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A Life Filled With Purpose: Dr. Michael McManmon has dedicated his life to helping young people with autism realize their dreams.
Interview by Polly Tommey, Editor-in-Chief of Autism File magazine
Michael P. McManmon, EdD is the founder of the College Internship Program (CIP), which serves college-aged students with learning differences and Asperger's Syndrome in six centers across the U.S.
CIP's goal is to prepare young men and women with skills for life, college, work, and independent living. Dr. McManmon is an advisory board member of the U.S. Autism & Asperger Association, Asperger Syndrome Training and Employment Partnership (ASTEP), and a member of the Autism Society, the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the Asperger's Association of New England (AANE) and the Learning Disabilities Association.
Dr. McManmon was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at age 51. His personal struggles and ensuing victories, and those of his students and staff, inspired him to write his book, Made for Good Purpose. Our Editor-in-Chief, Polly Tommey, recently had the opportunity to ask Dr. McManmon about his life and career.
Q. Polly Tommey: You were diagnosed rather late in life. At what point did you realize you might be a bit different in some ways from your peers, and what were the biggest challenges you faced before receiving the diagnosis?
A. Michael McManmon: I realized I was different when I started school. I noticed that I stood out, but didn't really know how to participate. Socially, I didn't know how to respond and had to just mimic what everyone was doing. I had poor perspective- taking skills and couldn't infer what others were talking about, so I mostly stayed quiet and didn't ask any questions or give any answers.
Secondly, I had executive functioning problems, academically and in my employment. At college, I really had no effective systems for note taking, writing papers or studying. I just got by, and didn't know to ask questions or talk to professors. My organization was poor, and I couldn't prioritize.
Thirdly, I didn't even know I had sensory issues or how they were impacting me. I had meltdowns, and would become overwhelmed with all the information in my head. I had no balance in approaching life, so I was in a state of constant anxiety and fear.
Lastly, I had extreme cognitive rigidity and rule-bound behavior. I wouldn't try anything new and was stuck in routines that didn't allow me to socialize or try anything outside of my values.
Q. Polly Tommey: How has becoming aware of being on the autism spectrum changed your life?
A. Michael McManmon: My relationships with others around me have improved dramatically. While I always tried to be generous and kind, I was really somewhat oblivious to others' feelings and had a lack of understanding of solving problems. I now have children who have a human being for a father instead of a "human doing."
I have applied all the curricula for our students to myself and worked on each area. I can travel the world and navigate it well. I can work in groups and form alliances. I can tolerate unfinished projects and manage many projects at once.
Q. Polly Tommey: What advice do you have for others who are diagnosed later in life?
A. Michael McManmon:My advice is to look at all the areas of your diagnosis thoroughly. The information you will learn from a good diagnosis will set you on a path of self-actualization. You can change some of the basic interaction patterns that separate you from a great relationship, the job you want, and a life of calmness and happiness.
Find a good mentor who will challenge you and then listen to him or her! Allow yourself to do and experience all the areas that challenge you. You have only so many years on this planet, so be committed to staying out of your comfort zone and go for your dreams. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. It is the only way you'll progress, as it isn't easy to change your isolating patterns and need for safety and protection.
Q. Polly Tommey: Can you tell our readers what the College Internship Program is and how the program got started?
A. Michael McManmon: I founded the CIP in 1984, and our main mission is to help students build happy, productive and independent lives. It has grown into a program with a comprehensive curriculum for teaching students in every area of need, from social thinking to banking and budgeting, academics, careers, wellness and life skills.
Over the past several years, CIP has expanded from our flagship center in Massachusetts to include programs in Florida, Indiana, California and New York. We serve young adults age 18-26 with Asperger's Syndrome, ADHD and other learning differences. All of our students have the opportunity to attend college or pursue a career while they are enrolled in CIP.
Q. Polly Tommey: You acknowledge in your book that the level of intense support provided by CIP and similar programs puts them financially out of reach for many parents of ASD kids who would like to pursue higher education. What advice do you have for these families?
A. Michael McManmon: I encourage them to be active in working with state autism and other associations to continue to put pressure on legislatures and school districts for quality programming for our students. Parents need to thread together the best possible solutions for their son or daughter by finding mentors and professionals in all the important areas to work with them on the critical curriculum areas shared in the book. Letting go and allowing their child to experience what they need to outside of the home also is critical.
Q. Polly Tommey: After graduating from a CIP program, do your students keep in touch with you to let you know how they're doing?
A. Michael McManmon: Yes-in fact, on my birthday recently, by 9 a.m. I had received around 40 Facebook "Happy Birthdays" from alumni from California to Nigeria! We're also currently calling alumni and their parents at all our Centers to see how everyone is doing and tracking the data from that. I started by calling all of the original students at our center in Melbourne, Florida and it was a wonderful experience. So many of them have finished their degrees and are living independently.
Q. Polly Tommey: Many of the parents I speak with tell me that anxiety is a huge issue for their young adult ASD children. Do you have any suggestions or strategies for helping to reduce anxiety?
A. Michael McManmon: Yes, anxiety, depression, OCD and other difficulties are commonly co-morbid with ASD. It's a real chicken-and-egg conundrum. We've always had individual therapy as part of our program-I'm a psychologist myself-and we highly recommend cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). With CBT, therapists can help those on the spectrum to erode some of the illogical premises and rigid thought patterns that keep them from being able to integrate with, be in partnership and alliance with, and socialize with neurotypical individuals.
Another very valuable tool which is usually left out of the mix is wellness. Having a personal wellness plan with education regarding good nutrition, a sleep diet, a sensory diet and a fitness regimen, are vital to keep us brainiacs from just imploding or exploding over time. Finally, most of us on the spectrum will not socialize unless we have to, and that leaves us isolated and frustrated. A social group helps, and volunteering and community service also help.
Q. Polly Tommey: Can you share with our readers your plans for the future?
A. Michael McManmon: I plan to continue speaking and writing, and have a new book in the works entitled The Assets of Asperger's. Regarding CIP, we'll continue to expand the Visual and Performing Arts at all of our centers. I also plan to spend a lot of time with my six children, twelve grandchildren, great grandchild and my spouse and friends. And I also will be flexible enough to ditch the plans, be spontaneous, and enjoy the people and situations around me.
Find out more:
College Internship Program
Made For Good PurposePolly Tommey is the editor of Autism File Magazine.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers (www.jkp.com)
Dr. Michael McManmon, Ed.D., is the executive director of the College Internship Program, and the founder of CIP. The program was founded in 1984 as a community-based alternative to institutions which served students with Learning Disabilities. CIP supplies a transitional apartment program for individuals to learn the skills necessary to live on their own. From the beginning, the program served as a psycho-educational alternative to traditional "medical model" facilities. See us on the web at:www.collegeinternshipprogram.com or call College Internship Program at 1-877-Know-CIP.
Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.
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