Q: How can parents help their kids adjust to the changes in their schedule and routine given school closures and the cancellation of most extracurricular activities?
This is a great opportunity for parents to educate the children that the only constant in life is change. Through a controlled environment such as their home, parents can ask their kids how unexpected change makes them feel and how best to deal with the emotions that change brings up. These practices can then be generalized into the real world.
With most physical activities being canceled, this is also a great time to introduce the arts as a vehicle to promoting emotional integration and intelligence. Whether that be through poetry, painting, music, etc. the arts have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and promote neuroplasticity in the brain.
Q: What should we expect to see in kids regarding increase in anxiety, including meltdowns?
Individuals on the spectrum generally have increased sensory needs, and during a time such as this those needs may not be met.
Expect an increase in defiant behavior from younger children as well as increased anxiety, depression and perhaps OCD. Always remember, however, that a behavior is a by-product of a past experience and/or emotion. Instead of punishing your children full stop, initiate a dialogue to figure out the why and what behind their actions.
Q: How we can best support children who are experiencing increased anxiety and meltdowns?
The literal definition of the word "compassion" is to "suffer with". Simply be there for them. Listen more than you talk. Give them a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Just by simply being present with your children an increased comfort will be felt throughout the household.
Q: Any ideas for helping kids stay “busy” and engaged in activities they find rewarding and engaging.
This is a great time to think outside of the box and get creative. Scavenger hunts, board games, dress up, old family videos. Think of what you parents did with you during a rainy day and implement that into your routine.
We keep our kids so busy these days that it is also important to give them time to simply relax and rejuvenate, especially due to the increase in stress this situation is causing.
Companies seek a competitive edge by hiring talented people, yet many capable workers are overlooked because they have autism.
People with autismare unemployed at disproportionate levels. As a result, companies are missing out on employees able to make valuable contributions. And society at large is affected since the situation creates inequities and financial dependence.
So why is it happening? Largely because autism is poorly understood and managers are ill-informed about how to accommodate affected workers.
Fortunately, recent research has provided us with many strategies to make workplaces more inclusive.
Common symptoms include trouble "reading" social/emotional cues and difficulties with conventional language and communication skills. Some autistic people are non-verbal and use assistive technologies, making it important to remember that being non-verbal does not mean being incapable.
Stimming helps people cope by focusing intensely on a specific sensation or behavior. People who stim report that they find it embarrassing but critical in order to calm themselves. As such, the lack of social acceptability of stimming can be a greater workplace problem than the activity itself.
Both suggest that some people with autism may suffer from excessive levels of empathy that overwhelm, but the way they express it is not well-recognized. Other traits associated with autism include the ability to focus intensively, persistence and high detail orientation.
Unspoken social etiquette can be a mystery
Many barriers experienced by workers with autism relate to social/communication difficulties and are affected by how they behave but also how others perceive them.
For example, people with autism are often accused of lacking in emotion. They do experience emotions, but tend to express them in ways that are not readily recognized. Socially, they may dominate conversations while focusing on narrow interests, have difficulty understanding variations in tone and reading body language and facial expressions, and they may take things inappropriately literally.
Many find eye contact overwhelming, leading to avoidance that is mistaken for being anti-social.
Norms can be difficult for people with autism to perceive. The unspoken social etiquette that everyone is expected to instinctively know may be a mystery, negatively impacting job performance when expectations are not clearly communicated.
Change can also be anxiety-inducing and lead to challenging behaviors if it happens unexpectedly. Heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as smells and sounds can lead to reactions that seem extreme. A lack of understanding of those reactions often leads to those with autism being labeled "difficult," and those labels create additional problems.
Accommodation strategies for employers
Many people with autism are able to focus intensively. If a topic interests them, they will spent large amounts of time developing expertise. Attention to detail, combined with heightened pattern recognition skills, are also common traits, leading many autistic people to become technical experts in their fields.
Some people with autism enjoy repetitive routines and can tolerate work that others find monotonous. Others are creative, able to visualize solutions to complex problems and develop unique insights. People with autism are also known for being forthright and are less likely to engage in toxic political behaviors.
There are many accommodation strategies workplaces can adopt for employees with autism. Here are some:
1. Reduce workplace stimuli
There are many ways to reduce unnecessary stimuli at work. I'm providing some examples but this should not be considered an exhaustive list. Solutions are limited only by one's creativity.
Physical blocking of work spaces can reduce distractions. Examples include providing private offices or cubicles that face a corner. Whenever possible, LEDs should replace noisy and intense fluorescent lights. Noise-cancelling headphones can also be used, although some people will not be able to tolerate the sensation.
Similarly, uniforms can be a problem if the fabric is itchy, collars are tight or there are tags that irritate. Wardrobe flexibility may be needed.
Moving beyond the physical, minimizing interruptions can also help. You could encourage the use of e-mail instead of phone calls and ask people to use meeting rooms instead of hallways for conversations lasting more than a couple of minutes. Co-workers could be asked to schedule chats instead of "popping in."
Regardless of your efforts, workplaces may still overwhelm sometimes. A "quiet room can be very beneficial." They are darkened rooms in a low-traffic places containing comfortable furniture and a minimum of other sources of stimulation. Spending time in a quiet room helps people with autism cope when overwhelmed, and non-autistic workers also report psychological benefits from quiet spaces.
2. Create a culture of clear communication
The communication and social difficulties experienced by people with autism are heavily intertwined. And so resolving communication issues will also help with social difficulties.
First, make unspoken norms explicit. Managers should be trained to provide detailed instructions in writing and avoid ambiguity in task assignments. Things that may seem obvious, such as how to prioritize assignments, should be explicitly explained.
Performance criteria should be clearly outlined and employees should be capable of monitoring their progress. It is worth noting that these steps help all workers, and represent documented best workplace practices.
Workers with autism report that their ability to communicate is increased when they are able to see questions in advance, when people avoid jumping between multiple topics and when their intent is not judged by eye contact or having the "right" facial expression.
3. Offer social and emotional coaching
Even with the supports already outlined, workers with autism may find the social and emotional behaviors of others mystifying. A coach can be helpful. That mentor could be a trained co-worker or an outside expert. Co-workers may also benefit from receiving information to increase understanding.
These are all simple steps that can help employers leverage the large group of under-utilized workers with autism in the labor pool.
Many of these accommodations could help all workers and represent good business practice. Accommodating autism, therefore, has the potential to make our workplaces more just and productive for all.
If it is one thing all of humankind has in common, it’s that we all struggle. Within this profound commonality of the human race lies the key to personal growth and development.
Diagnosed with autism at 12, I have been admitted to 3 different psychiatric wards at the ages of 11, 21 and 25. I dropped out of public school in the 5th grade and subsequently became somewhat of societal recluse for the next decade. I have battled incapacitating OCD, tumultuous panic attacks, severe depressive episodes and almost lost my life to anorexia.
Now? I am 28 and an award-winning and internationally recognized motivational speaker, author, poet and advocate. My story is archived in the Library of Congress.
Through my strife I have learned to run towards, and not away, from my obstacles. To not turn my back on my challenges, but rather to stare back at them. To kiss the feet of adversity, for it has given me the opportunity to learn my most cherished lessons and gain my greatest insights.
I am strong because I have been weak. I’m fearless because I’ve been afraid and I succeed because I have failed.
A large portion of life’s struggles are unfortunately exacerbated by societal conditions such as judgement, expectations, prejudices and biases, comparisons, peer pressure, so on and so forth. To protect ourselves from this, each of us has a mask we wear in certain situations to protect the fragility of our true selves.
It is behind our masks where we find the true essence of life and where we can experience the totality of what it means to be human. What Novalis stated centuries ago turns out to be true: “The path of mystery leads inward”.
I used to shun my trials and tribulations. Now, however, I embrace them with open arms. I have found my success through my struggle. You can, too.
Oftentimes we fight so hard against the things we don't want in our lives that it's akin to playing a game of tug-of-war: we pull and pull with all our might, yet whatever opposes us seems to only pull back stronger and harder.
There are times, however, when we must learn to let go of our end of the rope, to not resist. In doing so, our opponent in the battle we are fighting loses its power, and when it goes to pull its end of the rope harder than ever before, it justly falls on its back.
Life is not a fight. It is not a destination. Rather, life is a journey, an at-times tumultuous venture that no one has ever quite mapped out.
Respect the path before you. Spin wildly into the chaos that is the unknown and have faith that everything is for a reason, even if you never find out what the reason may be.
How liberating it is to at times be at the mercy of the immensely powerful universe that surrounds us. To just simply be, and to take breaks on whatever route you may be on to admire all that you come to encounter.
If there ever was a key to existential freedom, it would be to simply not resist.
P.S. Have you checked out my new book? Powerful poetry and emotional stories shed raw, transparent insight into life on the spectrum. Find it here!
Interested in working together? Shoot me an email here!
I often do, and the best thing I can do for myself is to get up, look in the mirror and say “Russell, you matter”.
Of course, this phrase is much more powerful coming from somebody other than ourselves. So today I just want to simply tell you:
YOU MATTER, YOU ARE LOVED and YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH EACH BREATH YOU TAKE
We don’t hear these words enough. When we have a challenging day, society has conditioned us to wear a mask, and cover up our struggle. We fight through the day in silence, wishing for someone to take our mask off for us and to simply let us know that we’re not alone.
And so I say to you again, no matter who you are, what you’ve been through or what you are going through:
YOU MATTER, YOU ARE LOVED and YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH EACH BREATH YOU TAKE
“It’s okay to let the pain show, to fail…to cry…to be in woe
These plant the seeds that in turn proceed to grow
A fervid force within you, that you would never know
Has the power to bring this world together, bonding in sorrow for a better tomorrow”
As always, thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for supporting me and following my journey as I use the lessons learned and insights gained from my painful experiences to help make this world just a little bit better.
If you haven’t checked out my new book yet, find it on Amazon here, and if you have enjoyed reading it, I would greatly appreciate an Amazon review!
Russell Lehmann releases second book chronicling a life with Autism
(RENO, Nev.) – Author and internationally recognized speaker Russell Lehmann debuted his newest book, “On the Outside Looking In: My Life on the Autism Spectrum,” (Lucky Bat Books, 2019) on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 at Lark & Owl Booksellers in Georgetown, Texas, an Austin suburb.
The event began at 7 p.m. and featured Lehmann reading excerpts from the new book as well as a group conversation about Autism in our society. In addition to purchase availability for the book at Lark & Owl, copies may be purchased on Amazon or at local independent book sellers.
“On the Outside Looking In” is Lehmann’s story of overcoming the odds and achieving immense personal growth. Exposing his vulnerabilities, naiveties and painful personal experiences, Lehmann relays the many lessons learned and insights gained throughout the circumstances in his life. Emotionally powerful stories and intense poetry give a raw and transparent insight into Lehmann’s life on the autism spectrum.
This is Lehmann’s second book. His first book is entitled “Inside Out” and features his gripping and personal poetry.
About Mr. Lehmann:
Russell Lehmann was named a 2018 “Most Outstanding Young Professional” in Reno-Tahoe and has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, NPR, USA Today and numerous other national publications. He is a globally recognized motivational speaker, poet and advocate who happens to have Autism. He is a member of the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and an ambassador for several national Autism programs. He speaks to organizations around the world.
My name is Russell Lehmann, and I am a motivational speaker, author, poet and advocate, who just happens to have autism.
I have come a long, long way in life. When I was 12, at the height of my distress, I was pretty much non-verbal. I was too afraid of the outside world to speak to anyone other than my parents. I stayed inside my house as much as possible, clinging to my parents’ sides, terrified of any external stimuli, such as the doorbell ringing, the TV being on, or the microwave going off. I was a prisoner inside my own body. I would have multiple meltdowns every day, curling into a ball in the corner of a room, just crying for hours. I was extremely low-functioning, and could barely take care of myself.
Now, however, I’m a successful, confident man who travels the country spreading a message of hope, awareness, understanding and acceptance about autism and other disabilities.
I happen to not only have autism, but anxiety, depression, OCD and a previous battle with anorexia.
I am a member of the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, I sit on the board for the Autism Coalition of Nevada, am the Youth Ambassador for the mayor of Reno, Nevada, am affiliated with the renowned Kulture City organization which spreads awareness and acceptance about autism, and have written a book that earned an honorable mention at the NY Book Festival. I also happen to be a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT).
As I mentioned before, the amount of personal growth I have experienced has been astronomical. The catalyst behind this growth is not due to some secret pill or “cure”, but rather due to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis. Every single day I take every chance I can to push my mental abilities to the test, whether it be pushing myself to the limit at the gym, initiating a conversation with a stranger, placing myself in the middle of a loud crowd in order to expand my sensory processing capabilities, or just simply making full eye contact with an individual I’m talking to.
I do this not only to further grow and develop into the best person I can be, but to also conquer the remaining demons that I do still deal with. It is this drive that keeps my symptoms in check. If I were to stay inside my comfort zone, and not push myself out into the extremely frightening outside world, I would eventually regress back to where I was when I was 12: a low-functioning individual with autism who is pretty much non-verbal.
My progress in life may seem like a miracle on the surface, however everybody and anybody can attain this type of personal development. With regards to individuals on the spectrum, we can conquer our disability and turn it into an extraordinary ability. I like to say that autism is a gift, you just have to figure out how to open it first.
My advice? Run towards, and not away, from your fears. Fear, firstly and foremost, is nothing more than opportunity disguised as risk. Behind every single fear in your life is a wondrous reward that you will only attain if you push through what frightens you. It is a fact that when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, your chance for personal growth increases exponentially.
Failure is another factor of life that we all need to embrace. If we were to never fail, we would never know what we need to improve upon, and we would never be aware of what we are truly capable of. When there is a chance you may fail at something, you either succeed or you learn. There is no losing when it comes to failure. Think of failure as a trampoline: You are going to fall, but you will bounce back better because of it!
I chose to become a self-advocate and speaker in order to help others not have to go through the unnecessary pains and struggles I’ve been put through. I take pride in being a voice for the unheard, for I know how frustrating and challenging it is to go unnoticed. I’m honored and humbled to be able to give hope to families and parents who are concerned with their child’s future, just as my parents once were.
I have a raging fire within me to help others succeed no matter what obstacles or hardships they may be faced with. I sincerely hope this article aids in this all-important endeavor of mine.
Moving Beyond Fear to Support Your Child on the Autism Spectrum
As a parent, your number one job is to protect your child. As a parent of a child with autism, sometimes you may feel the need to protect them from the entire world. But what should you do when that parental instinct starts to inhibit your child’s personal growth and development?
There are still many days when I want to curl up into a ball on my mother’s lap and forget about the world. Days when I want to hide in my closet pretending, wishing I was still a child with no responsibilities. Even as I write this, my eyes start to tear up. I have need, a want, a desire so strong to run away from my obligations and into the safety of my mother’s arms.
I increasingly feel as though I’m backed into a corner (a spot that is usually a safe place for me), but in this corner there is a subtle yet deafening voice issuing a profound ultimatum:
“Be safe and stagnate, or take risks and flourish.”
Each time I hear this voice, a fire ignites within me as I stand up in the corner, back against the wall, and remember a quote that has been the continuous theme of my 27 year-long journey: “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.”
I have had the amazing opportunity to travel to all corners of the country sharing my story, insights gained and lessons learned, and I make sure every audience I speak in front of takes one message home with them: I believe the heaviest burdens in life are only put upon the shoulders of those strong enough to carry them. The lesson for me here is clear: If I were to stay inside my comfort zone and not push myself out into the extremely frightening outside world, I would not be able to touch a single life with my message of hope, inspiration and acceptance.
Being a motivational speaker, I travel a lot, and I have recently developed PTSD when it comes to airports after I experienced a horrendous meltdown in June of last year at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Although this experience went viral after I wrote about it on Facebook, the mental and physical repercussions of this traumatic incident have been immense. Meltdowns are already exhausting. Public meltdowns? Downright agonizing.
Few people understand the torment and anguish that lies behind the word “meltdown.” Tears, hyperventilation, screams, adrenaline rush, intrusive thoughts, vulnerability, sometimes even vocal tics and convulsions. In five out of the last 11 trips to the airport, I have been met with intense anxiety, prolonged panic attacks, distressing meltdowns, severe depression and invasive bouts of OCD, resulting in me pacing back and forth in the airport, sobbing uncontrollably, twitching and rubbing my hands together, all the while feeling like my brain is in a vise grip that has been set on fire. On top of this, I am always met with two extremes from the people around me: stares of curiosity or purposeful avoidance. I am either on exhibit or completely invisible, and to be honest I don’t know which one is worse.
Throughout all of this, I have somehow managed to board my plane each and every time, sometimes assisted by my mother and/or airline employees and have subsequently given a heck of a speech to boot.
So the question remains: Should your concerns for your child limit their pursuit of a fulfilling life?
My answer? No.
Without a doubt each episode of panic or sensory overload I experience takes a toll on my mental and physical well-being, but I have found that through strife and struggle we can discover our individual purpose, and come to understand why we are here.
I’ll refer you to this famous African proverb: A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
The purpose of this article is to inform you. After all, knowledge is one of the few things that can be given to you but never taken away. Having said that, you are the parent. You know what’s best for your child. When you trust your parental instincts above all else, while also compassionately pushing your child to take risks, letting them know you will be there to catch them when they fall, I believe you will be amazed to discover your child’s continuous growth of self-confidence, ambition and insight.
Parents of those on the spectrum often second-guess themselves and may regret certain decisions they made for their child. I know my mother did, but let me tell you, she has been the absolute perfect mother for a son with my struggles and circumstances. I believe when you do something out of love, you can never go wrong.