Autism Awareness – Raising the Bar

Autism_Awareness_RibbonApril is Autism Awareness Month, and World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, 2014.  All across the globe, families, individuals, and organizations will commemorate the day and month with events and activities to educate and raise awareness about autism.

While awareness is a good thing, we think it’s time to raise the bar.  Awareness can only take us so far. We can achieve even greater results when we set our sights on acceptance and action.  Autism & Asperger Connections’ goal is to create a community in Colorado Springs where autistic people of all ages are accepted, supported, and valued. Awareness is only the first step.

As you participate in, or perhaps organize, autism-focused activities this month, we invite you to join us in pushing beyond awareness to create meaningful change for the autistic community.  Together, we can make it happen!

If you’d like to become more actively involved in creating a supportive community for autistic individuals here in Colorado Springs, contact us about our volunteer opportunities.  We’d love to have your support!

Nominate Your Favorite Autism-Friendly Business!

How often do you find yourself wondering about the best hair stylist, dentist, or eye doctor? And how often do you rave to your friends who are also connected in some way to the autism spectrum about your favorite sensory-friendly grocery shopping spots, parks, and restaurants?

April is Autism Awareness Month, and as part of our activities this month, we want to thank all these businesses on behalf of our local autism community, and share these great insider tips with one another as well.

Please share your favorite autism-friendly places and providers for all of your family’s various needs, and tell us what you like about them. In addition to sharing your recommendations with all of our members, we will send a note/certificate to the nominees, thanking them for the ways in which they are meeting your family’s needs and perhaps the needs of others in our community. This will not be an official endorsement by Autism & Asperger Connections, as it is our policy not to make official endorsements. We will simply recognize them on behalf of those members of the autism community who consider them tops.

Nominate your favorite autism-friendly businesses via our online survey. You can nominate as many businesses as you’d like (please nominate each business via a separate survey response). The survey is open now through 4/30/14.

Thank you for helping us recognize autism-friendly businesses and providers in our community!

Operation Happy Birthday Colin!

Want to make a difference in this young man’s life?

Autism & Asperger Connections (AAC) invites members and friends to join us in making Colin’s 11th birthday a very special one.

Colin is a young man who lives in Michigan. He does not have any friends at school and eats lunch alone. You may have read his story on Facebook or heard about it on the news (to read Colin’s story, click here). Colin is not on the autism spectrum but he does have a social disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  Many people on the spectrum can probably identify with Colin and the loneliness that comes with having a social disability.

AAC invites those on the spectrum, friends, family, and AS friendly persons to join us on Saturday, 3/1 from 12:00-12:45pm at the East Library for Operation Happy Birthday Colin! You can drop off a birthday card/craft, or join us and make cards, crafts, write poems, or any other token of kindness to send to Colin. We want to let him know that there are people who understand, people who care about him, and that he’s not alone.

When: Saturday, 3/1 from 12:00-12:45pm

Where: East Library Community Room, 5550 North Union Blvd., Colorado Springs

Art supplies and light snacks will be provided to crafters and those that drop off items for Colin. AAC will package up all of the cards and gifts and we will send them to Colin for his birthday in March. Giving to those in need is healing. It reminds us we are not alone and draws us together as a community.

We hope you’ll join us!

7 Tips for Managing Parenting Stress

Raising a child on the autism spectrum, while rewarding in so many ways, can be very stressful.  You may be pursuing various therapies for your child, spending extra time working with your child’s school to advocate for educational accommodations, juggling special medical and dietary needs, and so on. Stressful situations often arise when others fail to understand or accept your child. While some parenting stress is a given (regardless of the needs of the child), parenting a child on the spectrum often involves special challenges that can exacerbate stress.

Following are seven ways to reduce your stress and cope more effectively with parenting demands. 

Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that oth­ers can help you and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, one person might be happy to watch your child for a few hours a week while you take a break. Someone else might offer to pick up groceries for you.  Depending on your situation, you may also benefit from looking into respite care.  Although it may be difficult to imagine leaving your child in someone else’s care, taking a break is often one of the best things you can do for both yourself and your child.  Visit our Resources page to find respite providers in Colorado Springs.

Don’t give in to guilt. Parental guilt is normal – it seems to come with the territory. When you’re parenting a child on the spectrum, it can be compounded because you feel like you could always be doing more for your child.  Ditch the guilt and recognize that you’re likely doing the best you can at any given time.

Get informed.  There are many local and national autism support organizations that provide information about autism as well as resources available.  The Autism Society, for example, offers the “Living with Autism” series free of charge which covers a number of helpful topics pertaining to parenting a child on the spectrum.

Join a support group. A support group can provide much-needed encouragement as well as connections with other parents of kids on the spectrum for information sharing and support. It can also be a great place to make new friends – for both you and your child! Visit our Support Groups page for more information about our various support groups.

Stay connected. Social isolation is a problem for many families with kids on the spectrum. Make an effort to keep in touch with family and friends. Set aside time each week for connecting with supportive people in your life, even if it’s just a phone call or a walk with a friend.

Make time for yourself.  Just as important as staying connected to others is making time for yourself. Even if you can only find 15 minutes a day to do something just for you, do it.  Spend that time on something that truly restores you – whether it’s curling up with a cup of tea and a good book or playing with the dog. Schedule your “me time” for the same time every day if possible so that it becomes a habit.

Commit to staying healthy. Find time to be physically active on most days of the week – start exercising with your child if possible, so you both benefit!  Eat a healthy diet, drink several glasses of water a day, and don’t neglect your need for a good night’s sleep.  This is advice we’ve all heard a million times, but it can truly make all the difference.

Our team of volunteers here at Autism & Asperger Connections includes many parents of kids on the spectrum, as well as autistic adults.  We understand the ups and downs of parenting a child on the spectrum, and we’re here to help.  If you need support, contact us today!

The Gifts of Parenting Your Autism Spectrum Child

child holding heartAs this post hits the presses, the holiday season is in full swing.  At this time of year, a number of blogs feature articles on “how to survive the holidays” with a child on the autism spectrum.  There is plenty of good advice out there on how to make holiday parties and events as low-stress and enjoyable as possible for your autistic child.  So this post takes on a different, yet still “holiday-themed” topic: the gifts of parenting your autism spectrum child.  As you prepare to celebrate the upcoming holidays, take a quiet moment to reflect on – and appreciate – the many gifts your child brings into your life.

The Gift of New Perspectives
For neurotypical parents, raising a child on the autism spectrum can feel like parenting someone from another planet. Autistic individuals identify with that feeling as well – some examples of this include the aptly named autism community Wrong Planet, and well-known autistic university professor and author Temple Grandin referring to herself as an “anthropologist on Mars” to describe how she feels around neurotypical people.  Your child sees and experiences the world very differently from the way you do.  This can be immensely frustrating at times (for both of you) – but if you are open to shifting your paradigms, you can reduce that frustration and likely develop a much deeper connection with your child.  The next time your child does something in his own unique and status-quo-disrupting way, ask yourself whether it matters.  Does he really need to conform?  Or is his way just as valid once you shed your preconceived notions of what is “normal”? Every day, your child provides you with the gift of new perspectives.

The Gift of Self-Discovery
One of the most life-changing aspects of parenting a child on the spectrum is that it will bring both your strengths and weaknesses to the forefront.  This is true for any parent – but because parenting a child on the autism spectrum can pose greater challenges, the degree to which you are immersed in this process of self-discovery is much greater.  You may tap into perseverance you never knew you had.   You may become fearless as you advocate for your child, even though you’ve always seen yourself as a rather timid person.  On the flip side, you may come face to face with something in your personal make-up that you’ve never noticed before – because it took the intensity of your child to bring it out.  Ultimately, the experience of raising your child doesn’t just result in your growth as a parent – it can make you a better person. Your child, just by being who he or she is, gives you the gift of self-discovery.

As you reflect on the gifts your child brings into your life, you may come up with several more – this is just a starting point. What one gift has had the greatest impact on you?  Share it in the comments!

Developmental Disability Definition Change – How Does it Affect You?

Question MarkIn August 2013, a vote by the Colorado Board of Human Services changed the definition of developmental disability (DD) and how this definition is used to determine whether a person is eligible for services through Colorado’s system of Community Centered Boards (CCBs).

Under the previous definition, eligibility determination for DD services in Colorado was based exclusively on a person’s IQ. Historically, only individuals with cognitive impairments (an IQ of 70 or below) were eligible. This meant that a large number of people who didn’t meet the restrictive IQ criteria – but were still in desperate need of services—were unable to qualify for needed support. Although this restrictive definition affected people with a variety of diagnoses, autistic individuals were most likely to be excluded from services based on higher IQ scores.

The revised rule expands access to Supported Living and Residential Services for those who may have previously been ineligible.  To qualify under the new rule, four criteria must be met:

  1. There must be evidence of either cognitive or adaptive behavior impairment, and the disability must have manifested prior to age 22. Under the old definition, a person had to demonstrate low IQ and low adaptive behaviors. Now, a person can demonstrate low adaptive scores without low IQ.
  2. The condition must constitute a substantial disability to the affected person. A substantial disability is one that significantly impairs cognitive or adaptive functioning as evidenced by testing. The testing must be current.
  3. The disability must not be solely attributable to physical or sensory impairment or mental illness. A person will not meet the definition of a developmental disability if it can be demonstrated that the impairments are attributable to only a physical or sensory impairment or a mental illness.
  4. The cognitive or adaptive behavior impairment must be attributable to an intellectual disability or related conditions that include cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, or other neurological conditions.

Once a person has been determined to have a developmental disability, he or she may be eligible for a variety of programs through the state of Colorado. The potential programs will vary according to the person’s age and level of need. Unfortunately, many of the programs have long waiting lists, and with the expansion of the definition, these waiting lists are likely to grow.

If you’d like to learn more about the DD definition/determination change and what this might mean for you or your family, please join us for a Q&A session with Marsha Unruh from The Resource Exchange on Saturday, 11/2/13.

When: Saturday, 11/2/13 from 1-1:30pm
Where: East Library Community Room (5550 North Union Blvd)

If you’d like to request a developmental disability determination, contact your local Community Centered Board (CCB). The Resource Exchange serves as the designated CCB for Colorado Springs. As a Community Centered Board, TRE is responsible for determining eligibility, providing comprehensive case management, and providing or purchasing services and supports for children and adults with developmental disabilities. TRE’s three-county service area includes El Paso, Park and Teller Counties.

Making Halloween Less Scary for Your Autistic Child

Trick or TreatHalloween is just around the corner.  While any holiday can be difficult for a child on the autism spectrum, Halloween brings some unique challenges with its costumes, masks, strange social interactions, and potential for sensory overload.

If your family celebrates Halloween, the following tips can help make Halloween less scary and more fun for your child on the spectrum:

Prepare your child through the use of Halloween social stories, and practice the “Halloween experience” by letting your child trick-or-treat at your own front door.

Know your route and consider walking it with your child a few nights before.

Check costumes for tags, scratchiness, and other texture/comfort issues that might bother your child.

If you’re trick-or-treating with siblings, line up another adult who can take over in case your autistic child needs to go home early.

Have alternate treats available to replace candy if your child has special dietary needs.  If your child will only be collecting (but not eating) trick-or-treat goodies, discuss the plan ahead of time.

Check out the Halloween Candy Buyback website to find a dentist in your area where your child can trade the candy in for other goodies. Participating dentists send the collected candy to troops overseas.

Plan for plenty of downtime before and after Halloween events to allow your child to de-stress and recharge.

What has helped your child enjoy celebrating Halloween?  If you have any tips on making Halloween less stressful and more fun for kids on the spectrum, share them in the comments!

Your Chance to Be Heard: New Grant-Funded Autism Initiative in Colorado Springs

A new grant-funded group is currently forming in Colorado Springs to address the strategic autism support plan developed by the Colorado Autism Commission. This group is looking for both autistic adults as well as parents of kids on the spectrum to participate in quarterly meetings and provide input. This is a fantastic opportunity to have your voice heard, and provide input that will help define the future of autism supports and services in Colorado Springs.

The CASCADE grant (CASCADE stands for Collaborative Addressing System Change in ASD and other DEvelopmental disabilities) is a three year grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The Autism Society of Colorado in collaboration with JFK Partners, CU School of Medicine, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was awarded this three year grant project for a state implementation grant under the Combating Autism Act (

Specific issues that CASCADE will address:

• Expand partnerships between professionals and families of children and youth with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities
• Improve access to a medical home
• Increase access to adequate health insurance and financing
• Increase early and continuous screening in the medical home
• Improve organization of community services for easy use by families
• Improve transition to all aspects of adult health care, work and independence

If you are interested in participating as an adult or parent representative, please contact us and we will put you in touch with the CASCADE task force.

Back-to-School Transition Tips

Back to schoolSummer is winding down and back-to-school season is underway. Transitioning back into a school routine after summer vacation can be especially difficult for a child on the autism spectrum.  Adjusting to multiple changes (new teacher, new room, new schedule, etc.) simultaneously can leave your child feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

Many children on the autism spectrum experience school anxiety. The school environment, social challenges, and sensory overload all combine to make school a confusing and often unpleasant place for kids on the spectrum. If your child has just enjoyed a nice extended break from school and its various stressors, the prospect of returning may be met with quite a bit of resistance. Transitions are notoriously difficult for kids on the spectrum and returning to school after a long break may be one of the most challenging transitions there is.

Whether your child is dreading the return to school, or looking forward to it, you’ll benefit from planning, being prepared, and keeping your child’s transition needs top of mind. Understanding how your child adjusts to change will help you decide how far in advance you need to begin the process. As that time approaches, consider the following “back to school” transition tips.

Set the tone. Be positive when discussing your child’s return to school. If your child feels ambivalent or worse, emphasize the return to activities he does enjoy (e.g. science club, sports, or music).

Keep communication open. Bring the family together several weeks before school starts to discuss and plan for the transition.

Involve your child. Have your child participate in the planning and purchasing of school supplies, as well as other preparations. Ownership in the process will provide her with a sense of control, which can help reduce anxiety.

Adjust to the school schedule in advance. Make changes to your child’s daily routines, such as bedtime, well before school starts. Ease into any new adjustment in small increments.

Get screen time under control. Most kids on the spectrum love their screen time, and it may have expanded considerably during the school break. Begin to bring media privileges in line at least two weeks prior to the start of school. Establish TV, computer, and video game use rules and stick to them.

Brush up on reading skills. Reading skills are key to any child’s school success and extremely important to maintain. Daily reading practice will give your child a boost prior to returning to school.

Establish a connection with your child’s teacher. Contact the school and make an appointment to meet with your child’s new teacher. Getting this transition out of the way prior to the start of school (with no interruptions or other students around) can be very beneficial. Providing your child with the opportunity to review schedules and expectations, as well as ask questions, can go a long way in reducing anxiety and setting him up for success.

Acknowledging the anxiety and having a back to school plan in place will help your child (and you!) transition back into the school routine as smoothly as possible.

What have you found helpful in reducing your child’s school anxiety? Got any transition tips to share? Chime in via the comments!

Interested in Volunteering with Autism & Asperger Connections?

AAC relies heavily on volunteer support to run our monthly support group meetings, manage our website and social media/outreach programs, and coordinate other support across the Colorado Springs community.

We are always looking for volunteers, and are currently also recruiting new board members. If you’re interested in becoming more involved in a volunteer or board member capacity, please contact us to learn more.