In this four-part column series, Rockaway Beach Autism Families Board Member Venus Ramos, and I search for roadways to help adults with autism leap over the “services cliff,” to a mountaintop of opportunities. After interviewing longtime Staten Island special needs advocate and media professional, Burak Uzun, founder of S.O.C.A. (Supportive Online Classes for Achievement), we discovered that the journey towards a purpose-driven life must be guided by motivation, education and support. In the Q&A below, using motivation as the navigator, see how Uzun puts his adult autistic students into the driver’s seat.
Is it possible for an adult with autism to live a purpose-driven life, despite the obstacles? Uzun resoundedly believes yes, and according to him, it first has to start within. In fact, one of the prerequisites to enroll in his S.O.C.A. courses is that the student and family all have to be open to a positive mindset.
“I promote the fact that the world is a good place. However, if the family philosophy is that you need to watch out, the world is bad—that philosophy is not going to mesh well with what I teach. I want my students to see that the world is a good place. If you wake up negative, you’re going to stay in that negative mode. Why not wake up positive with the mindset, ‘Today, I am going to do something positive.’ The lesson here is that your negative mindset is a choice you’re making. I want my students to always choose a positive one because we don’t know what the future’s going to bring anyway. Thinking negatively only makes you unhealthy and makes you feel bad about yourself. And when you feel bad about yourself, you don’t perform your best,” Uzun said.
He also drives into his students that optimism drives kindness. “If you’re optimistic, you’re kinder to yourself and others. What does that mean? People are kinder back to you and will help you. If you feel good and you’re performing your best, you do better at work, you do better at school, which means you will be more successful,” Uzun said.
Ramos shared a list of questions that her 17-year-old autistic son, James, now in 12th grade, answered about his passions and goals after high school.
She stated, “I asked my son what he wants to be when he grows up, and he answered a father. He also wants to make money by working in a supermarket or bank, so he could help me pay bills. As far as his passions, he answered that he likes sports, but playing video games gives him entertainment. When I asked why he likes video games, he said because he gets to create strategies and solve problems.”
Uzun was euphoric. “There’s so much I like about James’ answers. The first thing is that he has wants, he has desires. That’s a big advantage. Not all of my autistic students have wants of different things, instead they enjoy routines. They prefer today to be like yesterday. Now, what does that mean? That they don’t necessarily want anything because they don’t want anything new. So, James wanting to do different things is a big advantage because if he wants something very badly, he will change his behavior to get it. And that’s how we all improve.
“Also, football and video games don’t live on repeat. No two NFL games have ever been exactly the same. Thus, bringing the element of a new experience consistently into his life,” Uzun said.
As for James wanting to get a job and pay bills, according to Uzun, that shows he not only wants to help his family but wants people in general to be proud of him. He said, “James wants to impress people. We’re taught to be humble, not to brag or desire to impress people. In reality, wanting to impress people is one of the most natural things in the world. And it’s one of the biggest motivators for anybody out there.”
For more info about Uzun and S.O.C.A., visit: www.socanyc.com. Also, you can see him tonight—Thursday, January 19th, 7 p.m. at RBAF’s support group meeting at Knights of Columbus (333 Beach 90th Street). For further info, visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/Instagram.
By Kami-Leigh Agard & Venus Ramos,
Rockaway Beach Autism Families