What one woman on the spectrum hopes for during World Autism Month

Over the past ten years, I have spread the message of autism awareness and acceptance. I was diagnosed with autism at two years old, so World Autism Month is extremely important to me. As a self-advocate, since I speak all year round, my wish is that we will reach a point where everyone in the whole world will spread autism awareness, acceptance and inclusion, not just during the month of April, but each and every day. Over the years, I have spoken to both children as well as adults, and I am always amazed how the very young understand the struggles of being on the autism spectrum, and are willing to accept others just as they are, yet as children grow older, they seem to be already set in their misconceptions of this disability. Although you would think that the older you get, the more understanding you have about those with autism, I have found that adults seem to have the hardest time. Understanding both the struggles and abilities of those on the autism spectrum takes a great amount of effort, listening, being open-minded, and thinking outside the box. That is something that adults have a difficult time doing with many things.

So maybe, in order for everyone, including adults, to truly embrace autism, and understand what makes people with autism unique, we need to be more like children, ready to learn more about autism, and be more caring towards those with disabilities. I am finishing up my senior year as a vocal music major in college, and I will be entering the real world, where I know I will face unimaginable obstacles.  Although it will be a long and difficult struggle, I hope that each and every barrier I break through will inspire others on the spectrum that they can achieve anything.  I don’t know where my future will lead me, but I know that every April, I will use World Autism Month to bring awareness and change perceptions of autism, one song at a time, and I will continue my efforts each and every day.

As I tell the many classrooms of third graders, “acceptance and inclusion is a beautiful thing, and don’t be so quick to make a judgment; be a friend instead”. May this Autism Awareness Month make us all more like little children, and be more open, both in mind and in action, to those with disabilities.


Taken from Autismspeaks.org


Myths about Autism are Bad for Business



As an organization that works diligently to find meaningful careers for adults on the autism spectrum, Mind Shift often has to dispel myths and misconceptions about the diagnosis.  This is an important part of our mission.  If we are going to change the world of work, we need to address those incorrect ideas that can get in the way of an organization hiring individuals on the spectrum.

Below are 7 more myths regarding Autism Spectrum Disorder:

1.      Individuals with autism don’t feel emotion.  Actually, individuals with autism just express their emotions in different ways.

2.     Individuals with autism don’t understand other people’s emotions.  The truth is that people with autism often have difficulty interpreting facial cues, tone of voice, and body language, which makes understanding how somebody is feeling in the moment especially difficult.

3.     People with autism are antisocial and don’t want friends.  Because of the difficulty interpreting emotional cues, and higher than average anxiety, people on the spectrum may avoid social situations and come across as aloof.  The truth is people on the spectrum want to have meaningful and deep interpersonal connections just like anybody else.

4.     Autism is caused by bad parenting.  This is absolutely untrue.  In the 50’s, autism was said to be caused by mothers who were cold and unemotional.  This has been proven FALSE!

5.     Autism is a mental illness.  This is not true.  Autism is a neurological condition.  People on the spectrum process information differently, but it is not an “illness.”

6.     Autism is curable.  Actually, there is no known cause for autism, and there is no known “cure.”  That being said, should we be trying to “cure” it in the first place?  Autism offers a unique way of seeing the world.  And those with autism should be valued because of this perspective.

7.     People with autism are all alike.  Absolutely not true!  There’s a saying: If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.  No two people are alike, and that goes for people with autism too!

It’s important that myths such as these are dispelled, especially since some of these inaccuracies might prevent great businesses from hiring individuals on the spectrum, even when those individuals might be the most qualified fit for roles that need to be filled.

Mind Shift will continue to speak honestly about autism and autism employment.  And we will continue to advocate for adults with autism.  If you want to learn more about autism, and about leveraging the strengths of individuals on the spectrum, reach out to Mind Shift.  We work with some unique, talented, and amazing people who are ready to work with you.

–Post from Blog–Mind Shift

Finally Seeing Yourself as Others See You

When you suffer for so long from any mental health issues, it is quite difficult to believe what others tell you no matter what it is. Whether it is as simple as “you look nice today” to “I like what you are wearing” we just can not seem to believe that it is actually true. Then when they try to get us to see that we have overcome so much in our journey to getting better we just go along with it and act like we agree and life goes on.

One day something amazing finally hits you and all these wonderful things people have been telling you for so long make sense to you. I know when it hit me I honestly can not describe exactly how I felt. It was a mixture of pride in myself, relief of this weight being lifted of me that I did not even realize I had been carrying, being able to tell myself that I am smart and pretty and deserving of good things in life. I have never felt these things in life before. I had never realized for myself any of this for myself. I actually felt like I was glowing. I was smiling more because for once I was feeling so much better about myself.

It is not even just about feeling better though. I can see for myself that I am handling everything better than I did in the past. I had a car issue come up that normally would have had me all worked up. Instead I kept my head and kept calm and just handled it. I was shocked. It did not even phase me. I am getting my son the help he needs and am staying calmer with him. My kids are even handling things better too. I saw a dietitian to help get my eating habits better for me and the kids. I am going to the gym now. I used to feel guilty when I would buy myself new clothes. Not anymore. I even started buying a few things with color.

It has taken quite a few years to get to this point in my life. I will admit it is still hard living every day in what people call “normal” life. I do miss the highs that come with the Bipolar but I do know that life is so much better the way it is now. I think I will always struggle a little with staying on my medications but I just have to remind myself where I have come from. I am so proud of myself and how far I have come. Time to see where I go next!



Heart and Stroke Month

February is Heart and Stroke Month. Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death in the United States; one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,200 deaths per day. It describes a range of different heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, congenital heart defects (heart problems you are born with), and heart rhythm problems. These conditions range in severity and treatment style, but can all become dangerous if left alone. At worst, heart disease can cause other major issues, such as stroke, which can be deadly.

Strokes (“brain attacks”) occur when the brain loses blood supply and stops receiving oxygen. This is often due to blood vessel and artery issues caused by cardiovascular disease. Any areas of the brain that lose oxygen become injured, impairing the function of that area of the brain. This can lead to the loss of many mental and physical functions, paralysis, and in about 1/3 of cases, death.

Potential symptoms may include:

  • fluttering in your chest or racing heartbeat
  • chest discomfort or pain
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness or fainting
  • pale skin
  • swelling in the legs, hands, around the abdomen, or around the eyes
  • constant weakness and fatigue
  • numbness in arms and legs
  • persistent fever

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor immediately.

In contrast, strokes are hard to see coming beforehand because they are so sudden. If you believe someone is having a stroke, it is important to keep the acronym FAST in mind:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty
  • Time to call 9-1-1

Prevention is the best medicine. It needs to start with you.

  • Get up and get active by being physically active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Know your ABC’s
  • Ask our Doctor if you should take an Aspirin every day.
  • Find out if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and if you do, get effective treatment.
  • If you smoke, get help to quit.
  • Make your calories count by eating a heart-healthy diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in sodium and trans fat.
  • Take control of your heart health by following your doctor’s prescription instructions.

It is much easier to make healthy choices that prevent heart disease and strokes than it is to fix them after the fact. Therefore, people of all ages should be wary of their habits in an effort to prevent these conditions from happening to you.

New Year, Better You

Almost a month into the new year and some people have probably already started dreading making all those new year resolutions that are so popular. I never make them. I decided years ago it puts too much pressure on me to try and be perfect on things I already know I am not going to be able to keep. This year it is all about just trying to better myself in one way or another. In doing so it has changed my whole family and I am just so proud of them and the progress they have made.

I started making some changes the end of last year when I put all my anxiety aside and applied for unemployability through the VA. I was so anxious and nervous but I knew I had to do this. It worked out and I was approved. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and now I could focus on other important things in my life. I was able to get a more reliable car for us that we have needed for years and not fear it is going to break down every day. I can now help my 8 year old get the help he needs because he is really struggling to focus in school and is having some issues with his behavior at home.

The biggest change this new year has been in my 17 year old son. Before he was being very disrespectful, would not listen and really had no direction in life. He would pick on his younger brother so much and did not care about anything. He then decided to join the National Guard. He went to one drill weekend and something really clicked with him. He came back with a whole new attitude. He is trying so much harder now to be respectful and do what he is told. He is trying to help his brother which in turn is helping his brother’s behavior. We had a nice talk and he apologized to me and I apologized to him too. I know for him it is not easy having a parent with disabilities. I am proud of the young man he is becoming. I know he will do a great job.

So this new year it may have started out with some low points at times but one of the best points was hearing my son is proud of me. I am going to the gym, not so I can get super skinny but so I keep myself in shape so I am here for my kids and grandkids. My 8 year old is slowly getting his behavior under control with help and I have learned to love myself  disabilities and all. This is going to be a good year.

A Memorial to Ed Roberts, Born January 23, 1939


Do you ever wonder if you will be remembered once you leave this journey called life? There are many that have gone on before us, and family and friends have missed them, but have learned to live a life without their physical presence.  And then there are some special people that have done so much to improve other people’s lives that they are not forgotten but they continue to be remembered for all that they did in this life.  One such man is Edward Verne Roberts.  Born on January 23, 1939, Ed contracted polio at the age of 14.  This illness left him paralyzed from the neck down except for two fingers on one hand and several toes.  He was dependent on an iron lung for the rest of his life.  Still, Ed stepped out of his comfort zone and advanced the world of the Independent Living movement so that today many people with disabilities have the accessibility and availability to live a much more active and inclusive life.  While there are still many barriers in every community that prevent full accessibility, this gentleman, that is considered to be the ‘father of the Independent Living Movement’, helped give courage to those that others tried to hold back because of their disabilities.  At an early age, ‘he gave up thinking of himself as a “helpless cripple,” and decided to think of himself as a “star.”  And a star he was as he self-advocated his causes and earned the respect of not only his peers, but also those in government at the time.  In 1976, newly elected Governor Jerry Brown appointed Ed as Director of the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, the same agency that had once labelled him ‘too severely disabled to work’.


In our day and age where communication is at our fingertips and information doesn’t need to be studied or memorized to be recollected, but brought before our eyes by just the touch of a screen, I believe that we all, at times, use our sense of speech without putting much thought into how it might affect others. I have been and still am guilty of doing this.  This advance in the technological world that we live in has rapidly changed the way people communicate in so many ways, socially and personally.

Prior to becoming the Systems/Community Advocate at Dakota Center for Independent Living, I hadn’t put much thought into ‘People-first Language’. This is a type of linguistic prescription in English to avoid perceived and subconscious dehumanization when discussing people with a health issue or a disability.  It is ‘disability etiquette’, but it can be applied to any group which is defined by a condition rather than as a people. Rather than using a label or an adjective to define individuals, People-first Language puts the person before the diagnosis and describes what the person HAS, not what the person IS.  I will give you a few examples.  If you say ‘that disabled guy’ or ‘that handicapped person’, you are defining them as their disability or their condition. It is much more appropriate to use terminology which describes the individuals as being diagnosed WITH an illness or disorder.  Putting the person before the diagnosis is the best way to speak of individuals, as it describes what the person HAS, not what the person IS.   Another example: “Do you remember the boy with autism?” It helps the condition define the boy rather than, “Do you remember that autistic boy?” which defines the boy rather than the condition.  Do you see how using that label, or an adjective before the person, defines the person rather than the other way around? “People with disabilities” rather than “disabled people” or just “disabled”. They are all PEOPLE first.  By using such a sentence structure, the speaker articulates the idea of a disability as a secondary attribute, not a characteristic of a person’s identity.  Here is another one:  “Those that are homeless”, sounds better than, “the homeless”.  While there may be some people that are homeless that may have been diagnosed with an illness or a disorder, (that is another whole subject), but when speaking of their current place of dwelling, they are truly ‘people without a home’.

Like I said, while modes of communication today are not as they were even 10 years ago, we must be more cautious with how we speak, being sensitive of others around us and how our language might affect their day, their person. Even though communication may come easy in today’s world, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stay attentive in how we use these vast modes of communication.  Think before you speak. I know it is something that I am always reminding myself to do.

At the Dakota Center for Independent Living, we offer a Disability Etiquette presentation that might be beneficial for the business agencies, social groups, or learning centers. Call us to set up a presentation for your venue. 701-222-3636