October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Merging Talent with Opportunities

Autism Speaks is celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month through October, and has numerous resources and information available!  Please click on this link to read more about re-thinking employment.



#autism  #autismspeaks #nationaldisabilityemploymentawarenessmonth  #NDEAM


“We don’t care about eye contact”


Obtaining employment as an individual with special needs is a challenge to say the least.  Think about all of the elements involved in seeking out employment and being hired: the job search, resume, cover letter, follow up, phone and in-person interviews, becoming accustomed with a new routine and new faces.

Employment provides one with a feeling of fulfillment, the ability to be independent, developing new relationships, and face new challenges.  Challenge help people grow.

Please read the article below from the Chicago Tribune.  Thank you EY for re-thinking your hiring processes and employment opportunities!


@EYnews  @chicagotribune

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: skolkey@optionsforcollegesuccess.org.

I hope to see you there!

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Autism in the Work Force

By Samantha Kolkey, LCSW

At Options for College Success, we have career and job support services as part of our core curriculum as our students tend to struggle with finding their passion, building their resume, and interviewing skills.  Our students want jobs, they want to be employed.  However, their challenges with social and communication skills make it difficult for them to gain employment in a desired position.

Those with autism are extremely valuable in the work force but many individuals with autism are unemployed despite their ability to work independently. CBS Sunday Morning produced a news story about this issue and what some companies are doing when hiring individuals on autism spectrum.

“Don’t give up, and make sure to always aim high  Don’t aim in the middle. Shoot for the stars every time because you never know what may happen.” Christopher P.

Personal Interests in those with ASD

By Samantha Kolkey, LCSW

Recently, the mother of one of our students shared an article with me from The Mighty.  First hand experiences from those with autism are something we should all listen to.  If we as clinicians, educators, parents, and friends have trouble understanding someone with autism (or anyone for that matter), it is best to hear about their reality, their outlook, and their feelings in order to best serve the person.

Christine Motokane provides a look into her experience with society’s focus on “age-appropriate interests,”  and how this impacts a person with autism.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this story.  Please share in the comments section.

Have a great week everyone!

Highlighting Northwestern University’s Research on Autism and Fragile X Syndrome

By Samantha Kolkey

Next week I will get the opportunity to visit the Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Lab at Northwestern University. Dr. Molly Losh, principal investigator of the Family-Genetic Study of Language in Autism, and her team are exploring how genes involved in autism may play a role in language and other skills to better inform the causes of autism.  They continue to recruit participants for this study as their research continues.  Please click on the link if you would like to find out more information about this study: http://ndl.northwestern.edu/autism/

In addition to autism research, the Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Lab is conducting research on Fragile X Symdrome. Fragile X  is caused by a gene mutation and this single mutation is the “most common inherited cause of intellectual disability.” The study focuses on families and exploring language, early development, and other skills regarding the gene mutation. Please click on this link for more information about this study and becoming a participant: http://ndl.northwestern.edu/fragile-x/


I am greatly looking forward to this opportunity and learning more.  If you have questions or comments you would like me to share with the researchers, please leave them in the comments section.

Have a great Thursday!

Exploring a Venture Capital Model with Autism Research

By Samantha Kolkey

Today I was shown an opinion piece published in Friday’s Wall Street Journal titled “Autism Research Should Be Financed Like Venture Capital.”  I was so intrigued.  The author of the piece, John Rodakis, is the founder and president of the non-profit N of One: Autism Research Foundation.  This non-profit uses the funds they have available to fund autism research.

Mr. Rodakis’ piece focuses on the issue of how three organizations make up 99% of autism research funding, and these organizations provide funding to autism research that fits into what he calls the “genetics-first paradigm,” limiting the scientists who need funds to conduct their research based on more “radical ideas.” He cites two studies, one of recent note and the other from 15 years ago, which both lend evidence to theories that are not within the genetic paradigm.   The more recent conducted by Dr. Robert Naviaux, professor at the University of California, San Diego who theorizes that a treatable metabolic condition may underlie autism.  In a small clinical trial involving 10 boys with autism, he found a significant improvement in language and social behavior when given the drug suramin.  The other was a clinical trial with 8 to 10 boys with severe autism who were taking the antibiotic vancomycin and were seen to have a significant improvement.

He proposes ideas on how the organizations providing funding to autism research can utilize a venture-capital model to diversify the types of research studies being funded.  The greater the risk, the greater the reward, right? He proposes placing a hard cap on the number of grants awarded to studies that are genetics related to open up more grants to studies that move away from a genetic focus. Another proposal Mr. Rodakis made was for the National Institute of Health to create an office made up of analysts whose job is to “identify and challenge conventional points of view.” This group of analysts could then fund studies that counter the dominant model.

Since there are still so many questions surrounding autism, why not look to other theories? Why focus on one model, when there are many researchers out there looking to test out their potentially groundbreaking theory?

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

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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.

Love to Eat? How About Cook?

By Marcella Mackowiak

I’m not sure about everyone else, but nothing makes me happier than knowing that I am going to have a great dinner that I prepared. But how about those who live with ASD? Who said that one of my students can’t have the same satisfaction that I do just because they’re on the spectrum? Here’s an article written by Sasha Long on the website The Autism Helper that offers some tips great on cooking with ASD.


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