Note: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
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.
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.
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.
Just like any other school day, Eugene, my son with autism, left on the bus this morning to go to a day program provided by our school district. For the last 20 years, he and I wait for the bus by sitting on our front porch. As he steps on the bus, he shouts at me with his happy high-pitched voice, “Bye Mom!” This is our ritual to begin each new day, to meet that day’s challenges, emotions, promises, and hopes.
In June this year, he will age out from the district program. I cannot help being emotional whenever I think about his first day of preschool and the journey that Eugene and our family have been on since then. On that day, I cried in the car for two hours after separating from my miserable, crying child.
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).
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).
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.
An OSERS Guest Blog post by Kristina Hartsell, a military spouse who has a son with a diagnosis of ADHD.
The Hartsell Family at Disneyland
I am married to an amazing Army man and together, we have an 8-year-old son named Lucas. He is our miracle child who happens to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, Asthma, and sensory processing disorder. Every day is an adventure with him.
Having a child with ADHD, I learned a few things about myself and the world around me. First, I’ve learned that I have cat-like reflexes. I discovered this talent at one of my son’s doctor appointments. For some children, being cooped up in a room for a few minutes is fine, but for my son, it is an opportunity! An opportunity to touch everything he can, while also building his gymnastic skills. I use my cat-like reflexes to support his exploration and movement while also assuring his safety.
I’ve also learned how to multitask and make it seem effortless. I can carry on a conversation on three different topics in the mystifying world of video games, flipping back and forth multiple times within five minutes, while simultaneously cooking dinner and cleaning up toys. I must say that I am very proud of this talent—I know that I share it with many parents, but it is often more finely developed in parents of kids with ADHD! You will often hear me tell my son it’s my “superpower.”
Last, I have learned to be what he and I call a “defender of all things good and evil.” By that, we mean that sometimes we have to play the role of the “bad” guy for the greater good. I often have to decide what kind of defender I will be when meeting those who don’t understand my son’s behavior. While their words and attitudes can sometimes sting, I can make a decision about how to respond or even to respond at all. I have come to realize over time that I understand my son and will always be his advocate. Advocating for his needs often means letting him be who he is, the energizer bunny our family loves.
Many parents of children with disabilities share my superpowers and have superpowers that are uniquely their own. We are part of a club that treats everyday as a new day to help our children grow and flourish in their unique way. Having a close network of family and friends who understand our family has been very helpful to us. I’ve also learned to communicate my challenges and joys with my husband. As a military spouse, this is often hard to do because of frequent deployments and travel, and the need to develop my own communication skills. Lastly, I have found other parents and other families just like me and my family, and being able to share with them our journey has provided us with a lot of support.
If you’re the parent of a child with disabilities, as you set forth on your own adventure with your energizer bunny, you might be surprised how many other families share your path, and how much you can grow together.
Dwayne, Julian, Martina and Jared Ballen. (Photo courtesy of the Ballen family.)
A few years ago my sons Julian and Jared attended tennis camp at the University of North Carolina. During the camp’s awards ceremony, tennis coach Sam Paul announced that counselors and campers unanimously agreed Julian clearly won the category for best attitude.
Coach Paul quickly realized during the camp that Julian, who has autism, was not at the same athletic level as other campers, many of whom were younger and more skilled. At the same time, he had something valuable to contribute.
Coach Paul took the time to not just “look “but “see” Julian, and what he witnessed, he later told me, left an impact. No matter the task facing Julian, it was always carried out with a smile and cheerful readiness. He also noticed the positive effect Julian’s presence had on other youngsters.
A number of the campers began to take attitude cues from Julian. In a couple of instances, a potential tantrum was replaced with a more reflective, and productive reaction. It was the Julian effect in full flower.
What Coach Paul engaged in that week was inclusion. He had no professional training for it, nor was he necessarily pre-disposed to do so. He simply wanted Julian to have the same experience as the other children attending camp. Inclusion should be practiced throughout society and not just confined to those areas where special programs and trained professionals are in place.
My brother Michael provided another clear example of inclusion during our family’s 2013 Thanksgiving gathering at his house. During a post-meal trivia game, Michael announced that he wanted Julian as his partner. The subject of the afternoon was Disney trivia. Michael was acutely aware of Julian’s passion for all things Disney, especially the animated movies and theme parks.
Julian, full of excitement and a staggering amount of Disney knowledge, was the star as he and my brother destroyed a team comprised of five other family members. Michael, a municipal police department official, found a way to bring his nephew out of the corner and to the table of engagement. All it took was recognition and desire. That is inclusion.
My wonderful wife, Martina, and I have always believed that inclusion is a full family endeavor that takes all forms. Julian does the same amount of chores his brother Jared does. If one takes out the trash then the other is expected to roll out the recycle bin. Julian is expected to clear his dinner placement and put the dishes in the washer. He has responsibilities that fit with his capabilities, just like his brother. This too, is inclusion.
I’m hopeful that we all consider opportunities to practice inclusion in everyday life. It begins with the simple idea of, “When you look, make sure you see.” It’s also important to understand that inclusion is not just a one-way street. Those being included often have something to teach us about ourselves and the human community. I’m sure Coach Paul would wholeheartedly agree.
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
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.