns now, before he fails in college like my older son has.
Hello, Lisa! One thing that I find helps is for individuals with Asperger's to be able to see the consequences of the things with which they have difficulty. Help your son look at what he has difficulty with and then describe what a consequence of that might be. So, for example: He has a hard time turning assignments in on time...what's the consequence? He gets a bad grade. Then set a goal for this particular problem area.
A goal such as "Turn in Science homework on the day it is due." Then pick specific outcomes, because the goal is the big picture, but the outcomes are the details. So one outcome might be "Finish assignment by 8:00pm the night before so it is ready for the next day." This might help him to become better organized.
Comment From john kenney
hello Amy i have two sons with autism severe speech delay. nowin grade school witch college should i be looking at.
A good idea is to look at which colleges are most geared to supporting individuals on the autism spectrum. At this point, though, it might be a little too early to look at colleges, because your sons development might progress as times goes on. So maybe wait a few years and then see where they are at by then. But as I said before, colleges with robust support offices that are trained in AS are the way to go.
Comment From Natalie
How different is Asperger's from PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder). My son has PDD and wants to attend online college. I know he can do great things, I just worry if he'll ever have the chance.
Asperger's is sort of one or two notches over on the autism spectrum from PDD-NOS. (PDD = Pervasive developmental disorder, which is the umbrella term for ASDs). PDD-NOS (Not otherwise specified) is considered slightly less affected than Asperger's. As to your question, I absolutely think your son will have the chance. People told my parents I would never go to college, that they shouldn't waste their money on me, but I got a B.A. in English in four years, and I am very proud of that. I feel that individuals with Asperger's/PDD-NOS/autism have tremendous potential, as do all of us. We just need the right supports to help us reach that potential.
Just to let everyone know, I am getting a ton of questions. I will try to answer as many as possible. Please know that even if your question is not answered, I am reading all of them. Thank you!
Comment From Alissa
What kind of advice do you have for a mom of a 12 year old girl with Asperger's? Specifically, while she is very high functioning, (she was only diagnosed in Oct of 2011) she has zero interest in making friends. Most of this is due to her being severely bullied in her old school, but now she is cynical and refuses to try or join anything.
Hello, Alissa! Your daughter sounds a lot like me at the age of 12. Although, I very much wanted to make friends, but was unable to do so because of my social skills difficulties. The unfortunate thing is, after being burned so many times and rejected over and over, it does make a person not want to try at all. I was bullied too, and it made me very self-conscious and hard on myself. I found as I got older that it is more worthwhile to have a few close friends who "get' me and accept me, than a larger group of acquaintances with whom I have no real connection. I would say that your daughter's reluctance is understandable, and to give her a little leeway. She may find as time goes on that she's willing to try again, or will end up being more accepted once junior high (two truly horrible years) have passed by.
Hello, everyone who is coming in! We have lots of questions being sent in, so your patience as I try to answer is greatly appreciated!
Comment From Gaynell
I can't wait to show my son Jakob your story. He was in mainstream school until he was diagnosed last year. I'be been homeschooling him this year, and he's really blossomed, but still calls himself stupid. I keep praying that he will see what an incredible person he is. How can I convince him that he's brilliant. Even his older brother, whom he always compares himself to, will tell Jakob that he's smart, but 7 years of public school have convinced him otherwise. He's also severely dysgraphic.
Thank you for the lovely words, Gaynell! I remember my parents trying to do the same when I was in school. Unfortunately, the words of my peers carried far more weight than those of my parents. The reflection of myself came from what the kids I went to school with said about me. Because of this, I had very low self-esteem, and it wasn't until I left school that my confidence began to grow. I have also been fortunate to have incredible parents who always supported me--luckily, I remembered this years after graduating high school, and my relationship with them has improved greatly as a result. I would say just keep doing what you are doing...support him, love him, but know that his sense of who he is will take time to develop after all those years in public school. If I could see a better reflection of myself after everything I went through, so can your son!
Comment From Michael
Was it difficult in getting your Master's Degree?
Thank you for asking, Michael! I actually found that I loved getting my Masters degree. School was never an enjoyable experience when I was younger because of my social difficulties and the bullying I experienced. But graduate school is so completely different--there are no social constraints of living in a dorm, as I commuted to my school. I was able to really soak in the knowledge and just enjoy the academic nature of it all. Plus, I was the only Aspie in my classes, so I found that people often turned to me to ask questions and get my opinions on the topics we discussed. It was sort of like being a goldfish in a bowl, but in a good way. The only difficulty I had in getting my Masters was when I had to run my own study, because I couldn't find participants! But I loved the program as a whole and the wonderful people I met and opportunities I was given as a result.
Welcome new readers! Thank you so much for being here. I'm happy to answer your questions, so feel free to ask anything. I'm also currently writing a book called "The Naughty Autie," about my experiences as a woman on the spectrum with dating and sexuality, so I am not shy about answering questions related to this area. Thanks again for being here! Let's keep the good times rolling.
Comment From Alissa
Another question I have is why are girls diagnosed less often than boys? I was told for years that while my daughter is highly intelligent, she just "marches to the beat of a different drummer" and that because her interests lie in creative and artistic forms, she sees the world differently and I was just being over protective. I can't help but wonder if she was diagnosed earlier how life could be different for her now.
Excellent question, Alissa! Well, the diagnostic criteria that are used to diagnose Asperger's were developed by Hans Asperger, who observed a group of boys with similar behavior characteristics. The key word here is "boys," which means that he did not look at girls with Asperger's. In our society, girls are taught to be social, are expected to connect emotionally with others. Because of this, girls on the spectrum oftentimes learn to compensate for their behaviors, to "mask" them. This is why girls often are mis-diagnosed, under-diagnosed, or not diagnosed at all with AS, because of this different presentation.
Comment From Karin
My eight year old has as aspergers and has trouble in school because he has a teachers aid who i dont think understands children with autism and makes it diffcult for him how do i help not only my son in school but the teachers aid with him?
Hi Karin! I had a one-to-one aid in school (one in 9th and 10th grade, then a different one in 11th and 12th grade). My problem was very similar, in that the aid did not serve much of a real purpose, except to poke me when I would fall asleep in class (which I later came to realize was a coping mechanism in response to being bullied all day). I think education is a tremendous part of helping paraprofessionals and aids better understand individuals with autism. I often go to schools to do professional development workshops, in which i discuss autism and Asperger's and why it's so important to be aware of these students and not let them slip through the cracks. Advocate for your son, because if he like me, he is not at the point where he is able to speak for himself. It might take a bit of "mama bear" attitude, but sometimes a little knowledge can go a very long way.
Hello again, everyone! Welcome, welcome, and thank you for being here. Still lots of great questions coming in, so please sit tight as I make my way through them. Thank you!
Comment From James
Yiu mentioned that your parents have helped you. In what ways and to what extent?
My parents have fought for me when no one else would. Even when they themselves were still learning about Asperger's and autism, they went to bat for me, sat in at IEP meetings where they were basically discouraged from thinking I would ever graduate high school, let alone do anything else. Thank goodness they didn't listen to these people, right? At the moment, my parents are supporting me financially still, and have encouraged me in opening my office and trying to be a college coach. Without their support, I absolutely would not be who I am or where I am right now.
Comment From Heather
Do you recommend educating your young child's peers (classmates) on autism/asperger's/pdd, etc.? For example, our 6 year old loves "All Cats Have Asperger's" - would reading something like that to a class help with understanding and acceptance, or would it hinder the situation?
I would say that it depends on the situation. With the level of awareness of autism that now exists, it is likely that the response from the peers would be very positive. I understand that some people are afraid of their children carrying that "label," but the policy I tend to abide by is that if children are old enough to realize that someone is different (and they realize this VERY early on), then they are old enough to know WHY. "Different" does not have to equal bad, and to me it is important for children to understand this. That book sounds like it would be great to read to your child's peers. Another great one is "My Brother Charlie" by Holly Robinson Peete, as it addresses autism without ever using the word. But it makes it accessible to the audience, and by taking away that sense of "other," it removes the fear that the neurotypical kids might have towards their Aspie peer. People fear the unknown, but a person on the spectrum is a person first and a "diagnosis" second.
Comment From Donna
You mentioned that you are writing a book. When will that be finished?
Hi Donna! I am currently trying to find a publisher for my book. I have a book proposal all drawn up and written, and have sent it to several literary agents. I received some very nice rejection letters, but so far haven't found someone to represent me or the right publisher for the book. I hope to actually finish writing the book this year, now that I am done with my Masters degree, and have it published very soon after.
Comment From Shirl
How do I get my daughter to eat nutritiously and possibly take vitamins? She stays inside so much so she doesn't get any sunshine which is important for vitamin D. She keeps changing what she likes.She used to eat very well but not lately.
Greetings, Shirl! I was a very picky eater when I was younger, so I can relate to this. I would only eat certain foods, to the exclusion of a LOT of foods I should have been eating but wasn't (such as vegetables). In recent years, however, I have developed my first ever "perseverative interest"...cooking! I find that cooking gives me a measure of control over what I eat, which is vastly different from when you are a kid and your parents are the ones telling you what to eat. A lot of times, individuals on the spectrum feel as though nothing is in their control, and being able to participate in the preparation of a meal...whether it's chopping up a vegetable or boiling water...can make a world of difference. It becomes "your" meal, as opposed to something someone is just forcing you to eat.
Comment From Gaynell
What do you think about continuing homeschooling? Am I protecting him too much from the world? I know he needs to be among his peers, but they can be so brutal. Jakob was almost suicidal when we pulled him out of school last year. The Mama Bear in me wants to keep him home and let him get his GED, but the practical part of me knows that eventually he will need to be able to live in the world. I just want time to build him up, give him the confidence that he needs so that when his peers call him stupid (they did, even though he made A's and B's), that he can ignore them and go on. What are your thoughts?
Well, I pined and ached for homeschooling when I was a kid...anything just to get me out of what felt like a living nightmare five days a week. I have found, though, that "swimming with the sharks" ultimately helped me in the long run. Mainstreaming obviously is not for everyone, but it benefited me because I was forced to be in this environment where the "socialness" was pervasive. It breaks my heart that your son's peers are calling him stupid...I think it does not have to do with his grades, because "smarts" come in different varieties: Book smarts and street smarts. Kids will always pick on someone whom they see is not "picking up" on the social flow of school, and it's infuriating. It's as though who we are and the intelligence we have is automatically discounted because of our social difficulties. I would say that yes, being able to live in the world is crucial, so keep supporting your son and give him that safe space to come home to. He is worth so much more than he might think of himself, which is a piece of advice that I gave to myself as a child in my "Letter To My Younger Self" (which can be read on the Article and Writing section of website, www.amygravino.com). So you tell him from me that he is awesome, and not to let what the other kids are saying get to him, because they are not worth his time.
Well, folks, we are just about out of time here, I'm sad to say! It's been a tremendous privilege getting to answer your questions, and I am only sorry that I didn't have time to answer more. I invite you all to check out my blog, http://minikitkatgirl.blogspot.com, and my website, which I mentioned above, www.amygravino.com, for more information about me and the work that I do. I hope that I was able to help those of you who came in, and if you have other questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
And a big thank you to Autism Speaks for giving me this opportunity. Hopefully this won't be the last time I get to hang with you guys and help answer your questions. Thank you for being such caring and concerned parents, and to the individuals on the spectrum themselves, keep fighting the good fight and know that I am fighting right along with you!
Comment From Guest
thank you! I learned a lot with you!!
Comment From katherine
I appreciate you taking your time to help us! I learned a lot from you :)
Comment From Gaynell
I can't thank you enough for having the strength to be an advocate! I will certainly be holding you up as an example to Jake, that he can be anything he wants to be. You have a lovely spirit, thank you so much for sharing with us today!
Comment From Alissa
thank you for opening yourself and experiences up to us!!!
You're welcome, everyone! Thank you for being here. :)