Bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014). Bullying peaks in the middle school years and can take many different forms: physical, verbal, psychological, and even cyber. Given that adolescents with autism have difficulty understanding social rules and norms, they are more vulnerable to insidious (“relational”) types of bullying, such as exclusion from peer groups. Even after several incidents have occurred, they still may not notice that they are being bullied.
It is important to note that bullying is not limited to peer-to-peer relationships. Sadly, there are adults who sometimes abuse positions of trust and engage in bullying behavior out of ignorance or plain lack of acceptance. As you teach your child about relationships and friendship, be mindful of teaching what “trusted adult” means, who they are, and most importantly, what makes them trustworthy.
Tips for Preventing and Addressing Bullying
1) Remember that bullying doesn’t just happen. It is preceded by teasing, ridiculing, and testing of rules, behavior that often gets brushed aside. If you find that your child is being picked on or left out, then address it with school staff immediately before it escalates into something more significant.
2) Help your child understand what a “real friend” is. Use specific, real-world examples and create social stories so they know how to respond when someone doesn’t treat them appropriately.
3) It’s never too early to build self-advocacy skills. Do everything you can to make sure that your child can confidently stand up to their bullies and express concerns to a trusted adult, regardless of where they are.
4) Peers are less likely to bully if they understand what autism is. Encourage the school administration to educate students and staff members about autism and promote inclusivity, acceptance, and friendship in the classroom. OAR’s Kit for Kids is a great resource for promoting autism acceptance!
5) Be attuned to the signs of bullying: avoidance of preferred activities, increased sensitivity or anxiety, changes in daily eating or sleeping patterns, declining grades, appearance of cuts or bruises, and suicidal ideation.
6) Raise this subject with school administration before the start of the school year to facilitate discussions and awareness, should you have any concerns in this area.
Advice from a Teacher: “A seventh grader with autism who is very passive had been pulling his pants down in class. We initially thought he was being naughty, but soon found out that another student had been telling him to pull his pants down. I think teachers need to be more aware of their students and consider the reasons why they might be doing something out of the ordinary, and parents should work with their teen’s support professionals to create social stories about being your own person and making your own decisions.”
Advice from a Parent: “Teach your adolescent how to distinguish when someone is taking advantage of you—borrowing money and not paying it back, asking for favors but not reciprocating, baiting you so others laugh at your naiveté, or asking you to do inappropriate and illegal things in exchange for friendship. Teach your child what a real friendship looks like.”
This post was adapted from Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide to Safety. Click here to order or download the guide.
In a recent Biospace article, John Ricco, the co-founder of Atlantic Group Recruiting, explained that autistic employees “often possess a unique skill set that employers can benefit from, including attention to detail, innovative problem solving, and a strong work ethic.” Even with these skill sets, unemployment rates for autistic adults are eight times higher than rates for those without a disability according to the University of Connecticut’s Center for Neurodiversity & Employment Innovation. If neurodiverse employees are so valuable, why are they underutilized?
Manager of the Insights and Solutions team at Johnson & Johnson and autistic speaker Angela Andrews told Biospace that one of the main reasons autistic people may endure challenges at work “is a lack of accommodation.”
What Is an Accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to the work environment to help individuals with disabilities perform essential job tasks. The benefit of an accommodation is that it gives autistic employees an equal opportunity to successfully perform their tasks to the same extent as their peers. These accommodations can be feasible changes, such as providing more secluded workspaces, flexible schedules, organization software, and clear written directions. However, accommodations can often be difficult for autistic employees to obtain if they are seen as special privileges by employers.
“If someone gets the courage to come to you and tell you they need an accommodation . . . believe them,” said Andrews.
Companies that Have Embraced Neurodiverse Talent
By embracing diversity in the workplace and providing accommodations, employers can increase workplace comfortability as well as efficiency. Results have shown that increased diversity in the workplace not only assists the employees but also improves the company’s revenue by 19%. In a study conducted by the Job Accommodation Network, 58% of employers said the accommodations needed by employees cost the company absolutely nothing and 74% reported that the accommodations were extremely effective.
A multinational software corporation, SAP, has an Autism at Work program that operates across 12 countries and employs approximately 150 autistic individuals. The program focuses on leveraging the “unique abilities, talents, strengths, and perspectives of autistic people to foster innovation within the company.”
Microsoft built its own Neurodiversity Hiring program in 2015 to “strengthen a workforce with innovative thinking and creative solutions.” On its website, Microsoft details how diverse teams “positively impact our company culture, working environment, and how we serve our customers.” This program utilizes an extended interview process that focuses on workability, interview preparation, and skill assessment. This process allows jobseekers to show their real selves and skill sets.
The prominent finance company JPMorgan Chase (JPMC) has focused on hiring neurodivergent employees since 2015. Their programs have allowed job seekers to find employment in software engineering, application development, tech operations, business analysis, and personal banking.
“We are committed to creating more opportunities for qualified people with disabilities so they can draw on their diverse talents, grow their skills, and advance in their careers,” its website states.
A number of companies are embracing diversity in the workplace and utilizing the power of accommodations to increase efficiency and comfort. The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) offers a list of companies and organizations that have hiring initiatives or partnerships.
These companies and many more have embraced neurodiversity in the workplace, leading the way for change. By creating programs and hiring initiatives tailored to autistic and neurodivergent individuals, companies not only nurture inclusivity, but they open the door for exceptional talent.
Lindsay Kaine is an English and communications student at Clemson University and was an intern for OAR’s Hire Autism team in June and July of 2023. She is a staff writer for her university’s newspaper and has assisted her sorority in raising over $70,000 each year for Alzheimer’s research. In addition to her schoolwork, she enjoys reading, writing, and going to concerts. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
OAR and the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P) are pleased to announce the winners of the Community Grant Competition. This grant provides funding to community members to design, develop, and distribute resources that positively improve autistic individuals’ physical and mental health and quality of life. Each recipient will receive a grant ranging between $1,000 and $10,000. This year, we are pleased to award $48,555.00 to support six winners identified out of 17 submissions.
Congratulations to this year’s Community Grant recipients!
Bridging the Double Empathy Problem: Autistic-Led Training for Primary Care
All Brains Belong VT, Montpelier, Vermont
Mel Houser, M.D., autistic physician and the founder and executive director of All Brains Belong VT, will lead the development of a curriculum for physicians, interdisciplinary therapists, and health professions trainees. Topics will include current health outcomes for autistic people, barriers to healthcare access, ableism and intersectional discrimination, and practical strategies for delivering neuro-inclusive healthcare. The curriculum will be delivered through recorded webinars with supplemental text and graphics. This project will build upon All Brains Belong’s 2022 Community Grant project, “Everything is Connected to Everything: Improving the Healthcare of Autistic & ADHD Adults.“
CAHELP x OAR Social Skills Video Project
California Association for Health and Education Linked Professions JPA (CAHELP), Apple Valley, California
Jennifer Rountree, program specialist and PEERS facilitator at CAHELP, will lead a project team in creating additional role-play videos to supplement the use of the PEERS curriculum when teaching specific social skills related to making and keeping friends. Content for these videos will represent a diverse demographic of teenagers and include updated language matching current slang and hangouts. When completed, these role-play videos will be shared with various organizations across California, allowing for wide distribution and use by those interested in supporting social skills development.
FEAT OAR 2023
Families for Effective Autism Treatment (FEAT) of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada
Jennifer Strobel, FEAT executive director, will facilitate a family advisory committee to develop new media training on financial and health resources, including how to apply for Medicaid and Social Security and Nevada-specific resources for a child recently diagnosed with autism. The
new media will be interactive and produced in both English and Spanish.
Jefferson Health – Center for Autism & Neurodiversity, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Wendy Ross, M.D., FAAP, director of Jefferson Health’s Center for Autism and Neurodiversity, will lead her project team to develop template materials to facilitate the accessibility and inclusion of autistic individuals at sporting events. Dr. Ross has already pioneered programs with the Philadelphia sports teams and will expand upon this work so that other teams and stadiums can adapt it. Materials will include visual supports and stories, and outcomes will be measured at pilot sites.
Responding to Georgia Families of Young Autistic Children
Partnerships for Empowerment, Autistic Acceptance, and Knowledge (PEAAK), Decatur, Georgia
Nicole Hendrix, co-founder of the PEAAK Advisory Board, will lead her project team to develop and distribute their online and print resources to support families within the Atlanta metropolitan area in navigating access to care for their young autistic children. Funding will support PEAAK in collaborating with the broader community to get feedback on how to refine resources to be most meaningful for Atlanta families.
Stride for Autism: A New Toolkit for Low-Income Families of Houston Texas
The Arc of Harris County, Houston, Texas
Janniece Sleigh, executive director, and Ana Esparza, parent advocate, at The Arc of Harris County, in collaboration with Antonio Pagan and Juliana Vanderburg from The University of Texas Health Science Center for Human Development Research, will lead their project to develop infographic cards and short informational videos in six primary areas: job skills, social skills, self-advocacy skills, emotional expression skills, self-care skills, and education advocacy. The goal of the learning toolkit for self-advocates and providers will be to improve and enhance the well-being of individuals with autism.
OAR congratulates each of these recipients and extends its gratitude to AIR-P for co-sponsoring this program. Applications for next year’s competition will open on Friday, October 13, 2023. See OAR’s Community Grant Page for more information about the application process.
Questions or comments? Please contact us at 571-977-5391 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since 2012, OAR has helped educate over 184,000 children through the Peer Education program. OAR’s commitment to peer education continues with a new cycle of grant funding beginning on September 15 for projects starting as early as April 1, 2024. Anyone who is interested in creating a project that promotes autism awareness and acceptance in grades K-8 using the Kit for Kids program materials can apply for a grant ranging from $500 to $5,000.
Who Can Apply?
Teachers, administrators, parents, youth group organizers, and autism professionals interested in organizing an autism awareness initiative at a school or other community-based organization are encouraged to apply. Eligible organizations include but are not limited to K-12 public schools, districts, libraries, and 501(c)(3) non-profits in the United States. This includes U.S. military installations overseas. Organizations from low-income communities are encouraged to apply.
What Does the Grant Cover?
OAR will support projects that use peer education materials. Example projects include awareness campaigns, workshops, and presentations. Eligible expenses include but are not limited to OAR’s peer education materials, print costs, honorariums and travel expenses for guest speakers, venue rental, and refreshments.
When Are Applications Due?
OAR will accept applications from September 15, 2023 until January 22, 2024, for projects starting as early as April 1, 2024.
How Do I Apply?
If you are looking for a more challenging and scenic race course, don’t miss this bucket-list race in 2024. The Big Sur International Marathon is a point-to-point course run on scenic California Highway 1 from Big Sur to Carmel. The route features towering redwoods, crashing waves, coastal mountains, and verdant pastures. The centerpiece of the course is the iconic Bixby Bridge, located at the halfway point of the race, where you’ll be greeted by a tuxedoed musician playing a Yamaha Baby Grand Piano.
Better yet, you can join the RUN FOR AUTISM team and help spread autism awareness at the same time. Our Big Sur team perks include a free race entry, team tech t-shirt and racing singlet, fundraising support, training tips, team emails, and a Facebook group, plus an OAR medal.
OAR invites graduate students in the United States and abroad to submit research proposals for the annual Graduate Research Grant Program. Applications for proposals will open Monday, September 11 with a deadline of Monday, February 5, 2024. The maximum award for master’s candidates is $1,000, while doctoral and post-doctoral candidates are eligible for a maximum award of $2,000.
Interested students should first review the 2024 Request for Proposals and OAR’s funding guidelines, then apply online. OAR will announce grant recipients in May 2024 and make the awards in July 2024.
Since the program was established in 2004, OAR has awarded over $322,067 in grants to more than 180 graduate research students. In 2023, nine students received funding totaling $16,313. OAR hopes to build on this success in 2024, continuing its commitment to support the next generation of applied autism researchers.
OAR’s Scientific Council will evaluate the proposals it receives for scientific and technical merit. Review criteria for the evaluation include:
- Significance: Does the study address an important problem? How will it advance scientific knowledge in the field?
- Approach: Are the concepts, design, methods, and analyses adequate and appropriate? Are alternate approaches accounted for?
- Innovation: Does the project employ novel concepts, approaches, or methods? Are its aims original? Does it challenge existing paradigms?
- Meaningful outcomes: OAR places special emphasis on the research’s importance to the autism community and its application to the practical challenges of autism. While a proposal’s scientific merit in terms of design, methodology, and analysis is vital, the meaningfulness of its outcomes will carry great weight in the final review.
OAR’s Board of Directors will grant awards based on these evaluations and the recommendations of the Scientific Council.
For more information, please contact OAR at email@example.com or 571-977-5391.
It is OAR’s pleasure to announce the two recipients of the first of two rounds of the 2023 Synchrony Tech Scholarships: Lucinda Hemingway and Nathaniel Castellanos. Castellanos will complete the Miami Dade College’s Certificate of Professional Preparation in Networking Program with the scholarship. Hemingway plans to use the scholarship to attend The University of New Mexico’s Front End Coding Bootcamp.
Unlike OAR’s other scholarships, which support autistic students pursuing two- and four-year degree programs, the Synchrony Tech Scholarship supports autistic adults interested in obtaining technology-related certifications to pursue or advance their careers. Scholarship award amounts depend on the certification program but can range from $500 to $5,000.
“The OAR Synchrony Tech Scholarship has granted me the opportunity…to learn the formal training of front-end development coding,” Hemingway said. “This program is making me feel a renewed strength I felt I did not have permission to have before. I am really thankful for this opportunity from OAR, and I think this will increase my chances of getting a job that fits me better.”
“On behalf of OAR and Synchrony, I am excited to have Lucinda and Nathaniel as the two most recent recipients of the Synchrony Tech Scholarship,” said Kristen Essex, OAR’s executive director. “They have both chosen phenomenal programs to help make them more competitive in the job market. I look forward to seeing how well they do and what they achieve in the future.”
Are you interested in advancing your career in the tech field? OAR is actively accepting applications for this scholarship on a rolling basis through December 31, 2023. The next priority review date is September 30, 2023.
OAR has awarded 55 students with scholarships for 2023, bringing the scholarship total to $1,717,500 provided to 558 autistic students since 2007. This year, 1,112 students applied for one of three OAR scholarships: the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship, the Schwallie Family Scholarship, and the Synchrony Scholarship for Autistic Students of Color. All three scholarships provide one-time $3,000 awards to autistic students pursuing post-secondary education at a variety of institutions.
The Schwallie Family Scholarships are awarded to students attending two- and four-year colleges. “Another stellar year of applicants,” noted Cathy Schwallie Farmer, chair of the Schwallie Family Scholarships. “Happy to see a decent percentage of female scholarship winners this year, more than ever before! These students have had tough journeys and are true ‘go-getters’ planning around their personal passions and getting accepted into top schools and programs. The Schwallie Family is honored to continue to support these worthy neuro-distinct scholarship student winners.”
The Hussman Scholarships are awarded to students attending two-year colleges, life skills or postsecondary programs, or vocational, technical, or trade schools. “The Hussman scholarship winners are all hard-working students and very deserving of their scholarships,” said Lisa Hussman, president of the Lisa Higgins Hussman Foundation. “I look forward to hearing about their accomplishments in the coming year.”
The Synchrony Scholarship for Autistic Students of Color are awarded to students from under-represented racial and ethnic minority groups attending any type of post-secondary education, from life skills programs to four-year undergraduate universities. “Autistic students of color continue to be under-diagnosed and under-resourced,” commented Denise Yap, president of the Synchrony Foundation. “Synchrony and its employee resource group, EnAbled+, are proud to support the Organization for Autism Research, helping these exceptional students pursue their academic goals and shining a light on this well-deserving community.”
Congratulations to this year’s 55 scholarship recipients! OAR extends its gratitude to the Schwallie Family Foundation, the Lisa Higgins Hussman Foundation, and the Synchrony Foundation. These scholarships would not be possible without their generous support.
2024 Scholarships Open in December
The 2024 scholarship applications will open in December. To be eligible for a scholarship, an applicant must have a confirmed autism diagnosis, be accepted for enrollment in the fall 2024 semester, and submit three short personal essays along with an application form and recommendation letter. Learn more about OAR’s scholarship program and how to apply.
Adulthood brings increasing levels of independence, choice, and personal control. For students in special education, adulthood begins with what is known in the special education system as “transition” — when an individual leaves the K-12 education system. As it is for everyone beginning their adult lives, the transition period is marked by great potential — and significant uncertainty. It is crucial for autistic young adults and their families to approach the transition process empowered by thoughtful planning.
Updated in 2021, OAR’s Guide for Transition to Adulthood takes families through the transition process. Part guidebook and part workbook, this resource helps families navigate the transition process and beyond. This resource provides:
- Guidance and tips about developing a transition plan.
- Information about developing support for employment, postsecondary education, independent living, life skills, and more.
- Worksheets to aid a parent or young adult in setting goals and making plans.
The guidebook is designed for parents and caregivers of autistic young adults with a range of support needs. It is also a helpful resource for transition coordinators, guidance counselors, educators, and other education professionals to use in their work with autistic young adults and their families.
Our 32-year-old son, Matt, has what I call “classic” autism. With limited communication and social skills — and generally unaware of danger — he struggles to let us know when something isn’t quite right. Occasionally, he suffers from tonic-clonic seizures that are unpredictable and can result in a medical emergency.
But Matt also has a lot going for him. He’s sweet, smart, friendly, and highly adaptable. A very hard worker, he will complete without fail whatever tasks are on his daily schedule. He works, volunteers, and stays active with games, exercise, and cooking. His work life has been focused on SMILE Biscotti (Supporting My Independent Living Enterprise), a business our family created a decade ago upon his high school graduation. SMILE has helped Matt hone his kitchen, social, and organizational skills.
Five years ago, Matt started living at First Place–Phoenix, a consumer-controlled, supportive residential community development for adults with low-to-moderate support needs situated in the heart of what PBS NewsHour acknowledges as “the most autism-friendly city in the world.”
The First Place Apartments offer studios and one-, two-, and four-bedroom suites for nearly 70 residents. The four-bedroom suites are reserved for participants in the on-site Transition Academy, a two-year tuition-based residential program empowering young adults with independent living, career readiness, and interpersonal skills. The broad mix of people, abilities, diagnoses, interests, and ages (from early 20s to early 50s) contributes to this vibrant community.
Supported by a portfolio of independent living services, property amenities, and smart-home technology, Matt and his neighbors learn how to live with greater independence. Support specialists, along with a spirited community life team, workplace and community inclusion specialist, 24/7 concierge, and health and wellness staff all collaborate to assist, teach, guide, and encourage residents.
While Matt’s communication is more challenged than most of his neighbors, he’s also one of the more independent residents based on his ability to learn, as well as his compliance and diligent attention to problem solving. He is also assisted by third-party providers, including Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC).
A Long Runway
Transitions don’t happen quickly or easily for many people. It takes planning, guidelines, and teamwork. Dreaming about Matt’s future home allowed us to start his transition long before he moved into First Place–Phoenix, which included designing his home, getting his seizures under better control (no easy task!), and familiarizing him with the area by accessing public transit just three blocks away.
Most importantly, we wanted a place where Matt would be happy, healthy, and comfortable —with an able staff and neighbors who have fun and look out for each other.
The transition process began while he was in high school. Here’s a sample checklist:
- List things that mom, dad, and teachers do, identifying what he needs to learn how to do for himself.
- Prioritize risks and limitations and address with a team of family members and professionals.
- Lead with his strength and love for schedules, breaking down steps for achieving mastery of a few skills before adding new ones.
- Recognize what happens when things don’t go as planned — and create a system for how he lets us know he needs help.
- Include a sleeper sofa in his apartment allowing me to experience the property 24/7 and eyeball what to add to the “things to learn” roster.
Progress, Not Perfection
Throughout the transition to the present, trial and error has helped us figure out what works best for Matt. Natural consequences are powerful lessons for everyone. For example, when he first started shaving, he kept nicking his face despite months of practice and faithfully following the detailed 16-step laminated process checklist taped to the bathroom mirror. We then experimented with electric shavers before choosing his current one, reducing the number of steps in the process. This underscores one of many chapters representing a series of right turns, left turns, U-turns, and we-don’t-know-which-way-to-turns. Along the way, we have found that it’s important not to let expectations of perfection — and our issues as his parents — get in the way of progress.
Slow But Steady
My husband and I have put Matt’s systems and those at First Place to the test by taking a few trips to celebrate special occasions. Recently, an ambitious plan for a trip to Ireland fell apart (due to circumstances beyond our control) while all of Matt’s systems — including First Place and family support — worked perfectly! Read about our unexpected path to Ireland.
Beyond Matt’s daily and monthly schedules, Alexa’s reminders, and other tech-support tools — including camera apps and Facetime — this trip abroad necessitated updates to our letter of intent, summary of his daily life, wills, and more. It also tested our confidence. The beautiful interdependence of First Place–Phoenix staff and family members who all supported Matt during our shorter-than-expected travel is a testament to the collaboration it takes to navigate this tricky trail.
Matt spends weeknights at First Place–Phoenix and joins us for weekends at our family home. We value time with this lovable man, hiking, working out, swimming, baking, doing chores, testing out new skills, and setting new benchmarks for continued progress. Years of IEPs have helped us appreciate the value of goal setting and the fact that Matt continues to learn at every age, just as we do. Matt is also a skilled Scrabble player, more focused on tying the score and less on winning the game — a wonderful lesson for us all.
What We’ve Learned
While we can’t claim that everything is perfect (who can?), we know that’s life and that navigating the predictably unpredictable strengthens abilities, systems, and routines.
As parents, we also know that we never stop worrying about our kids. Confidence in community makes a world of difference, starting with trust in the First Place–Phoenix team and Matt’s supportive neighbors and friends, who have taught him many things along the way — most recently how to play Mario Kart.
As the next chapters unfold, we continue preparing for Matt’s daily life and beyond. We know things change. Who among us is still working at our first job, living in our first home, or lucky enough to still be with their first true love? (I proudly claim that last one!) We also appreciate the importance of ongoing efforts to build our supportive community here in Greater Phoenix while helping others across the country do the same. There’s strength in numbers — and important lessons to learn together along the way.
Denise D. Resnik is the founder, president, and CEO of First Place® AZ, a charitable nonprofit real estate and community developer focused on individuals with autism and other neurodiverse populations. She was inspired to start First Place for her son, Matt, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2. In 1997, she co-founded the nonprofit Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). She is also the founder and CEO of DRA Collective, a Phoenix-based public relations, marketing, and communications firm. Her board affiliations include the ASU Foundation and ASU’s Watts College Dean’s Council, Home Matters® to Arizona, and The Precisionists, Inc.