“Tell me I can’t so that I can show you that I can,” Armani Williams
By Ron Sandison
- What were are greatest challenges having autism?
I feel like my greatest challenges of having autism is the communication and social interaction. All my life I have been dealing with issues growing up but I have managed to steadily improve those tactics, being a little more proactive around other people and that’s going to help me in the long run as I continue to live my life with autism.
- How old were you when you begin to speak?
Good question, I can’t remember when I did. It’s been a long time since I was very little. I would say it was when I was 2 or 3 years old. It sometimes takes time before you can say your very first words.
- Did you have any sensory issues? If so, how did you learn to overcome them?
Yes, I had some sensory issues especially when I was young. And I still do today but I have been able to reduce those issues and overcome them just by looking at my surroundings and knowing what’s going on in today’s world. When I hear or see something that I don’t quite understand, I use the internet and research things on Google to help me understand certain things I don’t know. The more I learn about different things, the easier it is for me to translate the information to my brain and the next time it comes up it’s like, “Oh, I have heard about this before”, or “Hey, I know what this is.”
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Through this experience, both Cory and the Federation learned more than just the backgrounds of artists as Marc Chagall and Helen Frankenthaler. We learned how powerful opportunity can be – for an individual and for an organization.
Cory has autism. Through the support of The Bobby Fund of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Cory came to the Federation from Milestones Autism Resources of Warrensville Heights, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and coaching teens and young adults on the autism spectrum.
From the first day of his internship, Cory became part of the Federation family and our community. “I would say this was the right work and environment for the right person. With those two things, anyone with autism or on the spectrum can be an exemplary worker,” said Cory. “With that support here at Federation, I was an exemplary worker and I know more people can do the same thing. They just need an open door.”
“It was so awesome to watch Cory grow through this experience and see how successful he was through the end,” said Haley Dunn, Milestones Teen and Adult Coordinator. “It’s really a ‘wow’ moment for me to see all the work he put into this project. It’s been a really great match, and I couldn’t be prouder of Cory.”
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Now is the time to set your sights on the summer ahead and to prepare for a change of pace. With the inconsistency in schedule that summer brings, many families with loved ones on the spectrum encounter challenges during this transition and contact the Milestones Helpdesk for guidance. Here are a few common questions we hear:
1.) My loved one has a hard time adjusting to a summer schedule. How can I make this transition easier for them?
If you know what schedule changes to expect, start prepping up to a month out from their last day of school. Start creating a visual schedule for the summer with added summer icons (swimming, camp, travel destinations, museums, etc.). Get your loved one’s teachers or providers involved in helping prep for this summer schedule as well.
Long, sunny days often have us longing for less of a schedule. Some slack is okay, but continue to provide a structure for each day that will keep your loved one regulated.
2.) I am an elementary school teacher – how can I help my students and their families enjoy the summer while also keeping next school year in mind?
As a teacher, you can provide information to families to help prevent academic slide. Remind families that taking 15-30 minutes a day to review in the summer will help keep their student on track for the following school year. Pick just a few skills that will be the most helpful and share them with your students’ parents. If appropriate, discuss extended school year (ESY) options.
Summer gives lots of opportunities for learning in different ways. Give your students options to read books of their choice, encourage creative writing, or teach them how to work on math while baking or cooking.
3.) My child enjoys spending time in their room but this often leads to them isolating themselves in the summer. How can I introduce them to new social opportunities?
Many times, families are concerned about their children hiding out in their room all summer. Get input from all members of your family and plan activities that intrigue everyone in some way. Also, think about ways you can give limits for games, computer time, and other screen entertainment to keep your child from expecting unlimited play time. For example, allow 1-2 hours of preferred screen time for an equal amount of family, outside or learning time. Consider setting up a screen time contract prior to summer so everyone knows the rules and consequences ahead of time.
To get them interested in more social activities with the rest of the family, encourage your loved one with a small reward.
4.) Where are some helpful places I can find a list of autism-friendly summer events in my community?
The Summer and Beyond Fair every February is put on by the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County. There will be countless camps and other ESY options represented there for families to learn about.
If you are not local to Northeast Ohio or unable to make it, ESC of Cuyahoga County will publish a full list of all the programs in attendance shortly after the fair so you can review it right at home.
Another great source for information about summer options is through your current providers. Many SLPs, OTs, PTs, mental health and ABA therapists will often run summer camps to work on specific skills.
For non-camp options, check out Milestones’ calendar and the calendars of museums, zoos, science centers to see if they have a sensory friendly day, a sensory room option, or other accommodations for your loved one during the summer.
5.) How can I get my loved one to try a new activity?
Consider what they enjoy doing and find a similar activity. Introduce them to this new activity in small steps so they are not overwhelmed. For example, if they like swimming and you want to try a water park, consider starting out at a local splash pad. The splash pad will introduce them to the noise level and being around a small crowd of people. There are many splash pads that are free or low-cost throughout Northeast Ohio.
6.) We’re going on vacation! Now what?
Milestones’ travel tool kit is here to help. The tool kit provides information about family-friendly destinations, medical and safety concerns, social stories, and helpful links about air and road travel. It’s a one-stop shop to help with your vacation planning so your family trip can be as smooth as possible.
7.) How can families find some added one-on-one support for the summer?
It’s best to plan ahead as much as the family is able. Think about your budget, then identify what days, times, and level of support your loved one will need for the summer. Sometimes, it is wise to reach out to local colleges for students who are majoring in special education, psychology, social work or similar fields that are available and want to gain experience. Use our guiding questions when interviewing potential providers.
8.) I see your national conference is in June. Tell me more…
The Milestones National Autism Conference draws family members, professionals, and individuals on the spectrum from all over the country. With over 80 evidence-based sessions taught by experts in the field, it is a one of a kind event that allows the entire autism community to learn together. Offering CEUs in 11 disciplines this year, the conference also serves as a hub for professional growth for all. Register before February 28th and save! We can’t wait to learn with you.
Don’t forget that Milestones’ website provides resources, tool kits and guiding questions. Be sure to download our free resources as you make your plans for summer. Our coaching staff is always here to help you- so don’t hesitate to call our free Helpdesk or come in for a consultation.
Haley Dunn works with individuals with ASD as Milestones’ Teen/Adult Coordinator to help them transition to adulthood. She has experience working with individuals with developmental disabilities and ASD to transition from school to work, as well as providing mental health counseling services. Haley has a deep passion for connecting people to their community, whether it is through employment, volunteering, or life enrichment activities.
(216) 464-7600 x115
As a school psychologist and someone who is on the “inside” of the autism community looking out, it is often easy to forget that some of my fellow Clevelanders may be unaware of the impressive autism network we have here, at our fingertips in Northeast Ohio.
Over the years, I have gained insight to the local autism community thanks to my professional and personal involvement with Milestones Autism Resources, an agency close to my heart, that helps individuals with autism reach their potential. I have been able to experience the generosity and passion within this system firsthand, a passion that reminds me so much of the close-knit altruism within our local community.
I initially became involved with Milestones after seeing the critical need to provide autism resources to my “kids” at school and to their families. Milestones connected me with the vetted local resources I needed. This evolved into becoming an active volunteer, a participant in the Milestones conference, and most recently, into serving as co-chair for Strike It Big, one of their biggest fundraising events of the year.
Strike It Big for Milestones provides inclusion and support for individuals on the spectrum, two things the larger Northeast Ohio autism community is constantly working together to provide. Along with an afternoon of fun, bowling and other activities, this family-friendly bowling event provides a “no-judgment zone” in which children can be themselves. Through fundraising and attending the event on March 11th at Spins Bowl in Independence, the local community can come together to support Milestones’ free Autism Helpdesk, a service that allows families to contact professional staff for personal guidance and individualized information at each and every stage of their child’s development.
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If you told me five years ago that I would be a practicing social worker, I wouldn’t have believed it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to become a social worker. Rather, I felt that it would be something that I couldn’t do because of my Autism. To be entirely honest, I took to heart some of the negative stereotypes and misconceptions people have about Autism. I felt like I could never support others because my eye contact is fleeting. From a young age, most kids learn that good eye contact is one of the most important skills for social interaction. My interests can also be rather specific, and I really enjoy sharing about them, but sometimes I have a difficult time telling when others want to change the subject. In all my years receiving Autism-related services, I had not once met a clinician with Autism. Since there were no models, I worried that people must not want a social worker who has Autism. It was during my time in undergrad that I met someone who had similar differences who was pursuing a career in social work. With that person’s support, I came to the realization that I would take a chance on my dreams and become a model for others who might wish to follow suit. I earned my undergraduate degree and applied for a master’s level social work program.
My early career assumption was that I would pursue employment in the realm of immigration or refugee services, but my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to interview at one Autism-related agency. That agency was Milestones Autism Resources. “Milestones serves clients with Autism and I have Autism, maybe this could be a good fit,” is what I told myself. I called Beth Thompson and within a week I had an interview. I arrived far too early than what might be considered professionally appropriate, the dress shirt (that my mother encouraged me to tuck in) was untucked because I found it to be too uncomfortable, and my interview consisted of an abundant amount of oversharing. Yet from the moment I walked through the door to the moment I left, I felt welcomed. I knew then that Milestones was where I wanted to complete my first year internship. I celebrated with my family when Milestones offered me a position as their Graduate Social Work Intern.
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