Learning Social Skills from the CEO of the Sluis Academy as an Autistic Adult

Many of you may know that as someone on the autism spectrum, I struggle with socializing and communicating so my parents decided that I should try out some sessions with the CEO of the Sluis Academy.

The program was supposed to help special needs children with their social skills. A friend introduced the CEO to my parents.

At that time, I was studying at BCIT.

For the first session, he came to my home. He taught me what to do when socializing. I learned that when socializing, we should gradually introduce something we want to talk about rather than be too abrupt. I was reminded to keep my back straight and have eye contact. One technique of eye contact involves looking near the person’s eyes but not at the eyes.

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Straight back.
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Eye contact.

I also had at least one Skype session with him.

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Using Skype on a tablet.

For one of the next sessions with him, we went to a restaurant nearby. That meant I could practice my social skills with the restaurant staffs while they were serving such as by asking them some questions. I was also reminded to keep my back straight and have eye contact while I was talking. He did it in a way that was clear enough but without interrupting.

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If I remembered correctly, the restaurant session was the last session with him. For the next sessions, one of his employees visited me to train me for job interview skills. I practiced with some common job interview questions. I had a few sessions with her.

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Special Education Program During my High School Years

During high school, I was in a special education program instead of regular classes.

Before high school, I struggled with my classes that I needed assistance from SEA’s and tutors. One of my tutors was my SEA at school. I often went to the resource room. If I remember correctly, I had essays omitted because I was very stuck on them quite a few times. They were likely the school wide write essays. Other big exams may have been omitted as well.

In grade 8, I went to the Learning Assistance Life Skills program. The school was a little further away since the closest one didn’t offer the program.

They taught us how to be independent. We learned money math, writing, reading, and life and social skills. The academic subjects were around grade 3 in terms of difficulty. Sometimes peer tutors, who were students in regular classes, helped us out.

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Learning Assistance Life Skills classroom.

For most of grade 8, I took the school bus to school and home. Near the end of the year, I learned to take public transportation alone.

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School bus

We regularly took turns planning field trips. We did the research and reservations. We were in charge of the timing. If the field trip costed something, we had to do the banking. The field trips included museums, shopping malls, bowling, swimming, hiking, restaurants, and cinemas. Some of them were half day and others were all day, depending on the time needed. Some of the field trips were places were Richmond Centre, Grouse Mountain, Varsity Ridge Bowl, Red Robin, Granville Island, Science World, Silver City, Planer Lazer, and the Student Union Building at UBC.

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Grouse Grind.
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Bowling alley.
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Red Robin.
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Bowen Island.

We cooked as well. We did the planning, shopping, and food preparation.

We had PE with the students from the Life Skills program. The LS program was different from the LALS program in terms of the functioning levels of the students. The PE class was different from regular PE classes because it needed to accommodate people with disabilities. We had warm ups and stretching, and played other sports including basketball, hand ball, volleyball, and California kickball.

Some of us actually took regular PE classs. They took two PE classes so that there were enough students in the special ed’s PE class. That’s what I did for my last year of high school.

For after school, we were encouraged to try out after school special needs programs. I went to the TLC Special Needs Program at a community centre for almost a year, and Special Olympics doing basketball and aerobics for about a few months.

For the last two years of high school, I tried out cross country running and track and field.

We had work experience. Some of them included grocery stores and department stores.

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Serving meals in the community lunch program near our school.

We were allowed to take classes that we were interested in. I took regular chemistry, physics, math, and communications classes. That meant about three classes at a time. I had tutors outside of classes and my grades were reasonable. Some students took wood working, sewing, and cooking.

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The program also covered transitioning to post secondary education. The students had tours to different colleges such as Kwantlen Polytechnic University. After graduating at age 19, I went to the Food Technology program at BCIT. What I needed to do was to pass a communications exam because I didn’t take English 12 or other suitable courses.

Updates on my Employment

After almost a year of getting support for employment, I was hired last year to work at a company that installs taxi equipment.

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Taxi meter.

If you know me on social media, you’re probably aware that I’ve been sharing autism posts. I think it can improve autism awareness which may lead to better support as autism is often invisible.

In January 2017, I stopped working at a full time job doing data cleansing because I wasn’t able to keep up with it.

I started applying for some job positions such as electronics assembly. I had some job interviews.

A month later, I was getting support from Jobs West. They help people with developmental disabilities with employment. Autism is a developmental disability which was why I was qualified for the support. They did employment discovery, helped with writing resume and cover letters, and accompanied me during job interviews and job fairs.

I showed my job coach some of my LEDs projects. She thought they were interesting. She shared some pictures of them with my potential employers.

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Custom made sunrise simulator without its diffuser.

I also contacted some staff members from Pacific Autism Family Network for more support.

During spring, when I was asking to get some work done on my bike, a mechanic from a local bike shop was interested in my bike setup so he asked me whether I wanted to work there. My bike had electric horns and custom made lights. I worked there as an assistant until the bike season was over.

Bicycle mechanic in a workshop in the repair process

During fall, my job coach recommended that I volunteer at Bike Kitchen to improve my skills and get more experience. I volunteered there for a while overhauling hubs and truing wheels.

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Truing a bicycle wheel.

Around December, I received a job posting for an equipment installer position from a staff from PAFN. I mentioned that I was interested in it. One month later, I was interviewed and accompanied by my job coach, and was hired. For the job, I installed taxi equipment in cars.

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My tool box at work.
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My bike parked at work. It’s more secure inside.

Once in a while, my job coach kept in touch with me. If I have any concerns, I could contact her. The company didn’t mind that I used noise cancellation to concentrate.

It’s now almost a year of working there.

Updates on Using Noise Cancellation for Sensory Overload at Work

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Ear plugs and ear muffs for increased hearing protection.

I’ve been using noise cancellation to concentrate better at work and would like to give an update about it.

 

I used them heavily so that two pairs of earmuffs were broken! I know I’ve written a lot of articles about needing noise cancellation!

Even on the first day of my most recent job, I used dual hearing protection. My goal was to block out music playing and other noise sources which tend to affect my concentration, cause zoning out, and affect other areas of functioning. Thankfully, my job coach mentioned to my employer that I needed hearing protection and they didn’t mind it.

Around this August, the need for hearing protection was reconfirmed. My supervisor noticed that I was easily distracted and it took too long to complete my work. That day during lunch, I even took the time to hand write a letter and showed it to him, pointing out that I thought I needed good hearing protection.

After lunch, I did a simulation of the tasks which was timed. That means instead of doing the actual work, I did it on a workbench so that I could practice it as often as I like. For one of them, it’s reasonable to complete it in 20 to 30 minutes.

For a long time, I was taking 45 to 60 minutes to complete it even when using only ear muffs. When I did the simulation with dual protection, I was able to complete it in less than 25 minutes! My supervisor was even surprised that I was faster doing the simulation compared to doing the real work.

One issue with regular ear plugs is that they get uncomfortable from prolonged usage. If you wear regular ones for a long time, you may find that your ears hurt. I decided to try custom fitted non-vented ear plugs from Nextgen Hearing. The non-vented ones offer the most attenuation. What they did was put silicone in my ear canals to get an impression. They took around a month to arrive. My reasoning was that being able to work was well worth the cost even though they were quite expensive.

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dB Blocker non-vented custom fitted ear plugs.

Once they arrived, I found that they could be worn all day. The problem was that they weren’t really suitable when there’s a lot of movements which my job involves.  Non-vented ones amplify internal noises more than vented ones. The amplified noises can mask sounds too.

Interestingly, I was told that I acted more withdrawn and moving on to the next tasks was even harder after I got the custom fitted ear plugs. They recommended that I experiment including going to a quiet and dim place or taking a walk when overwhelmed. That makes sense because most of the time, autistic people have more than just one area of difficulties.

Because the custom fitted ear plugs seemed to decrease performance, I decided not to use them at work. They were probably be more suitable for desk jobs which involve less movements.

So far, I have other options including turning down the music and not wearing the regular ear plugs all the time. At work, I’m now using dual protection to concentrate during more time sensitive tasks, and using just earmuffs when it’s less busy to let my ears rest.

Can Proper Stimming Reduce the Risk of Dental Problems in Autistic People?

It’s possible to reduce harmful forms of stimming by focusing on healthy and safe forms. You can find more information in wikiHow. Would it also benefit autistic people who clench their teeth during the day?

Recently, during my dental check up, some signs of teeth clenching such as gum recession and worn surfaces were noted. I recalled daytime teeth clenching in the past few months. Years ago, I experienced daytime teeth clenching too.

My guess is that teeth clenching can be a form of stimming. It’s more subtle than rocking or hand flapping. You can clench your teeth while eating without people noticing it. In healthy chewing, our teeth rarely touch while chewing.

Since the pressure to stim can eventually get too high that we must stim in one way or another, how do autistic people camouflage so well that they’re diagnosed late or never? Is it possible that they stim in subtle ways or stim in ways that look socially acceptable instead?

Besides teeth clenching, other subtle forms of stimming that I do include squeezing my eyes shut, jerking my head, walking or running on the edge of my foot which may cause stress fractures over time, and flexing certain muscles sometimes to the point of soreness. You can look away while when your stims involve your facial muscles. When running or walking, if you squeeze your glutes while your legs move back, it’s hardly noticeable to other people once they reach their range of motion.

It’s hard for me to imagine avoiding both obvious and subtle forms of stimming for a few hours till I get home when there’s pressure to stim one way or another.

I thought I had Tourette Syndrome. Some people who pointed it out called it tics. If different forms of stimming are used, does that mean the person’s autism or need to stim was outgrown?

Since missing teeth and dental restorations are expensive, we should find a way to stop teeth clenching.

14 Possible Reasons Why People Think Autism Can be Outgrown

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Here are some possible reasons why people think autism can be outgrown:

  • Assumption that autism is caused by heavy metal poisoning which is something that’s treatable.
  • False advertisements for treatments or “cures” for autism.
  • Impression that autistic adults are supposed to look or act like autistic children.
  • Impression that autism is only a childhood disability.
  • Autistic people can get better at suppressing their traits such as stimming and using the right social cues.
  • Revealed strong skills in certain areas may give the impression that the person also needs less support in other areas. Intact rote memory means the student can do well in facts based courses but it doesn’t reflect the person’s coordination or executive function which tends to be their hurdles in terms of employment.
  • Stories about autism being cured.
  • The autistic person received less support which reduced the amount of reminders that the person was autistic.
  • The autistic person joined fewer special needs programs, clubs, or groups which also reduced the amount of reminders that the person was autistic.
  • The autistic person mentioned less about his or her challenges.
  • Chronic sensory overload may be confused with desensitization because the baseline was forgotten.
  • Behind the scene preparations were overlooked. Having successful social interactions may be confused with actual improvements. Notice that in one example, a lot of preparation was needed for every hour of social interaction.
  • Asking for help when writing letters or other accommodations may be mistaken for a lack of maturity or confidence which can be improved. Similar to the previous example, when I write comments, I need lots of preparation time to make sure that it’s in the right mood and has a reasonable amount of information. Why not have your job completed in five minutes instead of one hour?
  • Tests don’t look at their real life abilities which means the scores can be average or even above average.

Possible Benefits of More Obvious Autistic Traits

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If an autistic person’s traits are more obvious, here are the possible benefits:

  • Clearer forms of communication are more likely used to communicate with the person, possibly reducing mistakes and missed opportunities. If I don’t know that a person is hard of hearing, I speak as I would normally until I’m aware of it.
  • More heads up which can lead to improved support needed for autistic boys, girls, men, and women.
  • The autism becomes less invisible.
  • Less canned responses from the autistic person. If a person had autistic facial expressions during childhood, the facial expressions should still look autistic during adulthood when they really express emotions. There’s more than one type of smile. From Google search and other social cues websites, you can find pictures of them but they may only be reliable for reading non-autistic people even if autistic people can fake them.
  • Increased expressiveness. With timings that tends to seem off, maybe that’s why we may not be very expressive. Is it possible that the pressure to “pass” causes “flat affect”?
  • Improved emotional connections or two way communication since real emotions can be expressed. Encouragingly, according to an example from an autistic YouTuber’s comments, even though she didn’t express emotions normally, it’s still readable! That could mean it’s okay to look autistic.
  • Improved productivity as mental resources otherwise used for “passing” is freed up. In addition, because they no longer give up supports from the pressures of having to look non-autistic, they can reduce their hurdles even further! It may make the job more enjoyable because there’s less worry about having to look non-autistic every second in front of co-workers.
  • Mental energy sparing. Autistic people tend to find socializing tiring. If it’s simplified by not having to “pass”, could they be less tired?
  • Fewer misdiagnosis because of clearer symptoms and taking fewer medications reduces side effects which may mimic other conditions.
  • Fewer unnecessary medications used because of reduced misdiagnosis.
  • Sooner diagnosis.
  • Asking for support becomes easier since more heads up were given beforehand which makes the need for accommodations expected.
  • History is less likely to repeat itself. Being more visibly autistic can be a clearer reminder of the need for support, and free up mental resources further because there’s less need to consciously remind people of the challenges.
  • Improved employment rates because if the disability is clear enough that the right accommodations are given, the person is likelier to do the job well. Encouragingly, other people with disabilities can work in a variety of fields. I don’t see why autistic people can’t when given the right support. A subtle disability doesn’t mean it’s any less of a disability than one that’s more obvious.