Spend a day with the creatively wired and socially challenged™. Expect the unexpected!  

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Going Beyond Awareness

When the FOCUS Center for Autism goes on the road with its Autism Spectrum Unplugged Panel, it’s an eye opening experience. The Autism Spectrum Unplugged Panel goes beyond awareness and offers insights from those on the Autism Spectrum, their families and from those who care for these unique and gifted individuals.

The panel recently visited The SWAN Parenting Programs at the South Windsor Public Library. Perhaps because of the increase in diagnosed cases of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), the room was filled to capacity. The CDC recently released information that, as of 2012, one in 68 are on the spectrum. That’s an increase from previous estimates that one in 88  are diagnosed with ASD . That means over 52,000 persons in Connecticut are on the Spectrum.

Those numbers demand attention. As Brenda Sullivan reported for the Reminder News of South Windsor, “Unless you have a loved one with autism, you probably don’t know what autism looks like, feels like or how it colors someones world. To understand this experience takes an open mind, patience, education and a lot of compassionate listening.” Once you start listening, you will find gifted individuals striving to reach their full potential.

Poets, Song Writers and Chaucer

Spend some time with these children and young adults and you’ll be surprised. Take the time to engage them and expect the unexpected. I remember a conversation I had with Chris who is an alumnus of FOCUS. I’m not sure how the conversation transitioned from the Rolling Stones to Chaucer but, I was blown away by his knowledge of the English poet’s writings. I had so much difficulty with Chaucer in college and here was Chris conversant about “The Canterbury Tales.” Chris isn’t the only person with Autism that will surprise you. At the Unplugged Panel in South Windsor, Sullivan reports, “Each panelist spoke about challenges – sharing deeply personal experiences – as well as individual talents that included  writing poetry, proficiency in math and science, a love of reading, an interest in comparative religion, creating comics, playing instruments and song-writing.”

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A Better Understanding

Parent Sharon Cable, founder of the Litchfield County Autism Spectrum Association (LACASA), wrote about her previous experiences as a panel participant. “Of course, family members and those of us working directly with people on the spectrum should attend “The Spectrum Unplugged”. It’s an opportunity to hear directly from people on the spectrum and gain a unique insight you can’t get from a book. Specific situations and strategies are discussed and there is an opportunity to ask questions to individuals or the entire panel. Everyone gains a better understanding of people with Autism, and Alex believes that “understanding is the most important thing”! She went on to say that anyone attending would benefit. One in 68 are affected by the disorder and she thinks people in the community would gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be on the Spectrum through the Unplugged Panel.

Sullivan reported that during a question and answer session in South Windsor, “Swanson offered this general advice for supporting children with ASD: “Keep things simple. Have routines. Notice when they do something right, but don’t over-compliment them, because that will make them feel pressured. Assume their behavior is based on positive intentions… And as I told these kids, it takes a lot more love to say ‘No’ – they told me, I must love them a lot!”

The Panel Coming to Bristol

The Autism Spectrum Unplugged Panel travels to schools, businesses and public venues to talk about their experiences of living with Autism. They have enlightened and educated over 100 audiences from Connecticut to Massachusetts and beyond. The next Unplugged Panel is May 6th at the Bristol Public Library, 5 High Street, Bristol, CT, from 6:30 pm. to 7:45 pm. You can book a presentation by calling FOCUS at (860) 693-8809. If you do, expect the unexpected.

FOCUS Center for Autism’s mission is to help children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders achieve their full potential. Since becoming a nonprofit in 2000, FOCUS has developed a well-respected Milieu Therapy model of treatment that has now served over 600 children and families. FOCUS’ Extended Day Treatment Program is located in Canton, Connecticut.