Nico Morales and Latoya Jolly have a high-functioning form of autism.
Click Here to See their amazing story.
I'm helping disseminate updates on the new bill being crafted in TN that will affect whether ABA and other autism-related services would be covered by insurers in this state.
I'm also able to help connect parents and advocates who are interested in being part of the advocacy process with those who are working on the bill. If you're interested in being part of that group and perhaps getting involved, please fill out this very short form. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScskWVJ8UqlhGiFpA8dFewC7unyMxDHdzMQmBHdAbMuL-mDNA/viewform "
Family vacations and day trips enrich everyone’s lives. They can provide children and parents with new perspectives, not to mention relaxation mixed with excitement. Unfortunately, vacations are also a source of stress for many families – and particularly those that include a child with special needs. But with a little planning, preparation and information, a trip can be a source of joy rather than distress.
A new educational program offered by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Health Professions, in conjunction with the Interaction Advisory Group, will train law enforcement to recognize and react to situations involving people with special needs.
The Recognition and Evaluation of Autism Contact Training, or REACT, program, offered totally online, is open to all law enforcement serving across the United States.
The online training is custom-designed specifically to be self-paced and learned without instructors present. A committee of UAB professors, working directly with experts from law enforcement and authorities in various areas of special needs, designed the curriculum to meet all standards of academic excellence.
A committee of UAB professors, working directly with experts from law enforcement and authorities in various areas of special needs, designed the curriculum to meet all standards of academic excellence.“The responsibility of an academic institution to address societal needs, especially in their own community, is not an option — it is an obligation we take very seriously,” said UAB School of Health Professions’ Dean Harold P. Jones, Ph.D. “This public-private partnership is a perfect example of our commitment to going beyond our obligation, because the REACT impact is such that it will not be felt solely in Birmingham, or only in Alabama. The online design means REACT has the potential to be felt in every community across the United States.”
The REACT program, which had previously been taught only in a face-to-face format, evolved in response to incidents of law enforcement personnel mistaking certain behaviors from persons with autism or developmental disabilities as noncompliance or defiant behavior. The UAB-IAG partnership, recognizing the budget strains facing law enforcement across the nation, created the online format as an affordable solution accessible to everyone in an effort that would meet this growing societal need.
Dustin Chandler, president and co-founder of IAG, is a former police officer and father of a daughter with special needs. He has witnessed both sides of this issue firsthand and sees the REACT program as a potentially lifesaving training solution for those with special needs and for law enforcement officers.
“We understand first responders, parents and individuals with special needs all have the same priority — safety,” Chandler said. “We share that priority, and that is why our training emphasizes safety and provides officers with the information they need to safely interact with individuals with autism or a developmental disability.”
According to the Autism Society, More than 3.5 million Americans are living with an autism spectrum disorder. When you consider a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says one in five adults in the United States has a disability, the need for the REACT training is real and immediate for law enforcement and the public they serve.”
“Individuals with ASD are sometimes misunderstood and misperceived as being difficult or oppositional, particularly when involved in high-stress situations,” said Sarah O’Kelley, Ph.D., director, Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinic at UAB Civitan International Research Center – Sparks Clinic and assistant professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology. “Understanding that individuals with ASD may have different social skills and responses is extremely important for the community, including law enforcement officers.
"Because symptoms of ASD are not always obvious during these encounters, it is important that law enforcement officers appreciate that there are multiple ways to view a person’s behavior and to respond with that in mind."
“Because symptoms of ASD are not always obvious during these encounters, it is important that law enforcement officers appreciate that there are multiple ways to view a person’s behavior and to respond with that in mind. Programs like REACT share a vision with a number of ASD-focused initiatives to increase the understanding of the ways that people are different from one another instead of focusing on what is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ behavior in different situations.”“The question,” said Brian Hale, officer, Hoover Police Department, “is not if we will ever be on a call with an autistic person, but when. The REACT training is a must for all sworn law enforcement. As a former police officer, Dustin has a unique perspective and is able to relay the information in a way that all law enforcement and first responders can relate to and understand.”
The REACT training involves real-world scenarios designed to deliver information to law enforcement in a way that is most retainable. Used in conjunction with in-person trainings, this is the best way to ensure the safety of the law enforcement community as well as the community each department serves.
REACT, which has been endorsed by the Autism Society of Alabama, is a unique public-private partnership that launched with face-to-face training. In an initial rollout in 2016, more than 700 law enforcement officers were trained in person throughout Alabama. In 2017, the UAB-IAG partnership will increase the number of law enforcement officers reached exponentially as development of the affordable asynchronous online program means training is now available to all communities across the United States.
For more information or to register for the course, please click here.
My brother Joe had thick glasses. He couldn’t close his lips all the way without great effort. He chirped. He snapped his fingers all the time. He liked to pull people’s hair. He never seemed to follow a conversation for very long. He didn’t touch you when he hugged you. But he was a fun playmate, and that was all that mattered to me when I was a little girl.
We grew up in the 70s. I had two older brothers. Joe was the oldest of us all, four years older than me. Steve was smack in the middle, a very able, athletic, and adventurous guy with no interest in playing with his less-capable brother and his whiny little sister. He was often hopping the wall behind our house and running off with his friends. Joe and I played together all the time. We went on long bike rides and played make-believe in the various parks around town. We often played with all the toy airplanes in his room, and I never once thought it odd that a lot of our games were lining the planes up from biggest to smallest and moving them one by one in long lines. I liked the funny way he snapped his fingers because it reminded me of that cool snap that Pinky Tuscadero did on Happy Days that all the kids in the neighborhood tried and failed to imitate.
Then I began to grow up. I hit puberty and suddenly became aware of the taunting that happened in the neighborhood when we would pass by. I stopped wanting to play pretend games, and wondered why my teen brother still enjoyed them. Playing with his toys became boring and monotonous, and I couldn’t figure out why he liked doing that all the time. His chirps and snaps became annoying and embarrassing when we were around. Why couldn’t he stop? Why couldn’t he close his mouth when he chewed? Why did he always change the subject twenty times when we were talking?
When Joe went into middle school, my parents switched him to a campus way across town that was supposed to have a better special education department. Due to the fact that it was a year-round school, they moved me to a new school too, a year-round elementary school. Now, instead of walking 5 blocks to school, I had to take a bus. Joe and I waited at the same bus stop each morning, and he got teased by the same mean boys every day when we’d be waiting there. I tried to ignore it, but it got hard and I wanted to be away from him. I considered it lucky that he and I didn’t go to the same school like Steve and he. Steve actually only went to middle school with Joe one year and then my parents let him switch back to the school all his friends attended.
Through all of this, I didn’t know that my brother was Autistic. I can’t blame my parents for not telling me. They didn’t know either. No one knew, actually. That diagnosis didn’t become an official special education category until 1991, a full decade after this point in our lives.
I recently asked my mother and Joe about what they were going through during those early years. My mother said that they knew from the start that Joe had some issues. He couldn’t breastfeed or latch onto a bottle as a baby because of his lip, and she had to spoon-feed him. He had trouble with hyperactivity and was sent home from daycare programs for being disruptive. She told me that when he was six “Autism” was mentioned by a doctor, but there wasn’t much known about it yet. In fact, it was believed that Autism was caused by “refrigerator moms”, women who didn’t love their children enough. That was definitely not my mom. Ultimately, Joe was declared “brain damaged” and “slow”. He was in a private school in his early education years, held back a couple times, and switched to public school when we moved away from the San Fernando Valley down to Irvine, California. Joe had weekly therapy sessions for behavior and speech.
I don’t remember this. I have a vague memory of him going to a camp with horses and being kind of jealous about it. That was apparently the private school for special needs kids (funded by the government) that he went to through 3rd grade. I remember that we drank pineapple juice instead of orange juice and ate natural peanut butter instead of the good tasty kind because the sugar was bad for his hyperactivity. We weren’t allowed to have Trix or Fruit Loops cereals because of the artificial coloring. I remember thinking that we shouldn’t all have to be punished for him not being able to control himself.
Clearly, some of my thoughts were unfair. It’s hard, though, being a sibling of a person with special needs. When you’re a child, your world is very small, and all you see is what is right in front of you. All Steve and I saw was that we were getting a raw deal because of things Joe needed. Steve and I had different ways of handling it. For me, once I became a tween and young teenager, I chose to ignore it. I dove into my own issues with friends and school. I stopped hanging out with Joe or playing with him. I don’t remember how deliberate this was, but I do know I didn’t take Joe’s feelings into consideration at all.
At long last I was entering high school. For the first time all three of us would be in the same school at the same time. I figured I wouldn’t see them much. I was in Drama and figured they wouldn’t be in my sphere often. This was true of Steve. I don’t think I ever once crossed paths with him at school. Joe, however, was very present. He was part of the Drama department, volunteering to help out backstage for the plays. And to my great surprise, all the kids in the performing arts crowd really liked him. They liked his enthusiasm and enjoyed having him around. I discovered that he was well-liked by the football and basketball players too, because no one at my high school had more school spirit than him, and he was everyone’s fan. If there was bullying going on, he was unaware of it and I didn’t witness any. My brother was cool, and I was happy to stand beside him and claim him.
I asked Joe the other day how that happened. Why wasn’t he the object of ridicule? With all his ticks and odd behaviors, shouldn’t he have had a hard time fitting in? Joe told me that his bus to middle school went past the high school every day. He would daydream about having a high school experience like in the movies. He wanted to be in clubs and go to football games. It was all mind-over-matter, and he was determined to have a great experience. He had a great homeroom teacher, too, who helped him navigate all of it.
I tell people all the time that my brother is the happiest person I know. Sure, he has troubles, but he always has that optimistic outlook about life that I envy.
Due to my brother being in special education, my mom wound up becoming a teaching assistant in special education preschool. When I graduated from college, I subbed in her program and then eventually got a job at a private school for special education elementary school children. For the past 11 ½ years I have been a teacher at an early intervention center that has inclusive classrooms of special needs and typically developing children. Between the two of us, we have gained quite a bit of knowledge and education about special needs, including Autism. Joe has never officially been diagnosed with Autism by a doctor, but we are certain that he is on the spectrum. He is high functioning with a terrific memory for facts and is able to work. I asked him how he felt about us coming to that conclusion. Joe said that he felt it made sense and he didn’t have a problem with it. I think he feels comfortable knowing where he fits in the world.
When my daughter was little, she would play make-believe games about dragons, knights, princesses and evil kings with him until she too got to be about twelve and grew out of it. Joe was pretty sad to lose that opportunity to be a kid again. He was like Robin Williams in Hook, having that brief time to be Peter Pan once more. This time around, though, I was able to explain Joe’s differences to my daughter, and she was sensitive to him in a way I never was. Even as she grew into her teens, she made time to visit with him and talk about their on-going magical world game or their favorite characters in the TV show Once Upon a Time. I am proud of the special bond that they share.
And you know what? He still clicks and snaps, but it doesn’t bother me one little bit.
I hope you have enjoyed this nostalgic look back into life with an Autistic brother in the 19070s and 80s. I have written a children’s novel titled No One Needed to Know based loosely on my experiences growing up as a sibling of Autism. It is targeted toward 8-12 year old readers. You can learn more about it at www.dgdriver.com/no-one-needed-to-know.html. I will be back with more blog posts about siblings of special needs. Please comment below if there is a topic in that theme that you’d like me to explore.
No One Needed to Know can be purchased at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/069282913X
Facts about the history of Autism are from:
Working-age Americans with disabilities face significant barriers to economic success - low expectations, discrimination and a complex public support system that often limits employment opportunities and upward financial mobility.
In addition, working age adults with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty than those without disabilities, while the poverty rate among people with disabilities (ages 18-56) is 28 percent compared to 13 percent among people without disabilities. Poverty rates are compounded when taking into consideration additional characteristics such as gender, communities of color and level of education.
While these statistics are sobering, changes to existing legislation could help reduce poverty among this vulnerable population. National Disability Institute recommends the following legislative reforms that, if accomplished, could begin to address and mitigate the staggering instances of poverty among Americans with disabilities across the country:
1. Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
Improve the Earned Income Tax Credit by reducing the age of eligibility to 21 and expand the credit for childless low- to moderate-income workers.
2. Allow Loan Forgiveness Funds to Be Disregarded for Tax Purposes
Exempt federal and private student loan amounts, which are forgiven and discharged as a result of meeting the criteria related to disability, from federal income tax. Extend the same tax exemption to parents that have outstanding student loan debt on behalf of a son or daughter that experiences significant disability or death.
3. Expand Eligibility and Benefits under the ABLE Act The ABLE Act, passed in late 2014, allows eligible individuals with disabilities to save for their futures without jeopardizing their federally-funded means-tested benefits. While this law proves to be transformative, several proposed changes could allow it to be even more powerful. Some of those changes could include:
4. Begin to Modernize the Supplemental Security Income Program and Criteria
Increase the general income disregard to $112, the earned income disregard to $364 and increase the resource limit to $10,000 for an individual and $15,000 for a couple, respectively.
Repeal the In-Kind Support and Maintenance Rule that results in drastically reduced benefits when a recipient receives help with food or shelter (even from family members) and the transfer penalty which unfairly penalizes people with up to three years of ineligibility if they transfer a resource.
5. Build Financial Capability for Youth and Adults with Disabilities
Add financial health assessment and opportunities to build financial capabilities, knowledge and skills to requirements in Individual Educational Plans (IEP) under IDEA, Individual Employment Plans under WIOA and Individual Community Inclusion Plans under Home and Community Based Services (Medicaid).
6. Create Financial Incentives to States that Actively Pursue Opportunities for Competitive Integrated Employment
Create a pilot program to incentivize states to transition away from subminimum wage segregated employment and to increase opportunities for competitive integrated employment for youth and adults with disabilities.
7. Market and Educate People with Disabilities about Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) and Ticket to Work (TTW) Programs
Implement measures to maximize utilization and decrease perceived complexity of PASS and Ticket to Work TTW programs for Social Security beneficiaries to reduce dependence on public benefits and advance economic stability.
8. Create a National Medicaid Buy-In Program
Medicaid buy-in allows states to offer Medicaid to individuals with disabilities for a monthly premium. Implement a national Medicaid buy-in program which would allow individuals with disabilities, regardless of the state they live in, to buy into Medicaid to meet healthcare needs and be competitively employed with asset and income limits over $25,000. Expand opportunities for individuals with disabilities to pursue meaningful employment without fear of losing the ability to address their special healthcare needs.
9. Strengthen the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program
Direct the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to establish a Community Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Matching Grant Program (VITA grant program) for the development, expansion or continuation of volunteer tax preparation programs to assist low-income taxpayers and members of underserved populations, including individuals with disabilities. Require a financial literacy component and a link to mainstream banking.
These proposed policy reforms are just the beginning of a national dialogue about strategies to reduce poverty for working age adults with disabilities. There can be no meaningful conversation regarding poverty in America absent the voice of the disability community.
Since its inception in 2005, National Disability Institute (NDI) remains the first and only national nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to designing pathways to economic stability and mobility for persons with disabilities. Through public policy research and development and customized training and technical assistance, NDI has become a recognized leader nationwide demonstrating that individuals across the spectrum of disabilities can work, save for the future and advance their financial capability and economic stability. To learn more, visit www.realeconomicimpact.org. Take the DISABLE POVERTY pledge at www.disablepoverty.org.
Follow Michael Morris on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RealEconImpact
The Arc Tennessee and the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center are partnering to collect stories from individuals with disabilities and their families on the topic of health care access. We need your stories! We collected stories on this topic in the fall and will continue to do so into the spring. Please consider participation if you have experienced any of the following:
· Do you have challenges accessing health care because of where you live? Do you have to travel to access quality care?
· Have you had challenges finding a professional who will provide health care services to you/your son or daughter?
· Do you/your son or daughter have challenges with receiving quality care from a provider because of their lack of knowledge or training in providing services to people with disabilities?
· Other issues?
The project is an important educational tool for legislators and policymakers, health care providers, and also for the Vanderbilt student interviewers who are given the opportunity to learn from you. Interviews last about an hour, can take place in your home or other location (even over the phone!), and will be conducted between February and March, depending on what works best for you.
Please let me know ASAP if you are willing to advocate in this way. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
We appreciate you taking the time to consider this opportunity!