NDEAM 2018 | “Always Aim High!”

Note: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Christopher Pauley does the Marshmallow Challenge.

Christopher Pauley does the Marshmallow Challenge / CBS

Christopher graduated with a degree in computer science from California Polytechnic State University and set his sights on becoming a Software Engineer. Over the course of two years, Christopher applied for nearly 600 positions without much success.

As a result of his disability, and like other individuals who have autism spectrum disorders, Christopher had some limitations with social and communication skills that made interviewing for jobs a challenge. His strengths, however, included an acute attention to detail and a strong ability to recognize patterns. He was also a video game guru.

Christopher Pauley plays Rock Band video game.

Christopher Pauley plays Rock Band video game / CBS

In 2015, Christopher began to receive vocational rehabilitation (VR) services from the California Department of Rehabilitation. His VR Counselor provided counseling and guidance and helped Christopher learn more about his career skills through a vocational assessment. A Business Specialist worked with Christopher to build his resume and hone his interviewing skills.

In August 2016, Microsoft accepted Christopher into its Autism Hiring Program. According to the company’s website, “the academy provides applicants with disabilities an opportunity to showcase their unique talents and meet hiring managers and teams while learning about the company.”

Christopher completed Microsoft’s multiple-day hiring process—a hands-on academy that focuses on workability, team projects, and skills assessment; and one month later, Microsoft hired Christopher as a Software Engineer! He completed the company’s onboarding process and developed a relationship with his mentor, a Microsoft colleague.

During his first few months of work, Christopher received supports from PROVAIL, a non-profit multi-service agency based in Seattle as he settled into his new position.

Christopher Pauley working at a computer at Microsoft

Christopher Pauley working at a computer at Microsoft / CBS

Today, Christopher lives independently in his own apartment and drives himself to work each day. His advice to other individuals with disabilities as they pursue their career goals: “Don’t give up and make sure to always aim high. Don’t aim in the middle, you know, shoot for the stars every time cause you never know what might happen.”

In February 2018, Christopher appeared on Sunday Morning, a CBS television news program. The program featured his story and that of a young woman who also has autism and her career with a multinational enterprise software firm.

To read the story or watch the clip, visit Sunday Morning.

For more information about the VR program in California, visit our partners at the California Department of Rehabilitation.


OSERS shares Christopher’s success story in recognition of NDEAM and in partnership with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Kathleen West Evans, Director of Business Relations, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Posted by
Kathy West-Evans Director of Business Relations Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Chris Pope
Posted by
Christopher Pope Rehabilitation Services Administration Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services U.S. Department of Education

Autism—A Family’s Journey and the Lights Along the Way

Note: April is National Autism Awareness Month.

Carolyn Hayer with son Chris and their family

Carolyn Hayer with son Chris and their family


Carolyn Hayer is the Director of Parent and Professional Development at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) in New Jersey, a federally funded Parent Training and Information Center.


Autism.

There was a time when I couldn’t even say the word out loud. It was too painful, too devastating to utter. I wanted to believe that if I didn’t say the word, it didn’t exist. But it does exist; it’s real, and it’s beautiful, and it’s challenging all at the same time. And whether I say the word or not, my son Chris has autism.

I’ve been on this autism journey for 30 years now, more than half my life. Back in 1990, when Chris was first diagnosed, there was no autism awareness month, because there wasn’t autism awareness. Family, friends, and neighbors looked at me quizzically when I shared his diagnosis. What does that mean? How did he get it? How do you cure it? But I did not have the answers. Even the multitude of doctors we saw could not provide the answers. Since that time, there has been an exponential increase in the number of children diagnosed, and almost everyone has been touched by autism in some way. So today, when a family shares the diagnosis, others are usually aware of what it means.

As I reflect on the past 30 years I recall so many memories.I remember, as if it was yesterday, sitting in the doctor’s office; the diagnosis confirmed my fears following months of research into what might be causing the unusual behaviors of our little boy.

I remember…calling anyone and everyone I thought might help my family; the feelings of isolation at the playground, Sunday school, birthday parties, and all the other places where we just never seemed to fit in; the stress before every outing, wondering if there would be a meltdown or some other embarrassing event; wondering if my marriage would survive the stress; and the feelings of inadequacy for not parenting my children the way I thought I should have.

I remember the fear, guilt, and sheer terror of not knowing where my child was that day when he wandered off. But I also remember the intense relief and gratitude I felt when he was found.

I remember the vast uncertainty I felt when Chris was diagnosed, wondering what his life would be like as he grew to adulthood. And now that we have reached that point, I want to share some of the bright lights we encountered along the way, especially for those of you who may be new to the journey.

When he was four, I remember watching Chris climb aboard the school bus to begin the 45-minute ride to his “special” school. My gut told me that he needed to be with his community friends, and I spent years trying to persuade my school district to serve him in our local school. I learned about Chris’ right to be included with his neighborhood peers when I attended a workshop hosted by the New Jersey Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN), our state’s federally funded Parent Training and Information Center. SPAN became one of the bright lights on our path. The information our family received from SPAN allowed us to develop an IEP (individualized education program) that brought Chris back to our home district for high school. I remember watching anxiously as he disappeared into the building on his first day of high school, also his first day of school in a general education setting. Despite my concerns, I remember how kind and supportive Chris’ peers were to him; serving as beacons lighting our journey. I remember Chris learning math, reading, and how to play an instrument—things I was told he wouldn’t be able to do—and working with teachers who never gave up on him. And I will never forget, four years later, watching him climb into a limo with friends to attend the senior prom. My heart was so full of happiness and pride I thought it would burst.

This journey has taught me a great deal; autism has been my teacher for some of life’s most important lessons:

Gratitude.

Autism helps you to be grateful for the small things, the things you might have overlooked had they not been such a struggle to achieve: hugs, first words, friends, independence, general happiness and physical health. I’ve learned to take nothing for granted.

Community.

I continue to be in awe of, and inspired by, all the people we’ve met on this journey, most of whom have gone out of their way to help us any way they could: doctors, teachers, therapists, neighbors, friends, strangers, other families on the same path, and my colleagues at SPAN. Today, Chris has a circle of support that makes it possible for him to live a full, rich life. My husband and I appreciate the love and support of family; siblings have been caretakers and cheerleaders, and extended family members step up and help, no questions asked. Autism has taught me that I can’t do it all alone, no matter how hard I try. We need the support of others and must learn to accept it graciously.

Courage.

Fear is an everyday struggle on this journey. I fear what will happen today and in the near future, and dread what might happen to my child when I’m not able to care for him. I feel trepidation in trying something new, and doubt with every life decision. But sometimes I must take a leap of faith. In this, I have always been rewarded, either with success or increased knowledge, both very valuable. I have learned to trust in myself and follow my gut.

Forgiveness.

Of yourself and others. Don’t hold onto past mistakes and don’t carry the burden of anger and resentment toward others. Learn to let go, learn from your experiences, and move on.

Humor.

Laugh at yourself and your circumstances. Laughing releases endorphins and helps you feel good. We can learn a lot by seeing the world through a different lens and by not taking things—or ourselves—too seriously.

In closing, what I want to share with you more than anything is how immensely proud I am of Chris and all he has accomplished. He is a 30-year-old man living with autism, working and volunteering in the community, and often struggling to find his voice and get by in a world that can be overwhelming for him. Yet he manages to do it with dignity and grace, with unwavering support from the circle of love and light that surrounds him—his parents, siblings, and extended family; his peers, support staff, and therapists; our neighbors and friends. I shall always be thankful for Chris and the guiding lights that autism brought into our lives.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Project HEART:
Heightened Excellence in Autism Research and Training

Note: April is National Autism Awareness Month.
Heart-shaped cloud

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopment disorder characterized by social communication delays and rigid and repetitive behavior, affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States. The majority of these children receive intervention in inclusive public school settings where school systems are stressed by the dramatic increase in the number of individuals receiving special education under this classification.

The core characteristics and comorbidities of children with ASD are effectively addressed with a growing number of research and evidence-based practices and when implemented with adequate treatment fidelity in schools, these practices yield positive results. However, intervention research with children with ASD has been largely conducted in clinical settings or by researchers in applied settings rather than by teaching and related service staff and the use of evidence-based practices for students with ASD by teachers remains uneven.

Project HEART provides funding to six doctoral candidates to prepare national leaders within the field of special education who will assume faculty and research positions within special education and early childhood special education. HEART scholars receive leadership training in research, personnel preparation and policy with an emphasis on individualized instructional and behavioral interventions to meet the unique needs of students with ASD. In addition to special education courses, specialized coursework and an integrated professional seminar provide essential content in applied behavior analysis, implementation science, and cultural adaptation of research-based assessment and intervention for this population.

Scholars also participate in rigorous research methods coursework and complete applied research rotations in public schools that are using multi-tiered systems of support and implementation science to improve outcomes for high-need students with ASD. These rotations provide a context for scholars to complete doctoral competencies such as inservice for teaching and related service staff, applied research focused on coaching and behavioral consultation with teaching staff and district autism specialists to improve the use of evidence-based practices, grant writing, and supervision of pre-service teachers alongside autism leadership teams. These rotations also provide meaningful opportunities to sharpen clinical and inter-professional collaboration skills.

These research rotations have been formative for scholarly development and have resulted in the creation of multiple research and outreach projects including: a family navigator program for young children with or at risk for ASD and their families to increase early intervention service utilization and decrease parent stress, a systematic literature review to inform recruitment and retention of diverse participants with ASD, an online professional development series about ASD for special education teachers and paraprofessionals in a high needs district, behavioral tele-consultation with teenagers with ASD and their families in collaboration with PROMISE Wisconsin, and tiered behavioral consultation for preschool special education teachers in an under resourced community.


Grant Program Preparation of Leadership Personnel
Directors Wendy MachalicekKent McIntosh
Organization University of Oregon
Dates Start: 1/1/2016 > End: 12/31/2020
Purpose Six scholars will receive training in research, personnel preparation, and policy with an emphasis on instructional and behavioral interventions to meet the needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The five-year Project HEART culminating in a Ph.D. in Special Education will train future leaders to:

  • conduct research focused on improving outcomes for children with ASD and their families through evidence- based practices (EBPs) and multi- tiered systems of supports;
  • use this research to improve personnel preparation programs; and
  • prepare highly qualified special education teachers to use EBPs with children with ASD.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

New IRIS Modules: Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (Part 2): Evidence-Based Practices

This new IRIS Center Module, second in a two-part series, highlights strategies that have been shown to be effective in teaching appropriate behaviors and skills and decreasing inappropriate behaviors with children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It next explores several strategies that are particularly effective with young children, elementary and middle school students, and high school students (est. completion time: 3 hours).

Autism Spectrum Disorder (Part 1): An Overview for Educators

This Module provides information on the early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as an overview of the difference between a medical diagnosis and an educational determination of ASD. Resources include notes on instructional considerations for teachers who have children and students with ASD in their classrooms, as well as things to keep in mind when working with the families of those children and students (est. completion time: 2 hours).

More information is available at: http://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/


About the IRIS Center

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), the IRIS Center is headquartered at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. Its primary objective is to create resources about evidence-based practices for use in preservice preparation and professional development programs. IRIS then disseminates and offers trainings on those resources.

Know It 2 Own It: Advocating for Your Rights on Campus

As we approach the end of the school year, most high school seniors are preparing for graduation and their future. At this time, I’m reminded that each passing year, more and more students with autism and other disabilities are attending college with their peers. For many of them this will be their first time away from home, a time for excitement and a time for independence. It will also be the first time where they will be responsible to advocate for their own needs at school.

The transition from high school to college can be tough, especially for students with disabilities; however, when students know their rights and where to get help, the transition can be made a little easier. Some students, such as Elijah a high school senior from Jacksonville, Florida, learn the importance of advocating for themselves and their needs for accommodations while still in high school. Here is his story and his wish for all students with disabilities.

A student’s ability to advocate for himself is important to succeed at the college level. Every year, I have an opportunity to meet and work with a group of about 15 autistic college students from various backgrounds and ranging in age. Some of them are traditional college students, others are accessing college through a Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) program or a modified course of study. All of them say the same thing – it can be hard.

Part of my job at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network is to provide incoming students with training in self-advocacy through our Autism Campus Inclusion program and give them the tools and resources they need in order to effectively advocate for themselves and get the most out of their college experience.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, colleges and universities are required to remove any barriers impeding the student, whether these are architectural, communication related, or transportation and to provide reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices. It is, however, the student’s responsibility to know his or her rights and how to advocate for appropriate accommodations. These accommodations could include:

  • Wearing noise-cancelling headphones in class,
  • Using laptops for note-taking
  • A place to doodle, fidget, pace, or sit on the floor in order to focus and learn.
  • Live in a single dorm room, even as a freshman if needed
  • A quiet testing space
  • Alternative formats of classroom materials, textbooks, and tests

In addition to getting the word out about self-advocacy, we’ve created resources such as Navigating College and Autism Campus Inclusion (ACI) to assist students with disabilities as they navigate through higher education.

Autistic and other students with disabilities will often face barriers from the day they set foot on campus. In order for these students to succeed in college, we say, self-advocacy is needed. You have to know your rights, have a plan for getting the accommodations and modifications that are appropriate and needed, and be prepared to face an array of challenges. However, by creating a community on campus and bringing students together to share their experiences we remind one another that self-advocacy is easiest when we know we aren’t alone.


The opinions expressed and materials contained in this blog are not an endorsement by the U.S Department of Education and herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the United States Department of Education.