Mentoring Autistic Teens – Path to Greatness

As a Mentor for teens and young adults with Autism and their families, I am struck with the level of trust, humility and indomitable spirit that I see in these families weekly on their paths to rising above others limitations of them.

I would like to share one story with you from one of my clients and his mom’s perspective:

Mom’s Story:
I knew my son had a brilliance inside of him that was just waiting to come out … if we could just get past this “autism thing”. At 3 ½ years of age, Stephen was working with a speech pathologist to work on his receptive language skills. There was a set of blocks and a Winnie the Pooh figurine sitting side-by-side on the table.

Pathologist: “Okay Stephen, I want you to put the blocks in front of Winnie the Pooh”

Stephen turned Winnie a quarter turn, so that Winnie was no longer facing forward, but rather facing the blocks. From the sideways angle, the blocks were now in front of Winnie the Pooh on the table.

Wow!

Stephen:
I was seven years old when I got the diagnosis for autism and ADHD. At first I felt very angry at the person who made this diagnosis, because I thought they were saying something was wrong with me. We eventually learned to deal with the fact that I had Autism, and that I did have some problems.

The situation was looking very grim. That same year in late second grade, we used some ADHD medication to try to have me pay attention in class. The medication worked as intended, and I was able to pay attention to class, but the side effects were painful to my quality of life.

Mom:
Some teachers “got” Stephen and some didn’t. The ones who “got” him had their hearts stolen by a little guy who filled their hearts with joy. We are truly grateful for the way that they connected with Stephen.

Stephen:
The medication made it so that I would no longer feel hungry at the normal times when I should have a meal, and I began to get skinnier and skinnier until my ribs would show entirely, and I felt a significant lack of energy. Eventually the ADHD medication was dropped in favor of supplements as an alternative as I moved into the fourth grade. My body slowly but surely returned to its normal shape, and I was able to pay attention in class because of the supplements, which had a similar effect (such as the fish oil).

With all of these supplements, my academic level went up at almost at a superhuman rate. I was then able to move schools gradually until I got to where I am now.

Mom:
A diagnosis is truly a double-edged sword. I tried, in the first few years to keep it a secret. But what I have learned is: don’t share this burden alone. Give others a chance to step up and help you lighten the load. Some won’t step up … they just don’t get it. But you would be amazed at how others do … including children.

Stephen:
I am in a fairly mainstream school now. Most qualities of life that you would expect from perhaps an above average life have been fulfilled. I now have unlocked a higher piece of myself allowing me to write these articles that I share with others such as you.

Ken: Although I hadn’t known it at the time, a standard test that Stephen would give potential mentor/therapists for Autistic kids was to talk about his complete feeling of betrayal by grownups and how they manipulated a basketball game with his fellow Asperger students vs. the local highest winning basketball team to let his team win.
Previous Mentors had told him to “get over it” whereas my response was “hey, let’s write an article about your feelings, shape them into a learning moment and see if HuffPo would publish it! They did ☺. This was a defining moment in Stephen believing his voice could and should be heard. To check out the article: click here.

Stephen:
The struggle with Autism has been quite the battle. Many tears were shed, many issues were fought, many goals were achieved, many hearts opened, many friends made and many lives changed.

Mom:
I felt that it was always important to share how much he had grown with Stephen … especially on days when things weren’t going so well or when he was down on himself.

Here are some things that I would like to tell parents of children on the spectrum:

Try to not be totally devastated by the diagnosis. They are still the same lovable, adorable child that you had before and you can have the same dreams for them.

Don’t ever let other people put limits or ceilings on what your child can do. Trust your gut. Trust that inner brilliance that you see and work like hell to find people to help you pull it out. You can teach your child to behave in a neurotypical way.

Embrace your child’s differences and let yourself dream of the way that he or she might change the world.

Ken: Who better to share their thoughts then people who are living it? I leave the last words of wisdom to my awesome client Stephen:

Stephen:
So what is the moral of the story? I am talking to kids like me who have been given a diagnosis of Autism: I guess you could say that where you are now is not necessarily where you will always be. I personally believe that nobody is only destined to one path.

I believe that the force of will is what determines success or failure, not fate, destiny or diagnosis. I believe that most people on the autistic scale can reach the level that I have and perhaps even greater. They just need the right parenting, the right mentors, the right people in their lives and most importantly… persistence.

Basketball, Autism ……… and Deception

As a life coach for teens and young adults, I work with all sorts of people in their teens and twenties. I learn from all of them. One of my most powerful learning lessons came from a 13 year old client with Autism, who allowed me to see the dangers of people in power trying to “do the right thing”. I am pleased to share with you now the inner workings of one the most interesting minds I have ever met.

My name is Stephen. I am a creative, charismatic, wise, 13 year old who gets good grades and I’m autistic. Yeah, I said that. No, I’m not some dysfunctional shmoe sitting on a couch with my coach translating all my words. I’m a guy who has something to say, who happens to be autistic.

Let me tell you a story.
It’s a real story about truth, deception and the school I used to go to (you know who you are). One day last March we had an assembly telling us about the “special” basketball game that was going to happen one week from then.

Our principal told us that we would be facing a “pro” basketball team made up of grade sevens, eights and high school kids and that it was supposed to be just for fun.

Our team was mostly grade sixes. Pretty young. Not very experienced. Kind of noobs and it was a fairly small basketball team made up of kids with different levels of Autism. I hadn’t signed up that year because I thought I had enough to do with karate and had done basketball and soccer the year before. The last year we hadn’t faced another school, though.

The team started practicing and my friend found out who the other basketball team was and he was pretty confident that we were going to get demolished. I thought they were going to get demolished too, but as it turns out what happened was even worse!

On the day of the basketball game
, we walked into the school. It had massive hallways with lockers on both sides. At least it was massive compared to what I was used to.
We walked down a few flights of stairs and went to one of the three gyms in the school.
This gym was gigantic. The basketball nets were very high with a score board up top and bleachers for us to sit in .

I went to sit down on one of the middle bleachers only to find out that the opposing school basketball team was even bigger than I expected – high schoolers galore and even huge grade sevens and eights.

They started by introducing the teams and all the players.
The teams set up and we began the first quarter. On the very first play our team got the ball and went to the other team’s net. They were just standing all around shooting the ball over and over. They kept missing and then trying again to the point that it became ridiculous. Me and the teacher beside me made a joke that our team was camping and roasting marshmallows. Game-related chuckles ☺

After that our team eventually scored and the game continued. The same thing kept happening. We scored most of the goals while the opposing team would score the occasional points. It was in the third quarter that I realized what was really happening.

One of their players passed the ball to our player. That was when I got it. I knew why our team wasn’t being demolished. When our players were “camping” the other team wasn’t fighting back because the other team was being easy on us. We were lied to. Deceived. It was then I realized the truth. This wasn’t just for fun. It was to deceive us to make us feel good about ourselves.

It made me feel angry. It made me think I was lied to probably every other time we had played. It made me doubt all the victories I had achieved in the past. It made me feel that it was all for nothing.

I asked the teacher next to me: “why is the other team being easy on us?” The teacher said “I’ll talk to you about this afterwards” and the way he said it to me made me feel that he wanted it to be secret. That he didn’t want it to ever be known.

Now many teachers at my old school may argue that they weren’t “technically lying”,
but it doesn’t even matter. They used a form of deception on students that they knew would never figure it out. As one of those students who did figure it out, I can tell you: I’d rather be told I’m weak in something than to find out later that I had been lied to about it.

The Moral of the Story;
You can have compassion for people without deceiving them.

Try to find teams that are balanced and equal to each other and if that’s not possible, then switch the teams around, put some of the monster players on our team and some of the autistic players on their team. Then all the players would learn to cooperate with people that they aren’t quite used to working with.

Honest and realistic compliments and criticism would be much more effective and tolerable by people like me.

Afterward by Ken.
I was probably the fifth person that Stephen had shared this story with and the typical response Stephen had heard was that he should just let it go. My response was; “let’s write it down, figure out a moral and share it with everyone”! Now I’m asking you to please share this with parents, teachers, schools and every person who truly wants to help people in need, using respect and honor as their guidelines.

Please share with us your own inspirations and I’ll get Stephen to write back ☺

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Aspergers Syndrom in Teens and Young Adults – Dealing with Rage and Anxiety

So, it was time for my Skype session with Stephen. Stephen prefers to call himself Autistic and before the DSMV, he would have been labeled Asperger’s Syndrome but if he was happy, I was happy. But right now, Stephen was not happy.

You would have thought he would have been. Instead of a Florida vacation, as a reward for doing great in school in marks, class participation and interactions, his mom had given him the dream vacation of his choice. 8 hours a day of D&D.

Unbeknownst to Stephen’s mom, there was a kid in his group that Stephen called and “ass-hat” who constantly annoyed Stephen and another kid from the moment they got their until the moment they left. Furthermore, instead of the nice drive in Mom’s Audi, they were going home by subway. (Wait it gets better). The subway cars were stopped and everyone had to leave due to a jumper on the tracks. (Wait it gets better).

Now after waiting for the bus or the streetcar for 30 minutes, both come at the same time and they are full of p—–off people, lots of sounds, smells etc., Stephen and Mom get home one minute before the Skype session with me is about to start….

Skype does its little Skyp-ee tune. Stephen is not on the screen. It is Stephen’s mom. Behind her is Stephen screaming: “I don’t want to do it! I’m f***ing fed up” (etc). (I have not heard what had gone on at this point.) Stephen’s mom says the we shouldn’t have the Skype session because Stephen is in his ‘out of control fit” phase.

(guess how it turned out)
to be continued soon!

Have questions? Contact Ken.

While you are waiting, Stephen and I put together an article which ended up in the Huffington Post about his issues with people trying to “make things easy” on people with Autism. Its a great read and got great response. You can read it by clicking here. If you like it please click “like” and share it.