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The IRC incident: a lesson in resilience

In a departure from the usual pattern, December’s most popular external link from the Facebook page wasn’t about a new program or new research or new insights into a condition our neurodiverse young people might have.

Nope – the link was about what many of us around here have ended up calling “the incident:” the December 2 tragedy at the Inland Regional Center (IRC). Here is the article: Mass Shooting at Developmental Disabilities Center.

It was very strange when, for a few days, our region was the focus of national and even international news. Most of the media’s attention was on the background of the shooters and the victims, and the heroism of our first responders. All of that is very important.

Have you wondered about how the IRC itself was impacted?

I’ve been on the IRC’s email list for a year or more. Most of their emails contain routine announcements about services, happenings, outstanding employees and consumers.

December was different.

Here is the poignant text of the first email, sent December 3, with the heading “IRC Offices are Closed:”

“Dear IRC Community,

At this time, all events at our conference center have been cancelled indefinitely.

Additionally, our offices will be closed until Monday, December 7, as we work to understand and process these tragic events.

We thank you kindly for the outpouring of support you have shown.

Sincerely, The IRC Family”

Two more emails, on Dec 5 and Dec 8, announced that the reopening had been delayed and delayed again.

This inspiring email was sent on December 9 by Lavinia Johnson, Executive Director of the IRC:

 Dear Inland Regional Center community,

I am deeply touched by the outpouring of support the Inland Regional Center (IRC) has received from all around the world. It has been a source of strength for IRC and we are grateful.

We are also grateful for law enforcement at the local, state and national levels. Their dedication and courageous efforts are truly heroic. The first responders demonstrated incredible strength in the face of danger and unbelievable compassion for victims and others struggling in the aftermath of the attacks. Our community is fortunate these brave women and men have committed their lives and careers to protecting our community. This was just one example of the selflessness they bring to work every day.

I’m also grateful to the FBI, whose investigators and staff have worked tirelessly to assist our employees retrieve their cars and personal belongings and allowing them to get their lives back. Likewise, their commitment to preserving the property for investigation and care for those involved is admirable. I cannot thank them enough.

Here at IRC, we are forging ahead. Our team of more than 600 employees has rallied with unfathomable strength to begin assisting our more than 30,000 clients. We are in the process of securing a temporary location for administrative services. In the meanwhile, none of the financial services – such as payroll, vendor payments, etc. – have been interrupted. We are also providing additional equipment our staff may need that will allow them to continue attending to our consumer’ best interests. We will be coordinating access at other locations for those who do need space to effectively meet with and serve our consumers moving forward.

In the days, weeks and months ahead, our rebuilding process will continue so that effective healing can take place. I would like to recognize and commend the unity and strength of our local community in the face of adversity. If any good can come from last week’s terrible events, I hope it’s the knowledge that the greater Inland Empire community has the ability to rally and aid its neighbors in times of trouble, despite great heartache.

Thank you all.

Lavinia

Another email on the 16th shared how the IRC was functioning from off-site locations, how other Regional Centers were offering assistance, and that “IRC officials completed a walk-through of Buildings 1 and 2 to evaluate the damage. Repair work has begun and will be completed shortly.” The target date for reopening was January 4th (which indeed is when the IRC employees finally returned to their buildings).

A short “Season’s Greetings” email on Dec 23rd expressed gratefulness “to those who have shown us support and kindness.”

The IRC’s New Year’s greeting email could have been sent by anyone, in any year.

And today, for the first time in over a month, a “normal” informative email from the IRC showed up in my inbox.

We try to teach our young people resilience, to ask for and accept help when needed, to allow time for strong emotions like sorrow to heal, to seek calm and goodness in the midst of upsetting times. By and large, the response of the IRC and our community to “the incident” has modeled those important lessons for our young people – and for all of us.

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Innovative program for adults with autism

As years go by, the growing numbers of children with autism become a growing number of adults with autism. Services helping these adults learn to live independently are scarce. One reason for the lack of services: there are few programs that train professionals to work with autistic adults.

The most-viewed exterior link on the blog’s Facebook page for November is an article from The Mighty about a program in the works at Rutgers University that will train future professionals as it provides support for autistic adults. Once launched, the program will offer university jobs for up to sixty adults with autism who live off campus. Meanwhile, college students can get real-life experience in working with autistic adults. In a later phase, several university-employed adults with autism will live with graduate students on campus in an apartment-style residence.

Rutgers hopes this program will be copied or modified by other universities, noting that it could be adapted for other types of disabilities.

To read the entire article, follow this link: Rutgers University Debuts First-of-Its-Kind Program for Adults With Autism.

Teens on the spectrum and resistance to growing up

It seems fairly common for older teens with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism to prolong their childhood: failing classes in high school, not looking for work, not preparing for college, just playing video games.

Sound familiar? It does to me!

Reasons behind this unfortunate scenario might involve some or all of the following:

  • difficulty with transitions of any kind
  • avoidance of feeling incapable; overwhelmed by adult responsibilities
  • delayed emotional maturity
  • poor problem-solving skills and poor social skills

And, parents may be partially responsible if they are too lenient about consequences for unwanted behaviors.

How can parents coax or nudge their teen out of the comfort zone? The author of the Facebook page’s most viewed link in October, from the website My Aspergers Child, offers twelve suggestions on what to try (including to help the teen make lists) or what not to do (no nagging).

Click here to view the whole article: I Don’t Want to Grow Up! – Help for Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum.

It’s also worth scrolling down on the link to read the many, many comments left by parents facing similar situations. They’ve had a wide range of experiences and they offer, shall we say, diverse opinions on what’s reasonable.

College supports for students with mental health challenges

The day after I shared this link on Climbing the Cinder Cone’s Facebook page, I was pretty certain it would be the most popular one for the month: it had already reached waaay more people than any other link I’d ever shared – and the number has kept growing.

As first broadcast on NPR’s All Things Considered in mid-September, it’s the story of one young man who graduates from high school and is determined to go to college. Nothing unusual about that – except he has bipolar disorder and a brain injury. The effects on his behavior and his mood lead him to be hospitalized repeatedly. His mother is stressed in many ways, including financially.

Yet, they both have hope. The report includes advice directed at this particular young man, but it’s advice that also applies to many others with mental health challenges who hope to attend college.

You can read or listen to the story by following this link: For Students With Mental Health Issues, Transition To College Is Complicated.

College student self-advocacy

The most-viewed link from the Facebook page last month was a well-timed blog post from the US Dept of Education on self-advocacy by college students with disabilities.

Going to college is a huge transition for any student to make. You may know a few who are making the transition now or in the weeks ahead. Their emotions and nerves could be amped to an all-time high!

The challenges, in and out of the classroom, are even greater for students with autism, learning disabilities, or other differences.

Colleges are required by law to remove barriers impeding such students and to provide reasonable modifications to rules. However, it’s up to the student to know his or her rights and to advocate for the accommodations that will make academic success more attainable.

The article includes examples of accommodations, links to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network website, and a short video presentation by a bright high school senior who experienced severe neurologically-based symptoms triggered by the lighting in his math class. The school resisted accommodating him; an attorney educated him on his rights. Check out the video to learn the outcome!

Follow this link to read the post: Know It 2 Own It: Advocating for Your Rights on Campus.

 

ADHD: still a murky picture

ADHD remains a popular subject for readers of this blog. A case in point: from all the links shared in June on Climbing the Cinder Cone’s Facebook page, the most-read article was one from The Washington Post about the latest findings regarding ADHD.

You can read the article by following this link: Still more questions than answers about how to treat ADHD.

Even after decades of study, there’s very that little scientists and mental health professionals can say with certainty about ADHD. You’ll see words like “disagreement,” “studies suggest,” and “sometimes” sprinkled throughout the article.

With all that, the article seems to suggest (see, I can use squishy words too!) that medication used in conjunction with “behavioral interventions, nutrition, exercise and special accommodations at school” may be the most effective approach in treating ADHD. One developmental pediatrician interviewed said that medication improves distractibility, but those with ADHD still need support in learning things like time management and organizational skills. As we know, ADHD brings impairment in these areas along with deficits in problem-solving and self-regulation of behavior and emotions.

The article also touches on the organic causes of ADHD. It’s always good to be reminded about the biological basis for the dysfunctional behaviors associated with ADHD in our young adults. Here is one excerpt:

Research shows that the maturation of brain regions associated with [planning, organizing and problem-solving] is delayed by about three years in people with ADHD. Studies also suggest that these regions are smaller than normal and that they are less active. Also, imaging tests show dysfunctions in the networks of nerve cell fibers that allow brain regions to communicate with one another.

By my count, that’s four suboptimal aspects of brain development. No wonder the results are struggles with everyday life!

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