“People need to stop underestimating us”

Over the past couple of years, many stories have been published in the media about employers becoming more aware of how individuals with autism should not be overlooked in the hiring process, and any personal biases  towards individuals with autism need to be checked at the door.

This morning the Chicago Tribune published an article about a 17 year old with nonverbal autism and how he is raising awareness about not underestimating those with communication challenges.  This young man has a blog and is using this platform to create connections with others who have nonverbal autism.  This blog also opens up the eyes of those who are neuro-typical to the first hand experiences of a teenager with nonverbal autism.

Please click the link below to learn more about his story and to explore his blog!



To Our Founder’s: THANK YOU

Options for College Success was founded in 2009 by two mothers with a mission of supporting post- secondary students with learning challenges to be successful in college.  After working in the education field, both realized there were many students with learning challenges that were not receiving the support needed within the school system and decided they needed to intervene and help those students.  Over the years the mission developed into the more comprehensive program it is today, including finance skill building, independent living skills, social skills, vocational support, and providing social event opportunities.  These women had a vision and worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition.

As both of our founder’s have now retired, we wanted to highlight these incredible individuals that created this strong community, the Options for College Success family.

Christine Anderson worked in the education field for over 40 years.   She began in an inner-city school in Savannah, Georgia. She then transferred to the Savannah Association for Children with Specific Learning Disabilities. After raising her family in the Chicago area, Christine returned to the workforce, first as a director for an alternative high school and then as a director for a national program for young adults with learning challenges. The drive to advocate and support this population has been a passion of Christine’s.  Christine stepped down from her role as Executive Director in January of 2018.  She continues her dedication to the community, co-creating and launching an app, Glimmer (www.glimmerconnect.com), with her son.

Shoshana Axler, born and raised in Chicago, was a classroom teacher as well as a mentor for many years in the Chicago area.  She earned a master’s degree from Rhode Island College in education.  Her commitment to the success of young adults creates an ongoing connection with all students and families she has served.  Shoshana spent several years fundraising for cancer research and then returned to the field of education.  Shoshana is the mother of 3 grown children and many grandchildren.  Shoshana retired this last week and will be moving to be with her family in Israel. Shoshana’s generosity, dedication to community, and enthusiasm is profound, and it runs deep within the foundation of our organization.

We are forever grateful to our founders! We will always continue the mission set forth by these brilliant women! The Options for College Success family wishes Christine and Shoshana joy and happiness as they embark on their new journey!

Are we aware yet?

By David Rooney, MNM

Monday, April 2nd, expect to see the Chicago cityscape awash in blue lights for World Autism Awareness Day.  This cool effect promotes a message for acceptance and acts like a beacon for events throughout April.  Families who live day-to-day with ASD often wonder why we need a day, week or month to raise awareness.  Certainly people get plenty of reminders?

Like most anything that consumes us, our lives don’t necessarily translate well to others, especially when regarding social interactions.  And frankly, we need as much compassion and understanding as possible to progress into the coming decades, as we work together to promote independence for our family members.  I’m not addressing the professionals, schools and therapists here exactly but more the neighbors, employers and landlords.  We need them to understand and accept those living with ASD too.

This awareness includes you and me.  It doesn’t take much for us to drift from our mission. Communication works best if we listen as much as we spread the word.  For instance, in our support communities how often do we welcome the outsider?  Of course we remain vigilant to keep our family safe, but do we consider assistance from somebody who genuinely wants to help, or can help but they do not bring direct experience, working with ASD.  We ask, how can they really understand?  When we welcome somebody new into our support community, we raise awareness and can even change minds and lives.

This week is my first-year anniversary working with Options for College Success.  I come from such an outsider’s background.  A Masters with a nonprofit focus helps, but prior to that, my professional experiences draw from careers in the private sector, specifically in home financing and media.  For starters, I know I can help find long term, supportive housing solutions for people living with ASD.  The team here recognize those and other qualities and welcome me.  And it starts with awareness.  We need to spread the word and welcome people from all walks.

On a personal note, my Sister-in-law, Joni’s birthday falls on April 2nd.  She passed away in 2015.  My brother, Larry and his family support my niece, Megan who keeps us aware about ASD.  At Joni’s Celebration of Life, I remember my nephew, Dann reading her posts about coping with her illness and the support, purpose and love Megan provides her entire family each day.  She and her two Cousins, (my nephews) also inspire me to keep up the good work.  Details like these require a discussion, far beyond what first impressions might give and result from an open awareness.

Reminders help too.

Real Life with Autism: One T.V. Show’s Portrayal of Life with Autism

Atypical blog post

By Samantha Kolkey

To continue on the theme from the first blog post this week, I want to explore people’s opinions about the Netflix series “Atypical.”  This series aims to provide the viewer with a look into the real life of a teen with autism, and the challenges he faces in day to day life.

I recently began watching the series and felt that this would be a helpful way for people to gain a deeper understanding of what life is like through the eyes of a teen with autism. As Options for College Success works with young adults with learning challenges and disabilities, the series has provided me with greater insight into the perspective of a teen with autism. Navigating the dating scene, work, school, and family life can be anxiety provoking for most teens and young adults (actually let’s be honest here, it is for most everyone). This anxiety is much greater when identifying social cues and understanding the gray areas of life is perplexing.

How accurate is this series’ depiction from your point of view?

One of my favorite websites to explore for articles and resources about mental health and disabilities, The Mighty, posted a review of the series written by a teen with autism. Check it out! https://themighty.com/2017/08/atypical-autistic-review/

Real Life with Autism: Insights from Young Adults with Autism

Related image

By Samantha Kolkey

A couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity to witness inspiring interactions between two individuals who may be seen in society as “unable.”  These two individuals are young adults with non-verbal learning disabilities and autism. In the not so distant past, our society may have seen these two individuals as having a very low IQ, unable to have meaningful relationships, and unstable.  They would not be challenged, not provided stimulation to help develop their skills, and viewed as completely dependent on others. Thankfully, we are moving into more informed times, where adaptive technologies are studied and provided to those with disabilities. And we have to keep moving forward, researching, and advocating.  These adaptive technologies are not cheap, nor are they available in all schools. And then what happens when school is over with?

Now, I thought I was familiar with autism after working with children and young adults in social welfare for a little over six years, and also having a family member with autism. I was so wrong! What I am learning about autism now is straight from the minds of individuals with autism.

One of the individuals I had the privilege of meeting, a young woman, has created her own blog and I have been looking forward to sharing it here!  Please explore her blog as she writes about her insights, and experiences with autism. Opinionslearnedfromrpmandautism.com

Thank you to these two amazing people who have helped me continue to grow and understand.

Finding Love and Friendship

By Samantha Kolkey

Happy Thursday! One more day until the weekend!

Weekends are typically filled with time spent with friends and loved ones–to enjoy our relationships.  Everyone hopes for stability, love, and an overall sense of belonging; however, it can be hard for individuals with learning challenges and other disabilities to find inclusion, friendship and love. Many have a difficult time with social cues, sarcasm, jokes, and identifying safety risks when in social situations.

Below is a link to a short news story that explores an application meant to help those with disabilities find love and friendship with just a few taps of a finger.

Thank you @newsyvideos