Ask the Expert: Becoming a “Change Master”- How Young Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome Can Take Positive Action
By Dr. Michael McManmon, founder, CIP (College Internship Program)
For young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, taking positive action – whether it is making a personal plan or trying something new – can lead to the development of the cognitive flexibility skills needed for life, work and independent living.
Young adults on the spectrum do not learn without a great deal of internal and external conflict. Learning cognitive flexibility will help young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome make a wonderful day out of a nerve-wracking or distressing one. This means practicing techniques to deal with personal stressors, analyzing changes as they occur, and then becoming a ”change master” of the feelings and emotions that can arise with each situation or challenge.
As an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, I acquired decades of unproductive thinking patterns. Looking at the world with an optimistic and explorative mindset did not come easily. I needed to learn this, and I had to be taught the advantages of becoming my own “change master.” Discovering that I could regulate my emotions and behavior through listening, not reacting; thinking before speaking; or asking questions before I put forth my opinion was a true milestone for me.
Young adults on the spectrum need to develop the “social radar” that will allow them to navigate the higher-order-thinking areas of the adult world. A vital first step is assuring these young adults that all questions they have can lead to obtaining informative, useful answers. These answers will help them understand the viewpoints of others. With practice, young adults on the spectrum can learn to speak up, ask questions, obtain information, form partnerships with others and try new things.
One of the hardest parts of my journey was learning to accept the opinions and ideas of others as not only legitimate but enriching to my life. I also learned the basic self-care functions that made me able to live with my Asperger’s Syndrome. For instance, making sure I get enough sleep and am eating properly ensures that I face each day with energy and the ability to be tolerant. Learning to recognize that problems often present opportunities, and then remaining calm while my “Aspie” brain tries to process and accept the situation, allows me to regulate my emotions and hear what others are saying.
When I run into frustration, I persuade myself be tolerant. On a great day, if I am really putting what I preach into practice, I thank people for their input, their help and their suggestions. I have learned to employ cognitive flexibility techniques by taking on the challenge of learning to cope with new, difficult or frustrating situations. I have learned to rein in the fluctuating emotions that occur daily, sometimes hourly.
My personal outcomes, and the outcomes young adults on the spectrum can achieve, are the culmination of working to understand, accept and live with Asperger’s Syndrome. Young adults on the autism spectrum can improve their daily lives through positive actions and a willingness to grow. They can learn that the confusion and doubt they may suffer from is avoidable and that fear and anxiety are optional.
Michael McManmon, Ed.D., founded the College Internship Program in 1984. CIP is a postsecondary program serving young adults with Asperger’s and other Learning Differences, offering a variety of programs in multiple locations across the U.S. During his 40 years of experience with students with Learning Differences and Asperger’s Syndrome, Dr. McManmon has worked on curriculum development, staff training, program evaluation and administering community-based programming. He speaks and presents at professional conferences nationally and internationally.
He has a unique perspective as he himself was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and grew up in a large family with several individuals on the spectrum. Dr. McManmon has six children and 13 grandchildren and is an avid artist, swimmer, gardener and traveler.
Each month we’ll feature an Expert’s take on an issue impacting the lives of those living with autism. We want to know what you want to hear! Share your question or topic for the “Ask the Expert” column in our Autism Society LinkedIn group and it may be in next month’s edition.