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The Mixed Emotions of Transition

From all of us at Advance LA, congratulations to the high school graduates! This is a huge milestone for a young person who has completed thirteen years of education. It is typical for high school seniors to experience mixed emotions as they participate in graduation ceremonies and parties. Feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness, combined with relief, anticipation, and joy are all part of the normal graduation process.

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The Importance of “Soft Skills”

Proficiency of what is known as the “Soft Skills” is an important factor for independent adulthood. When is the time to start learning and practicing these soft skills? Now! The sooner an individual masters these skills, the better the chance of success in post-high school life.

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Successfully Transitioning To Independent Adulthood

April is Autism Acceptance Month, a time to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism, and to provide continued support, kindness, and compassion for the autism community.

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Spotlight On Advance La Client Success!

Christina is a wonder! She began working with the Advance LA Life Skills Coaching Program last summer. Due to Christina’s dedication and motivation, she is making great strides toward meeting her goals of improved health/wellness and learning independent living skills.

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Assisting Young Adults With ASD With Finding Love And Romance

While February days are often cold and gray, Valentine’s Day can be a true bright spot. As Dr. Seuss said, “You know when you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because the reality is finally better than your dreams.” Cheers to love!

It is natural that neurodivergent young adults want to learn more about love and romance. Neurodivergent young adults develop in terms of sexuality in the same way their neurotypical peers do but they might need extra help to build the social skills and understanding that go along with sexual development. Neurodivergent young adults can be in healthy, romantic relationships, which may or may not be sexual, and that is perfectly fine.

Advance LA Life Skills Coaches provide Dating and Relationship coaching for their clients who are interested in those subjects. We also have a Sex Education class, “Let’s Talk About Sex” taught by Dr. Jamie Barstein for young adults on the spectrum who want to learn more about sexuality, and intimate, healthy relationships.

I recently sat down with Dr. Jamie to ask her about the Sex Ed class and also about how to assist young adults with ASD with finding love and romance:

Q. Hi Dr. Jamie! Can you give a brief description about the Sex Education class?

A. Absolutely! Our current group, “Let’s Talk about Sex” is a 16-week program where we cover topics of sex, sexuality, and intimate relationships. Young adults on the spectrum have a chance to ask questions, gather information, and practice communicative skills that are important for developing healthy relationships. We also discuss subjects such as exploring sexuality, engaging in safe sex, setting boundaries, and responsibly using the internet. The curriculum that we have based the program off of was initially developed at Yulius Academy in the Netherlands by Dr. Kirsten Visser and colleagues. We are collaborating with Dr. Eileen Crehan at Tufts University to adapt this program to an adult population (and an online format!)

Q. Many parents of young adults want to talk with them about romance, love, and sex but they feel uncertain about how to start the conversation. Any suggestions?

A. I think the most important thing that you can do as a parent is provide a safe and open space to discuss sex and sexuality, free of judgment or shame. Perhaps start by making an honest statement about how it feels to engage in these topics. For example, you could start by saying, “I know it feels uncomfortable to talk about sex, but I want you to know that I’m here to listen if you have any questions.” Try to monitor your own responses – verbally or nonverbally – to their questions. Remember that it is better for your young adult to ask in a safe environment, rather than turning to the internet or other resources. Also keep in mind that some young adults really may not want to talk to their parents about these topics! In that case, I would suggest finding someone else who your young adult can talk to – whether it is a trusted relative, therapist, life skills coach, or a mentor

Q. When should parents start to have these conversations? Should they wait until their child is a certain age?

A. My personal opinion is that it is never too early to start these conversations! Though the content and/or details of topics you discuss should certainly vary by age or developmental level of your child. Think about the different environments they are in and what information they may be hearing – whether through school, media, or siblings and other family members. Providing them with a safe space to ask questions about what they’re hearing can help to educate your child on the reality of sexual behaviors, rather than relying on sources that may not provide the most accurate information.

Q. Do you have any suggestions for how to talk about the concept of consent with young adults?

A. This is a very important topic for everyone, but in particular individuals with developmental disabilities who unfortunately have a higher rate of being both victims of sexual crimes as well as (often unintentional) perpetrators of sexual crimes. First and foremost, it is important to review the laws regarding legal ages of sexual intercourse amongst two people. I also recommend using video modeling or other visuals to help your young adult understand what consent truly looks like – it doesn’t just mean someone says “yes”, but it is also important to read their body language (a skill that can be challenging for many individuals with autism). Planned Parenthood Federation of America also has a helpful resource on teaching consent that includes worksheets as well as video models: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/for-educators/digital-tools.

Q. Do you know of any resources at The Help Group for parents of neurodivergent young adults who realize their child’s sexuality may be different from theirs or from their expectations?

A. Yes! The Help Group has a program called Kaleidoscope that provides services for neurotypical and neurodivergent LGBTQ+ young people. There is a weekly group called, Coffee Talk, where LGBTQ young adults, ages 18-24 can get together, talk, and socialize. There is also a Artistic Expressions club and a fun monthly movie night. Kaleidoscope has a parent support group that meets twice a month. All of the above groups are virtual and at no cost. For more information and registration, click here or visit KaleidoscopeLGBTQ.org

Thank you Dr. Jamie!

If you feel comfortable talking about love, sex, and romance with your young adult, you should have a converstaion and assure them that they can ask or tell you anything. But if you think your young adult might be more comfortable talking with someone else, then a sibling, trusted friend, Life Skills Coach, or therapist might also be a good option.

For more information about Advance LA’s Dating and Relationship Coaching, or Dr. Jamie Bartstein’s Sex Education class, please contact Jeri at JRochman@thehelpgroup.org

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy February!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeri Rochman, JD, MS, is the Advance LA Director of Community Outreach, a Life Skills Coach, National Board Certified Counselor and Certified Parent Educator. Interested in learning more about Advance LA’s services? She can be reached at jrochman@thehelpgroup.org.

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New Year’s Resolutions

HAPPY 2021!

Happy New Year! The beginning of 2021 is the perfect time for setting personal goals and then trying your best to take the necessary steps toward achievement. At Advance LA, our Life Skills Coaches teach our clients the important skill of setting a goal using the S.M.A.R.T. format. This means our clients learn how to choose something they want to accomplish and then, with support, guidance and training, take the steps to make it happen.

Research shows that top-level athletes, successful business people, and achievers in all fields set goals. Setting a goal gives a person long-term vision and short-term motivation.

Fun Facts:

  • 90 % of successful people set goals.
  • By setting a goal, you can achieve more, improve performance, increase self-
    esteem, and increase self-confidence.
  • Setting a goal helps you organize your time and use your time efficiently.
  • By setting a goal, you may feel less stress, concentrate better, and feel happier.

A good strategy for setting goals is to use the S.M.A.R.T. goal format. Here you make your goal Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

Specific: This means you define your goal as based on what is specifically important to you. Think about what you really want to accomplish and decide exactly what you want your goal to be. For example, instead of saying your goal is to “be more social” you can state your goal as, “I will introduce myself to one new person at each monthly club l.a. event that I attend.”

Measurable: This means you include precise amounts or specific dates when goal setting so that you know when you have met your goal. For example, instead of saying to yourself, “I will get my homework done” you can state your goal as, “I will spend at least one hour every week day working on my homework.”

Attainable: It is important to give your goal some real thought. Is it your true goal or is it someone else’s goal for you? Is it actually possible or too far out of reach? For example, instead of saying, “I am going to be a movie star” you can state your goal as, “I am going to sign up for acting lessons and attend each class.”

Relevant: Your goal should take you in the direction you want to go in. Review your goal once a month and think about if you are tying your behavior to your goal. For example, if your goal is to get a part-time job, is the fact that you are playing video games for much of the day helping you achieve your goal? It can be helpful to talk about your goal with a parent, teacher or life skills coach to get some feedback about your progress toward your goal.

And goals can be added or modified. You might decide to add a “fun” goal in addition to a more serious life skills goal, such as trying new foods, trying a new hair style, or trying the new Tik Tok dances. It’s great to have both fun goals and a life skills goal!

Timely: You want to give yourself a deadline so you know when you can celebrate your success. It feels so great to achieve a goal so choose an end time that is realistic. For example, “I will go for a brisk walk every day for four weeks.”

And the best part of goal setting? Choosing a reward for yourself when the goal is met. Enjoy the feeling of satisfaction of knowing you achieved what you set out to do – you did it! And if you did not achieve your goal, that is ok too. Take some time to reflect on what happened. Was the goal unrealistic? Did you try your best? You can always try again!

Goal setting is empowering because it provides a focus and a true sense of accomplishment when the goal is met. Setting a realistic goal is a skill of knowing how to make your dreams a reality!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeri Rochman, JD, MS, is the Advance LA Director of Community Outreach, a Life Skills Coach, National Board Certified Counselor and Certified Parent Educator. Interested in learning more about Advance LA’s services? She can be reached at jrochman@thehelpgroup.org.

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Home For The Holidays

As the saying goes, “there’s no place like home for the holidays” – especially this year! For all of us, this will be a very unique holiday season. We may not have our traditional celebrations, office parties, or special get-togethers with close friends due to the current pandemic. But for some neurodivergent folks, celebrating on a lesser scale may be a blessing in disguise. The American Psychological Association found that 38% of people say their stress increases during the holidays but that stress may decrease this year due to less social pressureSo in the spirit of lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness, let’s focus on the ways that a holiday season in a pandemic may actually be just fine! 

If you are someone who loves consistency, this holiday season may feel easier. There is likely to be less of the holiday chaos, and fewer festive events that you may feel obligated to attend.  

It seems that most people will be preparing small dinners with only household members in attendance. But there are still creative ways to share your holiday meals with those who can’t be with you in person. You can email recipes to your friends and families so everyone can prepare and eat the same food at the same time. Then connect your laptop to the TV, get everyone together on Zoom, and dine on the couch so that it feels closer to being in person. 

With less people coming over for a holiday dinner, there is less stress about preparing a perfect, Instagram-worthy holiday meal. So why not try a new recipe, or try baking an indulgent dessert? If you are celebrating with your family, you don’t have to worry about being judged and if things really go awry, you can always order a pizza. But for those who love to cook, why not prepare extras of your favorite holiday treats and share with your neighbors. Just remember to wear a mask and disposable gloves for delivery! 

For those of us who are not comfortable with a lot of physical contact, this will be a much more relaxed season as there might not be any hugs, kisses or handshakes. This is the year for a fistbump or an elbow bump to say “hello.” And if even that level of contact is not comfortable for you, just give a friendly wave and warmly say, “Happy Holidays!” 

And although we are in a quarantine situation, you can always go for a walk outside. A fun afternoon activity is going to a local orchard to pick apples or take an early evening stroll to admire your neighbors’ holiday decorations. You can even drive to the beach and watch the sunrise or sunset. The fresh air will feel great! Just remember to wear a mask and maintain social distancing guidelines. 

Being home also means you can wear your comfy clothes and not max out your credit card buying fancy outfits for holiday parties or trying to win the “ugly sweater contest.” And you may be pleasantly surprised how much fun you can have hanging out with your family. Plan movie nights, or watching sports nights, or binge-your-favorite-show nights. You may feel quite content hanging out with your family and watching TV from your couch. 

And if the holidays make you feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that it takes true strength to ask for assistance. Reach out to a trusted person in your life such as a parent, good friend or Life Coach. Let them know you need support during the holiday season. And as always, there is no “right” way to celebrate the season, do whatever it is that works for you.  

From all of us at Advance LA, we wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and all the best in 2021! 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeri Rochman, JD, MS, is the Advance LA Director of Community Outreach, a Life Skills Coach, National Board Certified Counselor and Certified Parent Educator. Interested in learning more about Advance LA’s services? She can be reached at jrochman@thehelpgroup.org.

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How to Have an Attitude of Gratitude, Even for Thanksgiving 2020

The phrase, “attitude of gratitude” may seem like a cliche, but during this challenging 2020 year, taking the time to pause and experience gratitude may help to change your perspective and give you a more positive outlook on life. 

Gratitude is a valuable tool to help you reframe your outlook about the Thanksgiving holiday. For example, instead of saying that you are tired of being stuck at home, you can flip the paradigm and say that you are grateful for having a home where you feel safe and can try some new holiday recipes. Or a traditional Thanksgiving may not be possible this year due to the pandemic, so you can flip the paradigm and make 2020 a year to create new Thanksgiving traditions. Here are some tips to flip that paradigm! 

Be Open To A Different Kind Of Thanksgiving: For many folks, this Thanksgiving may be a very small one due to restrictions on travel and people feeling anxious about being in large groups. But small can be lovely too! You can warm up a mug of cider, watch your favorite movie, and have a delicious turkey sandwich. There is always an opportunity to find gratitude, even if it is just for the variety of viewing options on Netflix. 

Start A Gratitude Journal: At either the beginning or ending of your day, write down a few things you are grateful for in your life. It might be as simple as the sun shining in the morning, thinking about the positive relationships in your life, or having had a delicious pumpkin spice latte that day. 

Set an Intention for The Day: Before getting out of bed in the morning, think of one thing to do differently. Example: “Today I am going to practice self-care by going outside for a walk in the fresh air” or “Today I am going to let a friend know that I appreciate their kindness to me.” 

Stop during the day and take time to reflect:  Sometimes, without even noticing, we rush from one task to another without taking any time to stop and just take a breath. Think about the phrase: “Stop and smell the roses.” This means that you actively decide to slow down and truly notice all of the good things happening around you. So, if you find yourself feeling rushed and overwhelmed on Thanksgiving Day, try to just stop for a moment. Take the time to reflect on the day and to experience the emotion of gratitude. 

Express your gratitude: Actively show your gratitude for others by sending a thank you note, email or text. Let the people in your life know that they have positively affected your life and that you feel grateful toward them. 

And remember, being grateful doesn’t mean that you bury your feelings about what is actually going on in your life. If you are feeling sadness, anger, or grief, it is important to allow yourself to feel those feelings. You can still feel intense emotions while still being aware of the things or people in your life for whom you are grateful. 

And research has shown that actively practicing an attitude of gratitude is also good for your physical well-being. It helps with lowering stress levels, improving sleep, pain tolerance, and self-esteem. 

Happiness is an emotion that can come and go. But if we practice gratitude, we will be better able to have a positive state of mind, and perhaps even feel good about the 2020 holiday season.  

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeri Rochman, JD, MS, is the Advance LA Director of Community Outreach, a Life Skills Coach, National Board Certified Counselor and Certified Parent Educator. Interested in learning more about Advance LA’s services? She can be reached at jrochman@thehelpgroup.org.

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To Be A Successful Remote Learner, You Need To Sit In The “Front Row”!

Research shows that successful students choose to sit in the front row of a classroom. But is it possible to sit in the front row when you are learning remotely? Absolutely! You just need to take on the mindset that you are going to act as if you were sitting in the front row, even if you are actually sitting at your kitchen table. Read on to learn the strategies that front row learners use that set them up for academic success:  

1. Create a study environment that supports academic success 

Front row remote students think of their online classes as if they are in-person classes. When class starts, they are present both in mind and body, and ready to work! This mindset can be created by making a work area that is quiet, organized, and distraction free. Let your family know your class schedule and ask them to not disturb you when you are in class. And turn off your phone! You would never check Instagram while sitting in the front of a classroom so don’t allow yourself to do so when you are in a remote class. 

2. Engage with your professor 

Enter the remote classroom on-time and make sure you look at your professor, just like you would do if you are in person. You wouldn’t have a snack while sitting in the front row so avoid eating during class at home! And really engage with your professor: raise your hand, ask questions, visit remote office hours, or send an email after the class with follow up questions. Show the teacher that you really like the class and you are excited about the material.

3. Take notes – by hand! 

 Research shows that taking notes by hand helps you learn the material in a deeper manner than if you take notes on your computer. A helpful note-taking technique is called, “two column notes.” For this style of note-taking, you fold your notebook paper length-wise, and only write on the right side of the page. Later, when you review your notes, transfer the main ideas from the right side of the page to the left side in short, bullet points. When preparing for an exam, first you review all of your notes on the right side, then cover up the right side and use your left side bullet points to test yourself on the material.  

And two strategies for students with dysgraphia: First, try taking notes on your computer during the lecture, and then writing out your notes from your typed notes when you are not under a time pressure. Second, try taking notes on your computer, then print your notes and cut them into flashcards. Very clever! 

4. Use Time Management Techniques 

Find a calendar system that works for you and use it daily. Many students find that using their phone’s calendar app is convenient and effective as their phone is always nearby. Some students also like to use a large wall calendar with exams dates and project due dates as a strong visual reminder. An important strategy is to input all important dates into your calendar as soon as you receive your syllabus. And remember, a calendar system only works if you check it daily! 

An excellent time management technique is prioritizing tasks. One method is to start with the easiest tasks to get them out of the way, and then focus on your more challenging assignments. Or, if that sounds too stressful, start with the most challenging task first and leave the easier ones for last as a reward-like way to end on a high note! 

It is important to be realistic with your time. Make sure you have sufficient down time to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed. It’s a good idea to take frequent study breaks and go for a walk to get fresh air. 

Another good  strategy is to create a to-do list on Sunday evenings that you can refer to every morning and at the end of each school day. On Friday afternoons, review your calendar and give yourself credit for all that you accomplished. You deserve to treat yourself well! 

5. Connect with the other students in your classes 

Take advantage of any opportunity to interact with your virtual classmates. Take a risk and reach out to someone who seems friendly to ask if they would like to review the material or study for a test together. Research shows that students who feel they are a part of a learning community tend to perform better than those who feel isolated and on their own. 

6. And most important: Front Row Students Ask For Help! 

 It is perfectly fine to ask for assistance! No one expects students to have all the answers (even the professors don’t have ALL of the answers!). Schools want their students to succeed and that is why there are many places on campus to go for in-person and virtual support. You can go to your school’s office of disabilities to request accommodations, go to the study center to work with a tutor, or schedule sessions with a Life Skills Coach to learn time management skills and learn how to practice self-care to lower your stress and anxiety. Front row students know it takes strength to ask for help!  

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeri Rochman, JD, MS, is the Advance LA Director of Community Outreach, a Life Skills Coach, National Board Certified Counselor and Certified Parent Educator. Interested in learning more about Advance LA’s services? She can be reached at jrochman@thehelpgroup.org.

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Strategies For Coping with Uncertainty

Life can feel very uncertain these days. Young adults may feel worried about what their fall college semesters will look like, if they will be able to find a job, and if they will be able to hang out with their friends or go on a date. Feelings of fear and worry can leave young people feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

In times like these, it is good to remember that no matter how helpless or hopeless you are feeling, there are steps you can take to cope with the uncertainty of life. Here are some strategies that may help give you a sense of control and make you feel a bit more safe:

1. BREATHE

When people are anxious they tend to take rapid, shallow breaths that come directly from their chests. This type of breathing is called thoracic or chest breathing. When you’re feeling anxious, you may not even be aware you’re breathing this way but this can cause your heart to race and for you to feel dizzy. This can make you feel even more anxious and even make you feel like you are having a panic attack.

Try this simple breathing technique to help you relax:

  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth
  • Repeat for several minutes until you start to feel better.

Some people like to use a visual when they are doing their deep breathing. Try this one: pretend you are holding a beautiful red rose in your left hand and a pretty birthday candle in your right hand. Then inhale slowly and visualize yourself smelling the lovely fragrance of the gorgeous rose. Then exhale and slowly blow out your birthday candle. If you find that watching a video is helpful while you practice deep breathing, you can find videos like this calming breath bubble on youtube.

The best thing about using your breathing to help you to feel better is that no one has to know! You can do it standing up, waiting in line, or sitting down. The more you practice, the more natural it starts to feel.

2. EXERCISE

Physical activity improves your body’s ability to use oxygen and improves blood flow which directly affects your brain by increasing your brain’s production of endorphins. Endorphins are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters that give you a sense of well-being after exercise.

Physical activity like going for a walk or a bike ride can also help take your mind off your worries. Invite a friend to join you when you exercise and make an effort to ask them how they are doing. Helping someone else is a great way to boost your own mood!

3. ACCEPT THAT LIFE MAY ALWAYS HAVE SOME FORM OF STRESS AND LEARN COPING SKILLS LIKE PRACTICING SELF-CARE

No matter how much we may try to feel in control, the truth is that life just comes with uncertainty. Recognize the signs that you are feeling overwhelmed. Some people experience stress as physical pain such as a headache or stomach ache. Others may feel like they can’t catch their breath or that they just don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. When you realize you are feeling really anxious, try practicing self-care.

Great self-care strategies are relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. There are quite a few online yoga classes available for you to try as well as a number of meditation apps. Challenge yourself to set aside some time each day to practice these new skills.

Establish good sleep hygiene. Taking the time to relax and unwind before bed can help you to sleep better at night.

Eat a healthy diet. Eating healthy meals can help maintain your energy levels and prevent mood swings. Avoid sugary and processed foods to give your overall mood a boost.

4. TAKE ACTION OVER THE THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL

So much of life right now feels uncertain and there are many things beyond your control. But it may help to remind yourself that you are not powerless.

For example, if you are worried about your health during this pandemic, you can take action by wearing a mask when you leave the house, frequently washing your hands, and avoiding crowded places. If you lost your job through no fault of your own, you can control how much energy you spend on a job search by updating your resume and practicing your job interviewing skills.

By focusing on what is in your control, you will worry less and use your active problem solving skills more. And it is ok to ask for help, in fact it takes strength to ask for help! Life Skills Coaches, teachers, and trusted friends can assist you with creating more certainty in your life. You can do it!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeri Rochman, JD, MS, is the Advance LA Director of Community Outreach, a Life Skills Coach, National Board Certified Counselor and Certified Parent Educator. Interested in learning more about Advance LA’s services? She can be reached at jrochman@thehelpgroup.org.