Helping Kids on the Autism Spectrum Cope During Coronavirus

Coping with Coronavirus - Autism

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.

 

A Letter to My Mom

Son and Mother Embracing

Preface: As a motivational speaker who travels the world spreading awareness surrounding autism and mental health, I encounter many autism parents struggling to find a way to help their children in a more efficient manner.

Parenting may seem like a Herculean effort, but the simplest acts can create the strongest bonds. Below, I write a letter to not just my mom, but all autism moms and dads. You are validated, you are recognized, and the only true failure as a parent is when you stop trying.

Always remember these words: "If you do something out of love, you can never go wrong, no matter the outcome".

Son and Mother Embracing
Russell Lehmann with his mother.

Dear Mom,

I will never have the words to tell you how much you mean to me. What is to follow doesn’t do you justice.

I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today without you. You have always been my shelter during the toughest of storms, as well as the one steady constant in my life. Every single day you are there for me, whether that’s watching proudly from the sidelines or embracing me during my darkest moments. Whether I'm succeeding or failing, happy or sad, functioning or not, your love and support is limitless, which in turn makes my own potential limitless.

From your love and affection I learned to never be ashamed of who I am. From your words of wisdom I found out that there was a reason behind why I was here. From your ability to listen I found my voice, and from you just simply being there for me, you have helped me to see the beauty during the darkest of days, and to always, always remain positive.

You are my idol, my mentor, my role model, my hero. But most importantly, I am lucky enough to call you my mother.

You believed in me when no one else did. You fought for me when I was too weak to fight for myself. You sat next to me during times when I felt completely alone, and you loved me when I was too bitter and angry to love myself.

It’s hard to fathom how far I have come, and how much I’ve been through. It has been a hell of a long road thus far, and I am beyond thankful that you’ve been with me every step of the way.

As I begin to create my own life, I know that you will still be ready to catch me when I fall, whether I’m at your house or halfway around the world. You have instilled within me the strength to persevere, the ambition to overcome and the tenacity to push through.

Remember how many times I wanted to end my life? I chose not to because of you. I couldn’t let everything you’ve ever done for me be in vain. I choose to live because of you, and everyday you motivate me to make this world a little bit more compassionate, understanding and sincere.

Simply put, I love you mom. More than you will ever be able to comprehend. I know with all my heart and soul that when we meet again after this life, you will understand how much you mean to me.

In the meantime, I will live my life with the utmost virtue, integrity and nobility. I will strive to better myself in all aspects and will carry forth the torch of kindness and compassion you lit the day that I was born.

You have dedicated your life to me, and I find it to be the epitome of beauty that I dedicate my future to you.

Most Sincerely, with Love, Gratitude and Appreciation,

Your Son,

Russell

 

 

 

Autism Parents, Autism Speaker, Parenting, Motivational Speaker, Autism, Mom, Autistic, Speaker, Autism Moms,

Cheap, common drug may improve autism symptoms in children

A novel clinical trial from an international team of researchers has found a cheap, generic drug may effectively moderate the severity of symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. Most importantly, the new study suggests ASD symptoms could be improved via alterations to levels of two key neurotransmitters, pointing researchers to novel future drug treatments.
One of the most important neurotransmitters in the brain is called GABA. During fetal development and early postnatal periods, GABA functions in an excitatory role but pretty quickly its role shifts to an inhibitory one as the brain grows. This is referred to as the GABA switch and some researchers hypothesize an unsuccessful switch can lead to atypical brain development, and symptoms of ASD.
Over the last few years, several human clinical trials have demonstrated a drug called bumetanide successfully reducing the severity of symptoms in a variety of children diagnosed with ASD. Bumetanide is a cheap drug, medically approved for the treatment of swelling and high blood pressure for over 50 years.
This new research set out to better understand how bumetanide affects ASD symptoms in young children. And, more importantly, whether these symptomatic improvements are related to improved GABA function in a developing brain.
The trial examined 83 children, between the ages of three and six. All the children recruited were diagnosed with ASD using what is called the Children Autism Rating Scale (CARS). A CARS evaluation is used by clinicians to objectively rate a number of behaviors associated with ASD. A CARS score of more than 30 is used to classify a child with ASD.
The cohort was split into two groups, one receiving a small bumetanide dose twice a day for three months, and the other acting as a control receiving no treatment. After three months the children were again assessed for a CARS score by clinicians who were unaware whether the individual children were part of the active group or the control.
Reflecting prior clinical studies, the researchers saw symptomatic improvements in the group receiving bumetanide. The mean total CARS score in the active group was 34.51 compared to the mean score of 37.27 in the untreated group.
But more significantly, the researchers used brain imaging to examine changes in the children’s GABA and glutamate neurotransmitter concentrations. In the insular cortex and the visual cortex of children taking bumetanide the researchers detected changes in the ratio of GABA to glutamate. The change in this ratio correlated with the symptomatic improvements detected in the children, suggesting the drug may be helping rebalance key neurotransmitter levels in the brains of children with developing ASD.
"This is the first demonstration that bumetanide improves brain function and reduces symptoms by reducing the amount of the brain chemical GABA,” explains Ching-Po Lin, one of the researchers working on the study. “Understanding this mechanism is a major step towards developing new and more effective drug treatments.”
This new study isn’t necessarily about establishing bumetanide as a new drug treatment for ASD, although larger trials will certainly investigate that outcome. Perhaps the more significant outcome is the direct link between the progression of ASD symptoms and dysfunction in the GABA switch neurodevelopment process.
The research suggests neuroimaging the ratio of GABA to glutamate in a young child’s brain could be a potential objective biomarker for ASD development. Plus, the biomarker could offer an objective measure for researchers investigating the efficacy of new ASD treatments.
"This study is important and exciting, because it means that there is a drug that can improve social learning and reduce ASD symptoms during the time when the brains of these children are still developing,” says Barbara Sahakian, a University of Cambridge researchers working on the project. “We know that GABA and glutamate are key chemicals in the brain for plasticity and learning and so these children should have an opportunity for better quality of life and wellbeing."
The new study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Source: University of Cambridge

Kobe Bryant advocated for mental health, especially for children

Kobe Bryant Mental Health

Kobe Bryant fought anxiety and obesity with a children's podcast called 'The Punies' and a campaign to keep kids in sports

  • NBA star Kobe Bryant died Sunday, January 26, in a helicopter crash. He was 41 years old. 
  • The sports legend was a vocal advocate for mental health awareness, spoke about his own fears and insecurities, and inspired all athletes, from schoolkids to pros in basketball and beyond.
  • He also worked to improve youth sports participation, with a campaign called "Don't Retire, Kid" that encouraged young people to stay active. 
  • A leadership psychologist told Insider that Bryant was the perfect blend of mentor, encouraging competitiveness but also to acknowledge your role models and pay it forward.

Basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who died January 26 in a helicopter crash at age 41, has been memorialized for his stellar career in sports, including 5 NBA championship wins.

But his legacy also included advocacy and mentorship off the court, offering one-on-one support to teammates, advice for newer athletes, and even inspiration to athletes in other sports. His contributions took many forms, from video campaigns to articles to podcasts.

At a time when children's lack of physical activity is reaching crisis levels, Bryant was a vocal advocate for youth sports participation, helping to launch the "Don't Retire, Kid" campaign to fight against an epidemic of anxiety and physical inactivity pushing children away from athletics.

Bryant also tackled mental health issues, and the rising rates of anxiety, spearheading a children's podcast called "The Punies" to share important life lessons like how to manage anger and fear of not fitting in, how to work with other people on a team, and how to learn from failure.

He also worked with Why We Rise, a campaign from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, on the importance of being open about mental health and reducing the stigma of depression, anxiety and other issues.

Most kids "retire" from sports at 11, but Bryant was determined to change that

Bryant was the lead spokesperson for the Don't Retire, Kid campaign, which he launched with the Aspen Institute in August 2019.

The campaign commissioned research that showed most US children spend just three years playing sports, and poor kids drop out of group activities even earlier — a concern as fewer and fewer kids and adults are getting enough exercise, according to government data.

Working alongside other sports stars (Wayne Gretzky, Sue Bird, Mookie Betts), Bryant advocated for giving children freedom and creativity in sports, and keeping the game fun

"Today's kids are the least active in history and, dropping out of sports at alarming rates," Bryant said in a 2014 interview alongside Bill Clinton.

"I think we tend to overlook the significance coaches have on children – their emotional development, their ability to imagine, dream and hope," Bryant said in a separate interview on the initiative.

Tom Farey, leader of the Aspen Institute's Project Play which launched the campaign, said Bryant's "legendary competitor's mindset" inspired young people in sports to "own their ambition."

He encouraged his fans to open up about their insecurities, because 'ignoring it is the worst thing we can do'

Bryant has also spoken out about the difficulties in discussing mental health. He was upfront about the importance of sharing experiences, and moving beyond the stigma of viewing mental health struggles as "weakness."

"Ignoring it is the worst thing we can do, because then it festers," he said in a video collaboration with Why We Rise.

His podcast, The Punies, also deals with emotional strength and discusses issues important to mental wellbeing, like relying on trusted friends for help and support.

"For younger kids, The Punies is just fun," Bryant said, as reported by Sports Illustrated Kids. "As they get older, we hope they'll start to understand the meanings and messages, and the show will teach them things like perseverance, commitment, hard work, compassion, and empathy. Those are things that sports naturally teach."

Kobe Bryant - Mental Health

A leadership psychologist said Bryant was the perfect blend, teaching kids to be competitive but also acknowledge their role models

According to leadership psychologist Ronald Riggio, Bryant's influence was more than just drive and skill: it was his graciousness. He was not only quick to acknowledge his own role models and people he learned from, but made an effort to pay it forward by mentoring others, Riggio told Insider.

"Clearly Kobe had very, very high self-confidence, or he wouldn't have performed at the level he did, but people can have that and realize they learned from other people," Riggio, who previously wrote about Bryant's retirement, said.

Riggio, an expert in sports psychology, explained that research shows the relationship between sports and leadership skills is complex. Athletics can be great opportunity for young people to learn good leadership skills, he said, but only if they have positive experiences and role models. The wrong kind of sports experience can lead to more selfish behavior, he said.

Bryant's legacy was also complex, including a 2003 accusation of sexual assault followed him through the rest of his career, and he was fined in 2011 for using an anti-gay slur against a referee, both incidents for which he later apologized.

In spite of that, Bryant's exceptional work ethic was uncontested, and part of his hard-earned legacy as a leader on and off the court. Bryant was legendary for early-morning practices and his relentless drive to become better.

"That behavior sets the standard, making people realize how hard he worked to make himself the player he was, and it sets a great example for other players and for kids who want to excel in athletics," Riggio said.

Bryant was a father figure who mentored all players, including his daughter, Gigi

Riggio also noted parallels between leadership and parenting.

Bryant had previous acknowledged that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna "Gigi" Bryant would carry on his legacy. Tragically, she died in the same helicopter accident.

Riggio said that relationship exemplifies Bryant as both a role model and a parent, even in his last moments.

"It's bittersweet that he was parenting, developing other people, when he died. He was doing what he loved," Riggio said.

How accommodating workers with autism benefits employers—and everyone else

July 15, 2019

How accommodating workers with autism benefits employers—and everyone else
Providing workers who have autism with a quiet workspace and detailed instructions on tasks are among several accommodation strategies for employers. Credit: Crew/Unsplash

Companies seek a competitive edge by hiring talented people, yet many capable workers are overlooked because they have autism.

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.

The diverse ways autism presents

Autism is a developmental disorder that people are born with. It is a spectrum disorder since it encompasses a wide range of symptoms and abilities. Each individual with autism is unique, and the way their condition presents itself varies.

Common symptoms include trouble "reading" social/emotional cues and difficulties with conventional language and . Some autistic people are non-verbal and use assistive technologies, making it important to remember that being non-verbal does not mean being incapable.

Another common symptom is repetitive thoughts or behaviors, including "stimming." Stimming may include hand flapping, rocking, etc. It's a reaction to being overwhelmed by a situation or by everyday stimuli.

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.

Lack of empathy is frequently cited as an autistic trait. This characterization is disputed by the autism community and by evidence from psychologists.

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.

Success Magazine – A Moment with Russell Lehmann

Success Magazine Russell Lehmann 2019 www.russell-lehmann.com

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.

 

The Secret to Life in 2 Words

Russell Lehmann, APSE Keynote

Don't resist.

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.

Don't resist.

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.

Don't resist.

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.

Stay Strong,

Russell

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!

© 2019 Russell Lehmann: Speaker, Author, Poet, Advocate

You Matter

Russell Lehmann - You Matte and You Are Loved

 

“Do you ever wake up, wishing to stay in bed?

Your head is clouded, you dread the day ahead?”

©Lehmann

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”

©Lehmann

On May 11th I'm heading out to Cambridge to take part in LEAD20 @ MIT (https://lead20mit2019.rudermanfoundation.org) then I’m heading straight to London to present for King’s College.

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!

Sending Strength & Love,

Russell