Praise for A Full Life with Autism

Lars Perner, Ph.D., Chair, Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism Advisors for the Autism Society of America, and Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing, USC, had this to say about A Full Life with Autism:

Each individual on the spectrum is unique and will need personally tailored supports.  At the same time, because of autism’s complexities and seemingly contradictory characteristics, it is often difficult to get a view of the “big picture” of a life on the spectrum and the challenges that it presents.  In their very comprehensive—yet highly readable—book, Chantal and Jeremy succeed in addressing both of these concerns.

Although ample resources for addressing the diverse needs of individuals on the spectrum are presented, the case Jeremy illustrates the types of challenges, surprises, and opportunities  that may come up as an individual develops.  Chantal talks about initially not expecting Jeremy even to finish high school and subsequently being able to help him not just graduate but go on to college.  An especially intriguing issue discussed involved helping Jeremy understand that a girlfriend is not something that can just be “hired” in the way that one can secure aides and support workers—an issue that only the most clairvoyant parent might have anticipated. Although optimistic and filled with humor, the book clearly acknowledges challenges that this family faced and those that will likely be faced by others—including obstacles to finding long term housing opportunities and healing from traumatic events.

Although much of the writing is done by Chantal, Jeremy is a consistent, creative, and innovative contributor, talking candidly about his own experiences that have led to the lists of tips that he presents.  I especially love his observation that rights of disabled individuals “are founded on the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.”  The book’s extensive list of issues that may come up will unquestionable leave many families much better prepared for handling the challenges that will come up over the years.

More Rave Reviews: A Full Life with Autism

Elaine Hall,  creator of the Miracle Project, author of Now I See the Moon, co-author of Seven Keys to Unlock Autism and  subject of the movie “AUTISM: The Musical” has this to say about A Full Life with Autism:

A Full Life with Autism provides parents of teens on the autistic spectrum understanding, guidance, hope, and resources to navigate the uncharted territory of adult living.  Thank you, Chantal and Jeremy Sicile-Kira for responding to questions that so many of us parents are aching to know.  Thank you for brilliantly weaving  the parent perspective with Jeremy’s internal dialogue.  Thank you, Jeremy  for bravely articulating what is really going on inside the mind/body of someone with autism. I will use your words as starting points in my discussions with my own son, Neal.

A Full Life with Autism reminds us that the true “experts” on autism are our children; and that we, the adults, must listen to their wants and desires, then find the resources to help them realize their dreams.  I will be recommending this book to everyone I know.



A Full Life with Autism: Comments by Dr. Cathy Pratt

Unfortunately, many adults on the autism experience high rates of unemployment or underemployment.  Some of our most gifted live in poverty and have few options in life.   Chantal and Jeremy have creatively worked to create an engaged life for Jeremy and his family.   This book provides very practical ideas for transition planning and provides a template that others can use as they support adults moving into adulthood.   I highly recommend this for any family or individual as they  prepare for transition planning.


Dr. Cathy Pratt, BCBA-D, Director- Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community; Former President of the Autism Society of America

Then and Now: Reflections on Raising a Son with Autism

My first contact with autism – 30 years ago – was at Fairview State Hospital in Orange County, California. I worked there two years, preparing young adults for de-institutionalization, teaching them self-help and community living skills using behavioral methods. I learned about discrete trials, prompting, rewarding and taking data. Little did I know years later I would be using these same techniques to teach my own son, Jeremy.

To this day I vividly remember my first contact with a young adult with autism. It was my first day at work, and I was waiting in the recreation therapy office for my boss. Gregg walked in. “Hi my name is Gregg Doe. I used to be a sports newscaster. Do you like baseball? Ask me about any World Series and I can tell you who won and what the score was.” I was thinking how dedicated this man was to leave a job in television to work at a state hospital, until I looked at my clipboard and saw his name included in the list of people I was supposed to teach. Gregg could tell you all about sports, but couldn’t tie his own shoelaces.

Fast forward to today: I know a lot more about autism, and so does the general public. Then, I would take Gregg and his peers into the community to practice crossing the street or ordering food in a restaurant, people would stare and avoid getting too close. Now, when my son – who at 20 is about the same age as most of my Fairview patients back then – is out in public, people are more accepting, even when Jeremy is not on his best behavior. People smile at us, some stop to talk and ask questions when he has his assistance dog with him. People’s attitudes towards autism – and people with autism – have changed, in a good way. Services for kids have improved. Teachers are more knowledgeable about autism.

What has not changed over the years, however, is the devastation a parent feels when hearing the diagnosis of autism for the first time. Difficult then; just as difficult now. No matter how deeply inside you realize something is wrong, suspect it might be autism, the professional pronouncement still kicks you in the stomach and sends your head reeling. Today there are many different treatments and therapies, a good thing. However, there is still no know way of knowing which therapy or biomedical treatment will be helpful to your child. Then and now: we grieve, we live amidst uncertainty, we lie awake night after night searching for answers.

When Jeremy was born in Paris in 1989, autism was still fairly rare: The estimated diagnosis rate was 1 in 10,000. It’s still painful to think back to Jeremy’s early years. It was almost impossible to get any help for him at the time. I knew he was not developing normally, and I wanted to know why. I wanted somebody to tell me what to do to help him. Most of the medical professionals  I consulted told me to take him to see a psychoanalyst – This was the treatment of choice in Paris at the time. When Jeremy finally was diagnosed, at age three, the specialist handed me a box of pencils and said, “If you are lucky, you will find a good institution for your son. He will eventually learn to package pencils into a box. That’s where these came from.” That was then. This is now: I have found an institution for my son: it’s called “college.” Jeremy is headed there after he graduates from high school in June 2010 – with a full academic diploma. He passed the California High School Exit Exam (one of the requirements), without modifications, only accommodations. He now needs to take and pass one year of algebra and one semester of science to earn his diploma.

My son’s success is not a miracle, rather the result of years of blood, sweat and tears (on his part and mine), and the hard work of many educators, home tutors, Jeremy and myself. I’m not especially talented, but I am very stubborn. I never asked the school for anything I had not first tried with Jeremy myself, experienced success and results, and had the data to prove it.

When Jeremy was 14, I took him to see Soma Mukhopadhyay, now Educational Director of HALO (Helping Autism through Learning and Outreach). I met Soma while doing research for my first book, Autism Spectrum Disorders. It was then I realized Jeremy was an auditory learner. All the years of using visual strategies, myself and educators thinking he was not “getting it,” finally made sense. Fifteen years ago visual strategies were the new kid on the block. Today a huge assumption exists in our community that all or the majority of students with autism are visual learners. It is simply not true. How many kids who “don’t get it” with visual strategies are really auditory learners, making marginal success because we’re not teaching to their learning style?

Soma started to teach Jeremy using the Rapid Prompting Method. It involved a lot of work, but slowly he began to make progress. That year I also realized how much he was “stuck” in his body. He could spell out and describe the steps needed to complete a sequence, but he could not move his body to do it without physical prompting.

Jeremy’s challenges (see sidebar) were, more often than not, a result of sensory processing issues and movement disorder. When I interviewed adults on the spectrum for my third book Autism Life Skills, I asked each what was important to them growing up. It surprised me to learn the great impact sensory processing challenges had, even on those with Asperger’s Syndrome.

My views about autism and autism treatments have changed over the years. Then, I was a die-hard behaviorist; I only used treatments scientifically proven to be effective. Now, I embrace different types of therapy as adjuncts to using behavior-based strategies (shaping, prompting, rewards, etc.). After witnessing Jeremy’s success with RPM and pointing to letters, having it validated in different ways by different educators, I believe parents should try a therapy or educational strategy that makes sense for the child and family. See if it works; there are ways of validating on an individual level.

While working with young adults at Fairview State Hospital before I had Jeremy, and even while he was little, my face scrunched up in disbelief when nonverbal people severely impacted by autism were described as “locked up” in their body, with no way of reaching us. Now I know exactly what they mean; this is Jeremy. I strongly believe there are different types of autism. I believe that for some, like my son, autism is a movement disorder. They cannot always control their movements or use their muscles (needed for speech and other important skills). Many, like my son, have problems initiating and stopping movement yet are capable of learning nonetheless.

Then and now, autism remains a multi-layered condition with no clear answers to guide parents and professionals. Then, treatment options were limited…so very limited. Now, options range from behavioral to biomedical, from sensory to social skills, and everything in between. Then, parents were told to expect the worst, to institutionalize their child, move on with the lives. Now, thankfully, we hold a brighter vision for our children’s future. Then and now: our children are gifts in our lives and our love endures. That will never change.


By Jeremy Sicile-Kira

Jeremy tells us…

When I was little, I had no real way of knowing what was going on around me. My body would not move even when I tried. Life was just chaos with light and sound but with no meaning. Then a physical therapist helped me learn to use my body. My mom helped me make sense of what I was seeing and hearing. I had tutors my mom hired that taught me with ABA. Then I had hearing therapy and lenses to help me see. It took a lot of effort on my part and the tutors to help me learn. Then my mom found Soma and RPM. This changed my life. I did not believe I could be so kindly taught by such a tiny woman. It is still lots of work and it is still difficult when I meet new people.

Having a way to communicate only makes life livable, but I need some nice relationships, which are not easy when you are like me. I plan to continue to learn, and to tell people to never give up.

[V1] Please add date.

Brave New World

13 Things to Keep in Mind as Your Child with ASD Reaches Adolescence

Living with a child on the autism spectrum day after day, parents often miss the little changes that are so typical of all kids’ development. One day I looked at my son, Jeremy, and realized he was already up to my chin. And what was that – facial hair? His behavior started to change as well. As a young child he’d always been compliant; we spent years trying to teach him to say “no” and mean it. So I was thrilled when he just didn’t want to do what we wanted him to do anymore.

Autism and adolescence: each on their own can be interesting and challenging, to say the least. Together, they form a volatile mix that can arouse daily anxiety in even the most prepared adult. If you live with or work with a pre-teen with an autism spectrum diagnosis, attention to the following 13 points can help you and your child navigate those years a little more smoothly. One caveat: it doesn’t matter the functioning level of your child with autism or Asperger’s; everything here applies. You’ll work them out differently depending upon his or her cognitive, emotional and/or communication abilities, but don’t overlook them, thinking they don’t relate to you child. They do!

  1. Noncompliance: it may not be autism, it may be adolescence. Whether or not they have autism, there’s a definite ‘shift’ in behavior and personality when children turn into teenagers. Wanting your attention changes to wanting their independence. For kids on the spectrum, this behavior change may look like non-compliance; they don’t follow through on your requests as before. But it’s actually a normal part of their development, entirely aside from their autism. As a parent it’s important to support your teen as he struggles to become his own person, and even though it may be hard to appreciate, this is a positive development. After years of being taught to do as he is told, your teen needs to start learning that it is acceptable at times to say ‘No,’ or he might find himself in dangerous situations with peers or others looking for an easy victim to prey upon.
  2. Teenagers need to learn to make their own choices. Giving choices to your growing teen will teach him about decision making and accepting the consequences of his choice (good and bad), as well as help him realize he will eventually have more control over his own life. This applies no matter what the functioning level of the child. Offer him choices, regularly, and abide by the choice he makes. Remember, as he gets older he will want and need to be more involved in his life and his transition planning. By letting him make choices now (within your parameters at first) you are teaching him valuable life skills.
  3. Chores teach responsibility. At any age, it’s good to teach children that being part of a group (whether it is a family, a work group, or a community) brings with it a certain level of responsibility. If your pre-teen has somehow been exempt from chores and group responsibility, let this slide no longer. Teens need to learn that living in a house with other people entails responsibilities as well as pleasures. Chores teach the teen to be responsible for himself, to live independently, as well as foster self-worth and self-esteem. ALL individuals with autism can be taught to contribute at some level. Do make sure your child has opportunities to do so.
  4. Watch out for seizures. One of every four teenagers with ASD will develop seizures during puberty. Although the exact reason is not known, this seizure activity may be due to hormonal changes in the body. For many the seizures are small and sub-clinical, and are typically not detected by simple observation. Some signs that a teen may be experiencing sub-clinical seizures include making little or no academic gains after doing well during childhood and preteen years, losing behavioral and/or cognitive gains, or exhibiting behavior problems such as self injury, aggression and severe tantruming.
  5. Talk to your child about his/her changing body. Imagine how scary it must be to realize your body is going through some strange metamorphosis, you don’t know why and there is nothing you can do about it. Whether your child has Asperger’s Syndrome and has sat through hygiene classes at school, or he is more impacted by autism and you’re not sure how much he understands, it is important to discuss the changing male and female body in a simple way he can understand. Otherwise, your teen may be overly anxious and agitated when she starts menstruating or when he has wet dreams. Visuals that include photos or drawings and simple words may be helpful, especially at the beginning. Be concrete and don’t overwhelm – this is certainly not a one-time talk!
  6. Masturbation: a fact of life. Let’s face it; masturbation is a normal activity that almost all teenagers engage in. Once discovered, it is an activity hard to stop, especially for individuals who enjoy self-stimulatory activities and can be obsessive compulsive, as are many people on the autism spectrum. The best approach is teaching your teen that this is a private activity to be done only in private at home, in a designed place such as his bedroom or bathroom.
  7. Relationships and sexuality: topics that need to be discussed. Sexuality is a topic that most parents are not comfortable discussing with their children, even their neurotypical teens. However, it is necessary to talk to your teen on the spectrum about sex and the many types of relationships that exist between people. It is naïve of parents to think that because their child has autism s/he won’t need this information. Teens talk, and invariably your child will be hearing about it from their NT peers at school. Whatever the functioning level of your child, he needs to be taught about appropriate/inappropriate greetings, touch and language when interacting with members of the opposite or same sex. Don’t leave this important part of his social-emotional development to locker room education.
  8. Self-regulation is important for life as an adult. An important skill for every teen to learn is the ability to control his or her reactions to emotional feelings and sensory overload. Hopefully, by the time they are teens your child or student has learned to recognize their feelings and impending emotional or sensory overload, and ways to handle the situation. In school this could mean practicing self-calming techniques or signaling to the aide or teacher they need a break and having a ‘safe place’ or quiet room to go to. At home, teens should have their own quiet spot to retreat to when overwhelmed. And parents: respect their need to do so!
  9. Self-esteem is the foundation for success. While children are young, start building this foundation by emphasizing strengths rather than weaknesses. If your child with ASD, no matter what his age, has low self-esteem pay attention to the messages he is receiving from people around him at home, at school and in the community. In all likelihood, the message he is hearing is that he can’t do anything right. Teens need to be told when they are acting, responding and communicating appropriately, as well as that their (considerable) efforts to do so are appreciated. Where there are challenges, it is up to us, as the adults in their lives, to help them find strategies to be effective. Teens can be at high risk for depression. Parents should ensure their teen knows they are valued and loved under all circumstances, not just when they ‘get it right.’
  10. Self-advocacy is required for independence. Eventually your teen will be living away from home and will not be under your protection. He needs to know how to speak up for himself. Start this training while he is in school. IDEA 2004 mandates that students be invited to participate in transition planning and this supportive environment can be good ‘training ground.’ Make sure your teen is aware of his strengths and weaknesses and how he is different from others. In this way the teen can gain a real-life understanding of areas he may need to improve upon or that require assistance from others, and areas in which he is proficient, or that are his strong points to build upon.
  11. Bullying is a serious problem and should be treated as such. Bullying can range from verbal taunts to physical encounters. At any level it is not an individual problem, but a school problem. Unless your child’s school strongly enforces a no-bullying policy from the principal on down, your teen may have a difficult time. Teens on the spectrum are poor at picking up social cues, understanding ulterior motives, sarcasm, and predicting behaviors in others. As such, they unknowingly put themselves in unsafe situations. At other times their unconventional grooming or dress, often stilted language and rule-bound obsessions can render them targeted victims. Ensure your teen learns the meaning of non-verbal behaviors and the hidden curriculum (i.e. the unstated rules in social situations). Enlist the help of a neurotypical teen or sibling when shopping for clothes or getting a new hairstyle so your teen has at least a semblance of ‘fitting in’ with his peer group.
  12. The Individualized Transition Plan (ITP) is your teenager’s business plan for the future. Second only to the early intervention years, the transition years in high school are the most important years in your child’s educational life. Skills your teen needs to learn to survive and thrive as an adult, in adult settings, should be the focus of this time in school. The ITP, mandated through federal special education law, is the roadmap for your teen’s future. Once your child graduates or ages out of high school, mandated services are few and programs have waiting lists that extend into years. Spend time (and include your child as much as possible) thinking about what he wants to be doing when high school ends, and 5-10 years from now. Then plan how he will get there and what skills will be needed. This “futures planning” should drive the goals written into his IEP.
  13. Parents, you need to take time out for yourself; it’s good for your child too. With all the responsibilities you have as a parent of an adolescent on the spectrum, you need to take some time out for yourself. Whether it is a short break you take every day to go for a walk, exercise or engage in a favorite activity, or a weekly evening out with your significant other, you need to recharge your batteries. This is also positive modeling for your pre-teen and teen. It teaches that life can be stressful and overwhelming at times for all of us, and that we need to develop ways to manage our stress, and enjoy life, not just l

Just the other day I was looking around the house for Jeremy, who is now 17. I knocked on his bedroom door. He opened the door a crack, one of his Guitar World magazines in hand. I could hear Panic at the Disco playing in the background. “Go away, Mom,” he said, and I did, with a little smile on my face. Jeremy is significantly impacted by his autism. Yet moments such as this remind me that he is first and foremost a teenager, with his own personality, his own wants and wishes. He’s on the road to becoming his own person, figuring things out in preparation for adulthood. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This article first appeared in the Autism – Asperger’s Digest,  September/ October 2006 issue.