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Learning To Live With Uncertainty

Life feels so different now. Last summer, many of us thought that life would soon be back to normal. Now, a year later and still dealing with a global pandemic, it can be hard to imagine life as it used to be. It is understandable that many neurodivergent young adults are resisting the transition back to former routines. Some psychologists are referring to this resistance as “Covid-19 Re-Entry Anxiety” and many of us are feeling this anxiousness as we slowly leave our homes and go back into the world.

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Combatting Covid-19 Re-Entry Anxiety

Life feels so different now. Last summer, many of us thought that life would soon be back to normal. Now, a year later and still dealing with a global pandemic, it can be hard to imagine life as it used to be. It is understandable that many neurodivergent young adults are resisting the transition back to former routines. Some psychologists are referring to this resistance as “Covid-19 Re-Entry Anxiety” and many of us are feeling this anxiousness as we slowly leave our homes and go back into the world.

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College Prep In The Summer Pays Off In The Fall

For college freshmen, July is the month for spending time at the beach, having a BBQ with friends, lounging in a hammock on a lazy afternoon – and preparing for the fall semester at college. Did that last part of that sentence give you pause? Neurodivergent young adults may not want to think about college life during the carefree summer months, but spending time in July working on college prep will have a big pay-off in September.

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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.