Raleigh Student Gives Time to Help Others

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At just 12 years old, Vibhu Kumar Subramani is a successful and innovative fundraiser for the Autism Society of North Carolina. Vibhu, who attends Carnage Middle School in Raleigh, raises money by collecting and recycling used cooking oil with the company Key Energy, based in Pittsboro.

The seed for Vibhu’s project was planted when he was even younger. In 2010, when he was vacationing at Disney World with his family, he saw a person with autism and wanted to understand more about her. “My parents told me that I could help if my empathy could be turned into contributing my share toward her benefit,” Vibhu said.

vibhu-oilIn a little more than a year, Vibhu has raised more than $300 to benefit individuals and families affected by autism. He spends a couple of hours each month distributing brochures and collecting used oil from households. Key Energy then picks up the oil from his house. The company also collects oil directly from restaurants that have signed a contract with Vibhu. He is then paid for the oil that is collected and donates that money to ASNC.

Helping ASNC is the right thing to do, Vibhu says, and this particular project also benefits the environment by properly disposing of waste oil. In his letter to prospective clients, Vibhu tells them “we can turn the waste cooking oil into bio-diesel and eliminate some CO2 from our atmosphere.”

“We are so impressed with Vibhu, who at such a young age has channeled his passion for the environment into helping individuals with autism,” said Kristy White, ASNC Chief Development Officer. “He clearly is going to be a strong leader in the future, and this experience will help him toward his goals.”

Vibhu says he plans to keep up his fundraiser until he goes to college, “donating to help the people who need help most.” He also spends some of his free time volunteering with children with autism.

Vibhu aspires to be a doctor someday, and his compassion for others and his work ethic will surely carry him far.

 

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TIPS Serves Adults with Autism

tips-167Serving others is obviously important to members of the Triangle Indian-American Physicians Society (TIPS); they are, after all, in health care. But serving outside of their chosen careers is also important to them. For years, members have volunteered their efforts and expertise at free clinics all around the Triangle and at a yearly free screening.

 

Three years ago, TIPS wanted to give back to the local community in a different way. They worked with friends and local business leaders to research charities and decided the Autism Society of North Carolina had the kind of impact they were seeking.

 

“ASNC has been the leader in helping not only families but adults with autism. Some of the success stories of adults being able to be a functioning part of our society really hits close to home,” a TIPS board statement said. “We as health-care providers are always trying to make a positive impact on patients, and we feel ASNC also is doing the same for people living with autism in our state.”

 

Several TIPS members have loved ones with autism and others frequently work closely with patients with autism as in their health-care practices. In addition, ASNC has supported multiple adults with autism who have gained meaningful employment at one member’s local Raleigh pharmacy.

 

TIPS has held three events to benefit ASNC: two golf tournaments and a gala with live and silent auctions. These events raised close to $100,000 to benefit ASNC’s Employment Supports department, which enables adults with autism to become contributing members of society and feel a part of the communities in which they live.

 

The events also brought in hundreds of attendees, raising awareness of autism in the community, a success that the TIPS board notes is immeasurable.

 

tips-133Kristy White, Chief Development Officer, praised the dedication and time that the members of TIPS put into their events to give adults with autism full and meaningful lives. “I think it is so remarkable what they give on a daily basis through their work, and then to do this for us in their spare time. They spend every moment making a difference in each and every life.”

 

We are grateful for the partnership of TIPS and excited to see its future!

 

The TIPS board stated, “We hope to continue to raise awareness about autism professionally as well as socially in the surrounding communities, and hope to keep hosting these great events to raise the much-needed funds to keep this program running and helping empower adults with autism.”

Supported Employment Brings Fulfillment

2014-11-07-adamricci-003-terry-hamletEditor’s note: This article previously appeared in ASNC’s Spectrum magazine.

David Roth’s parents never have to wake him up in the morning or push him to get out the door on time for his job. The 27-year-old with autism works at the Courtyard in Chapel Hill, mostly in the fast-paced, physically demanding laundry, but he is always happy to go.

“He loves to work. He absolutely loves it,” said his mother, Susan Roth.

David started working at the hotel when he was still in high school. It was a volunteer position, facilitated through East Chapel Hill High School, where the young man was having some behavioral issues when he was made to do things he did not want to do. “He was absolutely the happiest when he was out in the community and especially when he was at his job,” Susan said.

Now, almost a decade later, David holds a paying position at the Courtyard along with two other part-time jobs, with the support of an employment supports instructor from the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC). His mother says the jobs have helped him learn how to interact with other people, provided the consistent schedule that he needs, and given him pride and a sense of accomplishment. They have even improved his reading skills because he is interested in reading about his job duties as opposed to school topics.

Lorraine La Pointe’s 25-year-old son with autism, Adam Ricci, also holds several part-time jobs. She says they have “opened up his circle”; when she is with him in the community, he always sees someone he knows. She also noticed that Adam has recently matured. “I think it really has changed him.”

Kathryn Lane, who is Adam’s employment supports instructor through ASNC, agrees, saying that Adam is calmer on the job than at other times. Having a job has also taught him responsibility as it requires him to be punctual, have clean, neat clothing, and manage his time as he completes tasks, she said.

“Seeing the progress is really rewarding for me,” Kathryn said. “The goal is to make him independent someday.”

For individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), meaningful employment is a key part of a fulfilling life, but studies have shown that as many as eight out of 10 are unemployed or underemployed. David Ingram, ASNC Employment Supports Director, said that individuals with ASD improve their odds of obtaining integrated employment 400% through using job placement services from an organization such as ASNC while using Vocational Rehabilitation supports.

Businesses giving back

2014-11-07-adamricci-004From the employers’ viewpoint, providing job opportunities for individuals with autism is a win-win situation.

“The benefits that we have with David … it actually keeps us humble, grounded, and grateful,” said Lisa Giannini-White, the Director of Operations of Southpoint Animal Hospital in Durham, where David Roth works in the afternoons. “We thoroughly enjoy having David here.”

Terry Hamlet is President of S.H. Basnight and Sons, a small Hillsborough company that makes specialty hardware, doors, and frames. Terry said she and her employees benefit from working with Adam and another employee with autism. “I think that at the core of each person, they like the idea of doing something for other people. I think that in some way, that is happening here,” Terry said. “Hopefully they can feel good about the fact that they work for people who care enough about other people to give them an opportunity.”

Lisa said it was a part of Southpoint Animal Hospital’s original business plan to “offer opportunities to everybody.” Before David came to work for them, she did research about how to support individuals with autism and also consulted with his father about David in particular. When she talked to her employees about bringing David on, they were all for it, she said, and so she shared what she had learned.

Valued employees

But it’s not just about a feeling they are doing good; David is a valued employee, a consistent team player with great attention to detail, Lisa said. “He helps others see that well, gosh, I guess I could be more detailed, or I guess I could be a little bit of a harder worker.”

Alex Griffin also brings strong attention to detail to his position at the Center for Urban Affairs and Community Services (CUACS) at NC State University. Alex, a 30-year-old with high-functioning autism, does not need the assistance of an employment supports instructor, but he did participate in ASNC’s JobTIPS program, which emphasizes the development of social skills that are critical to identifying, applying for, securing, and maintaining employment. The group facilitator provides coaching and feedback for job interviews, encourages peer interaction, and helps members develop a broader community network.

Sheila Brown, Alex’s supervisor, said he does not really need supports at CUACS and performs well in a variety of duties. “He’s got a great attitude, and everything he’s done for us he’s done very well, very thoroughly,” she said. The reviews of assessments and testing that their work group do can be tedious and require a lot of attention, and Alex has found things they might have missed, she said. He also is very responsive to feedback and happy to do anything that is asked of him.

Alex said he would like all employers to know that “our value as employees isn’t overshadowed by the minor cost of accommodation.”

David Ingram said, “Individuals with disabilities, including ASD, experience less turnover than nondisabled individuals, allow access to numerous tax incentives, and return an average of $28.69 for each dollar invested in accommodations. Individuals with disabilities and their networks represent a $3 trillion market segment, and 87% of customers prefer to patronize businesses that hire employees with disabilities. I’m excited to see businesses starting to understand the value in hiring workers on the autism spectrum and contact us seeking support in placing someone with ASD with their corporation.”

Supporting the workers

2014-11-07-adamricci-007S.H. Basnight and Sons’ employees with autism are productive parts of the business because Terry matched tasks that the company needed to have done with their skills, just as she would with any employee, she said. Having patience and teaching how to complete tasks properly is necessary with any worker, she said. “There is no employee ever that is totally easy. The key is to work with people to help them do things correctly.”

“It’s very important for everybody – it’s important with our children, it’s important with our co-workers, it’s important in our businesses – when there is a weakness, to help that person develop that.”

Adam’s mother, Lorraine La Pointe, said Basnight has done an “amazing” job of supporting him. “They are just naturals. He operates on a visual schedule, and they have magnetic boards set up for his tasks. They are just on it.”

The visual task boards give Adam the opportunity to choose the order in which they will do the tasks for that day as well the independence to move from one task to another, Terry said. At Southpoint Animal Hospital, Lisa also set up visual supports for David, such as laminated sheets showing his duties in the restrooms.

Terry also said that employment supports instructors are a key to success for individuals with autism. With the job coaches supporting their clients well, there is more potential for growth in the job. Kathryn Lane, who has worked with Adam since July, said she has seen that; he has started recognizing more details at his job and times that tasks were not done correctly.

Part of the team

For employees without onsite support staff, many issues can be avoided with just a little research about autism and the employee in particular, said Sheila Brown, Alex Griffin’s supervisor at NC State. “We tend to have a stereotypical picture of what autism is, but it’s really more what autism is not,” she said. “Just be open, trying to make sure that the person is comfortable with what you’re asking them to do until they feel a comfort level with you and your staff.”

Adam feels very comfortable with his Basnight co-workers and Terry Hamlet; when he sees her in public, he greets her with a hug. She said they strive to make him a part of their team. Adam’s mother said they have gone a step further, including him in parties for holidays and birthdays; “they treat him like family.”

Terry says the effort was worth it.

“My life and the life of our company is richer for having had them here. I really believe that.”

For more information about Employment Supports, please go to www.autismsociety-nc.org/employmentsupports

Understanding Autism with the Hula Hoop Analogy

hula-hoopsThis article was contributed by Nancy Popkin, Autism Resource Specialist in the Charlotte region and mom to a son with autism.

One of the keys to parenting, working with, or just hanging out with an individual with autism is to truly understand the core characteristics of autism. Applying these core characteristics enhances our understanding of why our child, student, employee, or friend might do some of the things they do. In doing this, we are able to anticipate challenges, develop strategies, and in some cases, find those extra ounces of patience that allow us to support them when challenges arise. Over the years, I have developed something I call “The Hula Hoop Analogy” to help me teach others to understand the individuals with autism in their lives. Not only does this help me explain aspects of autism to others, but it has allowed me to help my son understand himself. Here’s how it goes:

Imagine that every person with autism has an invisible Hula Hoop™ around themselves. They are in the center of the Hula Hoop, and everything inside the Hula Hoop matters to them. Everything outside of Hula Hoop, not so much. And this makes sense, because the root of the word autism is “auto” which means “self.” This is not to say that individuals with autism are selfish, but their perspective of the world is sometimes or often limited to their own perspective. And this helps us understand one of those autism characteristics. Individuals with autism, to varying degrees, struggle with taking the perspective of another. They have difficulty understanding how their actions may affect someone else. And this is because of this invisible Hula Hoop.

This thinking can be applied to help us understand other core characteristics of autism. For instance, we know that individuals with autism benefit greatly by having a visual schedule or visual cues to help them navigate their world. Often though, consideration is not given to the location of the schedule. To be effective, it must be within the invisible Hula Hoop for that individual. This is why, if the schedule for a classroom is in the front of the room for all students to see, the student with autism may not know it applies to them and will not attend to it. The schedule might need to be on their desk or on a notebook. At home, the schedule and visual cues need to be where they will be processed effectively or where the task or activity takes place.

We can apply this analogy to understanding social differences, too. Individuals with autism often do not respond to their name unless you are very close. It is like we need to get in their Hula Hoop to get their attention. At school, if the teacher is talking at the front of the room, often the student with autism will not process what the teacher is saying. The teacher isn’t in the Hula Hoop, so it’s as if what they are saying doesn’t apply to the student. And sometimes, individuals with autism don’t recognize personal space. This may be because they feel like you need to be in their Hula Hoop to interact with them.

The size of the Hula Hoop will vary from one individual to another. It also might expand and contract depending on the individual’s abilities, stress levels, and environment. Individuals with autism often have difficulty processing a lot of information at once. If they are overwhelmed with information (sensory or otherwise), the Hula Hoop will get smaller, and they may not be able to attend to as much information as when they are calm. This is important to know when helping someone manage themselves when they are upset. If the tools and strategies used to help them regain their sense of calm are not in close proximity when the Hula Hoop contracts, it will be harder to get them calm. This is why many of the visual cues and other supports for someone with autism need to be portable and with them at all times.

Not only does the Hula Hoop Analogy apply to physical space, it also applies to temporal space and individuals’ ability to manage time. Imagine the Hula Hoop represents this moment in time. Individuals with autism are most comfortable living in the present. Thinking about the past might be uncomfortable for them and they might resist talking about past events. The exception to this is when reliving past events repeatedly as a way to stim.

But more significantly, this temporal effect has an impact on planning for the future. Individuals with autism are not good at thinking about what might happen in the future and planning accordingly. This affects things like figuring out what jacket to wear or whether to grab an umbrella for later. It affects planning what work to get done now and what to put off for later.

The good news is, with practice we can help an individual with autism expand their invisible Hula Hoop to take in more and more information, include more people, and anticipate what lies ahead. But we need to start this process where they are, within their Hula Hoop. And when issues arise, consider that maybe this invisible Hula Hoop has gotten in the way. That is when we step inside their Hula Hoop, with all the patience we can muster, to guide them into the future.

 

Nancy Popkin can be reached at npopkin@autismsociety-nc.org or 704-894-9678.