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".
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,
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.
ASD is not a single disorder, but rather it is an umbrella term encompassing a spectrum of neurodevelopmental impairments. One recent hypothesis suggested a key developmental factor underlying the symptomatic progression of ASD is an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters.
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."
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.
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” ~Steve Furtick
We all have certain triggers that can cause our confidence to take a sudden nosedive.
For some, it’s a trip to the gym. If you’re self-conscious of your body, watching fit people strut their stuff in their tightest fitting gym clothes likely has you over analyzing your every body part.
For others, it may be a certain individual—a family member, friend, or enemy that, for whatever reason, leaves them with the dreaded feeling that they just aren’t enough.
We all know the gut wrenching feeling that arises when we see or hear something that immediately has us second guessing our appearance, personality, or skill set.
Unfortunately, social media provides us with numerous platforms that help to quickly trigger that unpleasant self-disdain.
Facebook recently reminded me of just how powerful a determinant it is to my confidence level.
I found myself comparing all aspects of my life, both internal and external, to a person I had never met. She was a stranger in every sense of the word, and yet somehow, her profile page caused me to question my accomplishments, appearance, and even personality traits.
I didn’t realize just how illogical this was until I explained it to someone, and, now as I type, I’m reminded even further.
Regardless of how illogical these comparisons may be, our emotional responses to such images can be so strong that they completely overpower our sense of logic.
The reality is, people are constantly showcasing the best aspects of their life onto social media.
The arrival of a new baby and a recent trip to the Caribbean are both ideal picture-posting occasions. But do these same people post photos of 2 a.m. feedings or lost luggage? Not often, because that wouldn’t show them in an ideal light, but it would provide a sense of reality.
Reality is what is lost on social media. We emphasize the best versions of ourselves instead of the real versions.
Life can be hard, ugly, and downright depressing at times. But those likely aren’t the adjectives most of us would use to describe the photos we post onto our accounts.
The feeling of lack and dissatisfaction that we feel when scrolling through our newsfeed often results from comparing our true reality to our “friends’” idealized, perfectly Instagramed realities.
We are using the same scale to measure two entirely different realities.
However, we fail to step back and recognize just how wildly unfair and unrealistic these comparisons actually are.
So how can we stop ourselves from making them?
1. Reduce your time on social media.
This can be a challenge since we live in a culture that puts such a high value on social media outlets. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Allow yourself five to ten minutes a day to check your social media accounts and then be done with it. Especially avoid looking at profiles of people who trigger thoughts of comparison. You have nothing to gain in doing so besides anxiety and sadness.
2. Redirect your focus on the things that really matter.
When you direct your attention toward the real world, you have less time and energy to direct toward meaningless activities such as social comparisons.
Focus on a high-energy work out at the gym or finishing a book you’ve been putting off. Immerse yourself in activities that leave you feeling better for having engaged in them (versus Facebook stalking, which leaves you wishing you hadn’t).
Make a list of activities and then schedule them onto a calendar. Since we often spend time on social media when we have little else going on, having scheduled plans will reduce the time we are sitting idle.
3. Assess where those negative comparisons are stemming from.
As unpleasant as these comparisons can feel, they can serve a positive purpose in that they inform us of an area of our lives that may benefit from some improvement. The incident served as a reminder that I want to be secure enough in who I am and where I am in life that I don’t feel the need to measure it in comparison to anyone else (least of all, a stranger).
Putting a higher value on my relationships. I have amazing friends and family, but I admit that I often take them for granted. I’ve tried to become more present in my interactions with them, as well as in encounters with complete strangers.
Valuing my time more. In the past, I’ve been much more cognizant and respectful of others’ time than my own. I’m practicing putting my needs first and learning to accept that it is okay to do.
Doing more of what I love. Sounds simple, but I’ve really made an effort to go on quiet walks with my dog more or allow myself an hour to read a book. Doing things simply because I like to do them has given me an increasing amount of self-value.
Eating well and moving. I make sure to put my body in motion for at least thirty minutes a day (even if it’s just walking the dog), and I eat small, healthy meals throughout the day so I don’t find myself snacking mindlessly on junk. Putting a higher value on my body by eating clean and getting exercise has naturally given me a higher sense of self worth.
So, next time you make an unfair comparison, instead of allowing it to make you feel poorly about yourself, view it as an opportunity for a little self-evaluating.
Ultimately, social comparisons aren’t indicative of what others have that you don’t, but rather what you already have but aren’t quite aware of yet.
Emily, M.A. is a freelance writer and Certified Health Coach. Her curiosity for people, personal growth, and healthy living led to a Masters in Psychology and a certification in Health Coaching. She is constantly researching news ways to live a healthier, happier lifestyle and is passionate about sharing her insights through writing. Visit Emily at curiouscoffeedrinker.wordpress.com.