Autism and Working

By Marcella Mackowiak

#JayGoltz of the #NewYorkTimes did a fantastic interview with Dave and Anthony, who is on the spectrum. It follows Anthony and is progress on getting a job at Mariano’s in Chicago. We as a community need to keep in mind that people on the spectrum are just as capable as the rest of us. The article below tells the story, and it’s a great read…


How do I Understand Autism as a Sibling?

Image result for pictures of siblings who are autistic

By Marcella Mackowiak

A few months ago I found out that my nephew was diagnosed with autism. It was heartbreaking, but I pulled myself together to support my sister. However, she didn’t tell anyone else in our rather large family.

Last Saturday we all got together for my other nephew’s birthday and it was very clear to the other youngsters that something was wrong with my nephew. I didn’t know if I should explain, but my sister jumped in and said he was a little sick. Then she asked me what was wrong with him. I told her. If one of my many nephews had the courage to ask, then I wonder what the other ones were thinking.

Autism Speaks put an incredible booklet out to help siblings understand what autism is. It keeps it very simple by saying things like “autism effects the way the brain work,” “we don’t know what causes it,” and even giving descriptions of what autism looks like. I think that it’s good for cousins as well.

Check out the link below….

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.

Options for College Success Presents…

By Samantha Kolkey, LCSW


Happy Friday y’all!

Options for College Success is proud to inform everyone that we are hosting a free event on planning for now and the future!

We are bringing together Andre Sam from The Special Needs Education and Advocacy Project and Kathryn Jackson from Autism Spectrum Therapies for an evening workshop discussing the logistical and emotional support needs in life transitions for individuals with disabilities. In addition, there will be a special segment presented by staff from Northwestern University’s Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Lab regarding their current research studies on autism and Fragile X.

This event is on Wednesday, February 28th 2018 from 6:00pm-8:00pm at the Segal Visitor’s Center at Northwestern University.

We will have refreshments!

Please let me know if you plan to attend.  Email:

I hope to see you there!

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“I feel so anxious right now!” Coping with Finals

By Samantha Kolkey

Around this time of year, our students on academic paths are preparing for and taking their final exams.  They have worked so hard, and must overcome this last obstacle for their semester/quarter/trimester.

Many of our students feel anxious over these finals, no matter if it is a project, portfolio, test–I know most of us can relate to this. I often hear “I’m so anxious right now,”  “I can’t focus enough to study,” or I see our students walking around during study halls, unable to sit for long periods of time to study or finish papers and projects.  Below are a few suggestions that we provide to our students, and some are from students themselves:

  • Implement self-care into your daily routine: Take a walk in the morning or between studying, listen to music, or talk to a friend.  Make sure to get good sleep (especially several days before the exam) and eat as healthy as possible.
  • When preparing for a test, give yourself time.  Time to study, time to get to the testing center or classroom, time to take care of yourself.
  • If you are unable to concentrate while studying, grab an ice pack or drink a cold glass of water.  The cold may help wake you up and snap you out of distraction.
  • Reframe negative thoughts and beliefs.  Turn “I am never going to pass this test,”  “I can’t do this,” “I don’t know anything” into more realistic and positive thoughts. “I will walk into the test confidently,” “I am going to do my best,” and “I do know many things, and I am going to do well on this test.” *Bonus: this can be done during the test!
  • When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, excessively sweating, breathing fast, heart racing:  take slow and deep breaths.  Inhale through the nose slowly until you fill up your lungs, then slowly exhale through your mouth, completely deflating your lungs.  Do this at least 5 times. Closing your eyes for a few moments and imagining a favorite or relaxing place can be added to further decrease any uncomfortable feelings. *Bonus: this can be done during the test!
  • After the test or submission of project/paper, do something you greatly enjoy.  You finished!


#AutismSpeaks Transition Toolkit

By Marcella Mackowiak

Autism Speaks logo is a very resourceful organization. Typically, I would not use another organization’s logo in my blog, but I think that it is warranted to give credit where credit is due. See, we’re all in this fight together, the fight of building awareness for those who live with ASD and the loved ones who are affected by it. We all promote the love, success, and equality for those living with ASD, so I am happy to post a blog giving #AustimSpeaks credit for being very resourceful.

This particular article contains a free, downloadable toolkit that was assembled by #AutismSpeaks that is meant to “assist families on the journey from adolescence to adulthood.” This toolkit reminds me of the steps that we take to prepare our students for  life after high school. It is organizations like #AutismSpeaks and #OptionsForCollegeSuccess who are making the difference for those out there living with ASD, and we are certainly proud to do it!

Checkout the link for the toolkit below…

The World of Anxiety

By Marcella Mackowiak

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A lot of our students who come in talk about having anxiety very often. I personally sometimes feel like I’m going to drown in worry, say if a big school project is due or work stuff is overwhelming (because, really, it does happen). But I think that everyone experiences anxiety in different situations. What is the same is the typical definition and what could possibly be going through someone’s mind.

Is that person weak? A coward? Suffering from low self esteem? Image result for pictures of anxiety

Or is it simply that they don’t have the skills to cope with things that others find easy? Today, one of my students told me about the unhealthy way that [they] deal with their anxiety, and while we at Options all understand what that means, not everyone does.

Kirsten Corley wrote a great article for the website Thought Catalog which gives a great description of what anxiety is. I appreciated reading this. It helps all of us to understand why that person with anxiety isn’t weak or a coward. Enjoy…

What Anxiety Actually Is, Because It’s More Than ‘Just Worrying’

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