Creating Activities for Autistic Kids, with Catherine Pascuas | EXPLORING DIFFERENT BRAINS Episode 24


In this episode, Harold Reitman, M.D. speaks with Catherine Pascuas, host of The Autism Show Podcast and author of The Autism Activities Handbook. Catherine discusses her passion for autism advocacy, her work with the neurodiverse, and some of the helpful activities from her new book.

To learn more about Catherine, her podcast, go to: AutismShow.org
To learn more about The Autism Activities Handbook, got to: autismhandbooks.com or look for her book on amazon.

 

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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR)

Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman and welcome to another episode of Different Brains. Today we have the privilege of speaking with Catherine Pascuas, and Catherine is the producer and host of the Autism Podcast and the author of the new book, “Autism Activities Handbook.” Hi, Catherine!

CATHERINE PASCUAS (CP)

Hackie, it’s so great to be here. Thanks.

HR

Why don’t you introduce yourself to our audience and tell us about yourself?

CP

Sure. So I’ve been a special educator for kids on the spectrum for the past eight years and I’m also a freelance writer, so when I’m not thinking about autism or working with kids on the autism spectrum, I’m writing. And like you mentioned, I’ve been working on my first book, “The Autism Activities Handbook,” to help parents and teachers with fun activities that kids can do–kids on the spectrum can learn and grow from. Mostly I’m known in the autism community for running the Autism Show Podcast. It’s a free weekly interview show and every episode we highlight a different autism expert or change-maker and the show helps families and educators stay up to date on what’s happening in the autism community.

HR

And you’ve had some great guests on that show. You’ve had Temple Grandin, Areva Martin, Tanya Marshall, to name a few. You’ve had really good guests on there. Now I understand that the illustrator for your book is an artist with autism, themselves. Is that true?

CP

Yes, so we have a few illustrations in the handbook and were so excited to be able to have him onboard. His name is Rob and–Robert Bull–and he is an adult on the autism spectrum. He’s from my home town here in Vancouver, and I was so lucky to connect with his sister who actually made this project happen. He’s an illustrator for his own book, he and his sister made an ABC book for children on the spectrum, and he illustrated that book so that’s how I found out about his artistic abilities.

HR

Tell us how you got into neurodiversity.

CP

Yeah, so I have a cousin who was actually diagnosed with autism when he was four-years-old, and I started working with him and I was trained to do ABA therapy with him when he was young, and this sparked my interest to work with children on the spectrum, so after him I worked with several families and their children who are on the spectrum, and he’s one of the biggest inspirations for the work that I do and one time when I was working with a child who had a big artistic ability and we were trained as ABA therapists to work on more of his weaknesses than his strengths and I remember seeing Temple Grandin one time on a Ted Talk and she was giving a talk about neurodiversity, and that’s how I first got introduced to the topic of neurodiversity, and now when I work with kids on the spectrum it’s in everything I do. I’ve interviewed a lot of neurodiversity advocates like you, Hackie, and it’s been a journey.

HR

And how did you get the podcast show started?

CP

So I was working with children on the spectrum and I wasn’t feeling very fulfilled working with kids one-on-one. I was doing Behavioral-Based therapy and I thought I was missing a bigger picture to what autism meant, and so at the time I was listening to a lot of podcasts and I decided to start my own podcast and I thought it would be a great way to talk to autism experts and people who devote their lives and careers to learning more about autism. And now that the show’s been running for more than two years, more than two years–I’ve learned so much along the way.

HR

Oh, that’s great. That’s great. Tell us more about your book, The Autism Activities Handbook.

CP

So it’s a handbook with fun step-by-step activities using simple materials that you can find around your house and these games and activities are meant to help kids communicate more, make friends and learn life skills. So they work on the core aspects many of the kids struggle with on a day-to-day basis, and, like I mentioned, there’s illustrations by our autistic artist, and yeah it will cover the three core areas. And some of the examples of activities in the book are activities that will help kids eat more of a variety of foods and there’s also fun games and ideas in there for playdates. I know a lot of parents and educators struggle with ideas to work with kids on the spectrum, especially when there’s a playdate involved.

HR

Tell us about some of the guests you’ve had on the autism show.

CP

Yeah, so we’ve had a variety of guests on the show. Every episode is different topic and we’ve had educational shows, we’ve had more inspirational shows as well, so, for example, we have an expert on weighted blankets. She wrote a book about weighted blankets. This Cara Kazinsky from the Pocket Occupational Therapist. She researched a lot about weighted blankets and how it helps people in the autism community. We have her on an upcoming episode of the autism show. And for more inspirational guests, we’ve had Jacob Velasquez’s parents, so Jacob Velasquez is a piano prodigy. He’s eight years old and we’ve had his parents on the show to talk about his journey and we even had him play some piano at the end of the podcast, so that was a really exciting show to do.

HR

Which do you get more enjoyment out of, teaching, training, doing the podcasts, doing an interview like this–what gives you the most joy?

CP

I can’t give either one up. I like doing both. Over the summer I did a summer camp with children on the spectrum and it was exciting bringing things I had learned from the podcasts to the table working with them, so I can’t say that enjoy one over the other, I think they’re both really a big part of my life.

HR

Now did you start your own camp or did you work with someone else.

CP

No, I work with a camp here, locally in Vancouver, where I’m from. Yeah, it wasn’t my own camp. One day it will be my own camp, but yeah. It was part of a bigger non-profit organization.

HR

Tell us about your educational background, Catherine.

CP

Sure. So I was initially interested in becoming a dentist actually, and I was studying sciences for my undergraduate, and at this time, my cousin was diagnosed with autism and that’s when I started working with him. I actually started working with him in other families in order to help pay for my education and pay to stay in school. And I started to get really interested in autism and what was going on in the brains of autistic individuals in people on the autism spectrum. So I did a program called Integrated Sciences where I kind of design my own major in university and I wrote up a proposal asking the university–asking them if I could study people on the spectrum and what’s going on in their brain. So I kind of made my own degree and that’s kind of what sparked my interest in autism. So I have that degree in integrated sciences and I’ve also done a bit of research as an intern in cancer research labs. So my background is in medical research and things like that.

HR

Very interesting. What do you think is the biggest single thing, if there is something, that you think that people in general don’t get about autism?

CP

The biggest thing that people don’t get–I think the biggest thing when I meet people is that the biggest misconception that I find people mention is that they think that they’re not capable–people on the autism are not capable of integrating in society or using their skills to help society. So, for example: I remember I was giving a talk to someone in the audience about the autism show podcast and what my idea was and where I wanted this project to go and I was talking to them about the books that I wanted to publish and I mentioned the Autism Activities Handbook and how I wanted autistic–an autistic artist to illustrate the book and I had this person–I had one person in the audience say, “I don’t think it’s a really good idea–or I don’t think it would be very professional to have an autistic artist. Maybe you should look at a real professional.” And I was stunned at that comment–I mean that’s the total opposite of what I want with Autism Show Podcast and with what I’m doing. People on the autism spectrum are so capable of being part of society and using their strengths and skills, and I think more people need to support that.

HR

What are some of the differences, based on your understanding, between a place like Vancouver and versus a place like where I am, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the United States?

CP

The differences in terms of resources for the autism community?

HR

Yes. Yes.

CP

Well, I think, in places like here–Canada, the US, Australia, the UK as well, which is the majority of our listeners for the autism show. Were so lucky in that there’s so many resources available. I guess most of the resources are for kids and there’s some for teenagers but there’s less and less for adults. But in places like southeast Asia where I spent the last six months learning about autism and the resources available there, and they’re really behind. And they’re doing things a little differently there, so there’s not too much of a difference between, I’d say, Canada and the US. Maybe in the US there’s–they’re more open to different therapies that are going on and different ideas–in Canada it’s very behavioral-based still. So yeah, those are some of the differences.

HR

And what’s it like over in southeast Asia as regards to the autism community and neurodiversity?

CP

Neurodiversity is a bit more challenging there, because I guess part of the culture–many parents, if they have a child on the spectrum, or with any other condition, they’re afraid to go in the community–there’s a little more of a stigma involved if you have a child who has a condition and who may not be seen as typical. So I talked to some of the people that are working in the community over there. One of the biggest challenges there is how to get parents and their kids out in the community.

HR

What are your career goals at this time?

CP

I’d like to continue what I’m doing with the Autism Show podcast. I think one of the most exciting things about it is that I get to share the resources and I get to share the stories of inspiring people. These are people that are dedicating their lives and careers to autism and moving the community forward, and the great thing about the podcast medium is that we’ve had–we have people in Africa and southeast Asia as well, and different parts of the world that are taking these resources and bringing it to their communities as well. So it’s a great forum to get the word out there to get the word out there about the amazing things that people are doing and how they’re changing lives.

HR

How is the Autism Show podcast distributed?

CP

Yeah so the easiest way to listen to the Autism podcast is to find it at your favorite podcast directory, or go to www.autismshow.org. We have all 75 episodes up on there. You can listen to the Autism Show podcast on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and your favorite podcast directories.

HR

Oh, cool. Do you have any ideas to how many downloads there’ve been?

CP

Yeah, we’ve had about 40,000 downloads–

HR

Wow, that’s a lot of downloads.

CP

So it’s been growing slowly but steadily, yeah.

HR

That’s great. That’s great. Is there anything we here at DifferentBrains.com to help you to mainstream the work that you’re doing?

CP

It would be great to partner with different brains and get more neurodiversity advocates. I know–I’ve looked at your show and you have some amazing people on your show who are doing amazing things for the autism community. I recently saw an interview with the dentist and the work that he’s doing and I saw the artist that you mentioned, Michael Tolleson, I think, his name is. So it’d be great to have them on the show as well and yeah maybe if you can highlight neurodiversity episodes on different brains as well, that would be wonderful.

HR

Well great, and were so lucky to be speaking with you, Catherine Pascuas, because you’re doing great, great things. Great things. How does our audience find out more about you?

CP

Yeah, to find out more about me, the best way is to go to autismshow.org and we have information on there about how you can contact me. If you’d like to be on the Autism Show podcast, yourself, and also you’ll find some information about the Autism Activities Handbook and you can find that in amazon, if you go to amazon and type Autism Activities Handbook, the book will pop right up.

HR

Nice. The Autism Activities Handbook.

CP

That’s right.

HR

All right. And the Autism Show podcast. Excellent. Excellent. Catherine, for all of the parents or loved ones of someone with autism, what is the one piece of advice that you would have for them?

CP

My biggest piece of advice is to start looking at resources and organizations and people that are helping the autism community, or young adults find employments, start their own business and think about what they’re going to do as they’re getting older. Because I know when kids are younger there’s a big push towards academics and learning social skills, which is really important but at the same time a lot of young adults are struggling with what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, how are they going to be independent, how are they going to make a living and there’s a few people that are really pushing this forward and doing more for the autism community in that sense, so if you have a child on the autism spectrum or if you’re an educator, it’s a great idea to start looking up these resources.

HR

Very well said, because all of the children turn into adults, and society, and our infinite wisdom, cuts back on all the resources the older we get, so it’s kind of counter-intuitive. What recommendation would you have for any of our viewers and listeners who want to get into the field of neurodiversity professionally?

CP

Professionally, hmm. I guess you could start taking my route, which is talking to the neurodiversity advocates out there, and that’s the best way to start learning, and start talking to people, read books–there’s a big book that came out last year called Neurotribes by Steve Silverman–I interviewed him on our show, and that’s a great start to learning more about neurodiversity I think.

HR

Could you speak a little bit more about some of the other famous and interesting guests you’ve had on your podcasts?

CP

Okay, so some of the other guests we’ve had on the show are–a lot of autism authors, so we’ve had Steve Silverman who wrote the book Neurotribes. We’ve had some–a lot of mom bloggers actually, and they have really inspirational stories about where they started when their child was first diagnosed to where they are now, and what they think, and their advice to new parents on the autism spectrum, and we’ve had a father who started Mine Craft for kids on the autism spectrum, called AutCraft, and we’ve had many adults on the spectrum talking about different topics. We’ve had Stephen Shore on the show, talking about his work with the autism community and we’ve had Temple Grandin which was really exciting on the show as well.

HR

That’s great. How is Ariva Martin and Tanya Marshall on your show?

CP

They’re really big names on our show. They’re really popular guests. We’ve had Ariva Martin talking about her book which is How to Help Parents Be an Advocate for their Child. That was a great episode. We have had Tanya Marshall on the show twice now I believe, and she does a lot of work with girls on the spectrum–girls and women on the spectrum. So those were really popular episodes.

HR

You know, from your point of view, tell us about some of the big differences between males on the spectrum versus females on the spectrum.

CP

Yeah, so most of the work that I’ve done has been with young boys on the spectrum but there has been some girls on the spectrum, and unfortunately, the symptoms of autism I guess, if you can call them that, show up in boys more prominently. And a lot of the times, the girls who are on the spectrum don’t get as many resources devoted to them, because maybe they’re not diagnosed when they’re younger. So now were finding that a lot of adults that are women are getting diagnosed later in life, and now there’s more of a push for resources for women and girls on the spectrum, so it’s great to see the change happening.

HR

What advice would you have for a young woman recently diagnosed with Asperger’s or autism spectrum?

CP

I would tell them to seek out communities that are helping young adults or young women on the autism spectrum. So I know there is a girl–there’s a company called A Girl With Curly Hair and she does a lot of work for women on the spectrum. She is on the spectrum herself. People like Tanya Marshall, they’re doing wonderful work with women and girls on the spectrum as well. So definitely seek out those resources that are maybe more relevant to you and your diagnosis.

HR

Catherine, I would like to ask you more about Southeast Asia, because somebody like myself is very culturally limited I don’t–you know, I live down here in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, I’m not a big traveler except when I go to speak in different parts of the country. I traveled a bit more back when I was boxing, you know, cause I would fight in different places. But give us a sense, if you could, in a little more detail about what it’s like there in southeast Asia, where you spent six months recently?

CP

Yeah, so I spent six months there, and initially I went to Bangkok and I gave a presentation at a special needs school there, so it’s a private school mostly for children whose parents are Ex-pats. So mostly from the UK, I guess, from India, that are living in Bangkok because their parents are working there, and they send their special needs kids, mostly on the autism spectrum, to this private school called the Village Education School, and I gave a presentation there about what I’m doing with the podcast, and they’re working now–starting a café for young adults on the spectrum to learn vocational training and things like that at this new café. So it’s an exciting project they’re doing. So I found that a lot of the resources there are very different–for the local people–are very different from what’s normal in Canada, US and the UK. So for children, when they got a diagnosis, it’s all done through the hospital. When they’re getting speech therapy services, things like that–it’s all done through the hospital. They’re not really going into their homes and things like that, so it’s a little bit different in that sense, and also depends on the country. So I was in Cambodia and there’s a lot less resources there. And there’s only one hospital that’s dealing with autism spectrum disorders in the whole country, so–

HR

Wow.

CP

Yeah, the resources vary, definitely.

HR

There, the trailblazing 2016 which will take place, it’s a one conference, it’ll take place here in Ft. Lauderdale in September, is based on exploring and helping the entrepreneurial businesses of those of us who have unique abilities and certain challenges, as opposed to trying to fit in in the “normal” work place kind of thing. Is there much going on in Canada in the entrepreneurial space for the neurodiverse?

CP

Yeah, there’s a lot of small business projects coming about. So there’s this one example, I think it’s in Alberta–there’s a small business called “Made By Brad,” and Brad, I think he is 26 or 27. He is a young man on the autism spectrum and him and his dad and his support workers started Made By Brad and what they do is they help people that buy things from Ikea or buy any type of furniture that needs to be built, and if a client or someone–a customer buys furniture and they don’t have time, or the energy, or they just don’t want to build the furniture themselves, they’ll call Made By Brad and Brad, he’ll go to their house or to the school or to the company, and build the stuff for them. So I think that’s a great example of a small business that’s happening, and Brad is now a part of the community, and I think he’s really excited about what he is doing.

HR

You know, you touched on a very interesting thing before, Catherine, that sometimes we, as parents, get so caught up in the academics and behavior that we forget to ask the question early on, how is our kid going to make a living to maximize their chance at independence, whether that’s going to be a trade or another way to monetize a skill. Are the school systems in Canada set up in that way, or how does that work in Canada compared to the United States? Cause in the United States, it’s very one-size-fits-all pretty much.

CP

I think in Canada we have a very similar system, one-size-fits-all. So it’s really–really, the stories I hear about, young adults on the spectrum doing their own small business, it’s really because their parents are really championing the efforts for this to happen. So I think there needs to be some change in how the school system is run, and more vocational training. And I think that’s starting to happen, but it’s a slow movement forward.

HR

Well, it’s been great speaking with you. We’ve been speaking with Catherine Pascuas up in Vancouver and Catherine is the host and the producer of the Autism Show podcast and also the author of the autism activities handbook. Catherine, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today, and keep up the great work you’re doing for so many.

CP

Hackie, I love what you’re doing, thank you so much for having me on your show.

HR

Thank you very much, Catherine. Take care. Bye-bye.

CP

Bye.

HR

We’ve been speaking with Catherine Pascuas, the host and the producer of the Autism Show podcast and also the author of the Autism Activities Handbook.

 

 

This video is owned by Different Brains Inc, kindly donated by it’s original producer PCE Media LLC.

Author Image
Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, “The Square Root of 2” (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s “Scandal”), and is the author of the book “Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity” from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”
Author Image

Harold Reitman, M.D.

Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, "The Square Root of 2" (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC's "Scandal"), and is the author of the book "Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity" from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”

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