Today’s Feature for all you country music fans is from the Ohio Chapter of People First and was shown during the Rehabilitation Services Commission (RSC) Conference in 2012.
I loved this video, the message, the music, the participation, the fact that the People First group made the video and presented it to the “professionals”–I mean, who is teaching who?
Thoughts on Jobs and the Role of Government
Every day I watch my son, Aaron who has the label of autism, as he sits and loses skills he had in high school. We still have the dream plan, we still have the hope, but we need help to make it happen.
Why is that?
I know it is very popular to bash the government. “Not a government plan”, right? But is that what we really want?
The model programs, grants, initiatives for work, and job coaches of ten years ago are gone-zap.
New RSC priorities and guidelines, cutbacks, and more cutbacks on funds have dried up and forced us back to depending on the charity, kindness and pity of others.
It’s NOT a matter of not knowing what to do
We know how to support people in the workplace. It is difficult surely, but we know how to get people jobs.
Special Education and Rehabilitation Services has decades of research and model projects. Marc Gold, Lou Brown and hundreds of skilled teachers and professionals have shown us the direction and specific skills we need to get jobs. In this short video Dr. Lou Brown talks about institutionalization vs. community.
Unfortunately, because there is no mandate for adult services (like public laws which require children to go to school), there are also no requirements for adult day programs. No certification for the people in charge (GED preferred instead of licensed teachers), no functional or community-based curriculum, no related services like speech, physical or occupational therapists. Adults are on their own. And there is no due process rights for parents/guardians to hold people accountable. We are told to find another program if we are unhappy.
So, what are our alternatives?
We have to keep believing. Keep telling others about the vision of a job, or if not paid, then meaningful work/volunteer experiences.
Our young people have to remind us not to give up. They have to keep in our face singing, shouting and even misbehaving.
Certainly, we need the government. And we need those government plans to be more than just pieces of paper–we need them to support each individual so they can at least partially participate in having a job.
Comments: Any thoughts on “I need a job?” Any other videos you want to recommend to our community?
Aaron, my son with the labels of autism and developmental disabilities, had a doctor’s appointment so I brought him late to his adult day program.
A Visit to the Jungle—Jungle Jim’s that is.
Thanks to cell phones, I connected with his group on their community outing at Jungle Jim’s. This is a mega grocery store with a jungle theme: animated monkeys, giraffes, and other animals spread throughout the store. It’s a pretty neat place and features foods from around the world.
Like most people, Aaron and I got a grocery cart when we entered the store.
Adults with Disabilities in Large Group
We found the group–immediately.
Coming down the meat aisle, two women in their 30s were holding hands walking in front of three people in wheelchairs. Both woman had Down syndrome were about 5’6” and weighed about 200 pounds. Another man (about 50) was holding hands with a female staff person. The second staff person was pushing one of the people in wheelchairs. They did not have any shopping cart.
Gosh, I wonder how we found them so easily?
When one of the staff people saw Aaron pushing a grocery cart, she said she was surprised he had those skills and could tolerate the noise and confusion of a grocery. I assured her Aaron was fine and in fact, since he was in second grade, grocery shopping was part of his functional curriculum (click here).
The staff person didn’t really pay attention to what I was saying. Since she was the professional in charge, and I am clearly just the mother, she politely said I could leave and she would watch Aaron (along with the other six people).
To her surprise, I smiled at her and said there was NO WAY I was going to leave. (What I actually said was a lot nicer–what I was thinking was actually not a lot nicer.)
A group of preschoolers were also visiting Jungle Jim’s that day. The teacher had prearranged an instructional tour. A store employee, dressed like a jungle safari guide, was explaining how cheese comes in huge round blocks from many different countries. Even with the guide in her camouflage pants and a netted hard hat, and the teacher saying “Who can tell me what shape that is?” all the kids were gawking at our group.
Our two aides, of course, just kept herding the group of adults with disabilities down the aisle. They talked to each other about the general prejudice of our society toward people who are different, and young children who just didn’t know any better. After all, they are Christian women who care about the “least of God’s children” and they are the enlightened ones earning their crown in Heaven.
Purpose of the Grocery Trip
Unlike the preschoolers who were making the trip to the grocery an educational experience, I asked one of the aides what our group was buying at the grocery. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oh, it is the end of the month, we are out of funds–so we are just looking around, enjoying the air conditioning.”
Shock in Aisle 4
I was with Aaron and our group for about 15 minutes and I was on the edge of hysteria. I literally had to do calming breaths. I felt like I was in a time warp from the ‘80s. I kept thinking of the years Aaron’s occupational therapist, speech/language pathologist, physical therapist, teachers and instructional assistants taught Aaron to plan his purchases, buy items, make choices, use his picture communication book, use his wallet, push the cart without hitting anyone, maneuver around kiosks and displays set up in the middle of an aisle…. Aaron even worked at a grocery store, with his job coach, stocking shelves as part of his work transition plan.
I also thought about everything I knew about normalization–to go to the store in small groups (no more than two) and blend into the population. To have the skills and behaviors of a consumer so you were a valued customer and respected member of the community.
I remembered Alison Ford’s presentation about, “There is so much more at the grocery store” and the Syracuse Functional Curriculum. And Marc Gold, Lou Brown and Sharon Freagon’s slides using the grocery store for a teaching environment because it was a community environment that would be used for a lifetime–multiple trials over multiple years.
Inclusion and the Jungle
One of the lessons of nature is that for animals to survive, they need to blend in, or be camouflaged into the environment. That is why polar bears are white, and alligators look like logs floating in the river. It is why the female cardinal, who carries the young, is a dull brown and her male partner is bright red to attract the attention of predators.
The history of man also tells us about the power of in and out groups. We segregate criminals in orange jumpsuits so they stand out and everyone knows there is danger. The Nazi’s forced the Jews to wear Stars of David arm bands to clearly stigmatize and identify their enemies. Police uniforms identify people who we can ask for help.
The history of people with disabilities also includes the stigma and isolation of people as being so different, so dangerous that parents would point to strangers and urge their children away.
Because Aaron does not communicate like other people. Because Aaron has some bizarre behaviors. Because it takes people a while to get to know him. Because of his labels… we make sure Aaron is well groomed, wears stylish clothes and can survive by blending into existing groups.
We practice the principles of normalization and inclusion everywhere we go. We work hard to help Aaron be seen as a contributing member of the community, a valued member of a family, a friend, a loving uncle.
Like the jungle, “the survival of the fittest” belongs to those who can camouflage themselves into the natural world, or in disability-speak, be included in the community.
Obviously, none of these aides had read about this, or anything else. In fact, these loving caring aides who work for minimum wage do the job as a labor of love. They are not trying to stigmatize Aaron and his group–they just don’t know any better. They are not trying to alienate and waste the people’s time and let their skills deteriorate—they really, really, really just haven’t been trained.
So, of course, Tiger Mom took over.
That day I decided to stay and try to teach some skills. I have trained parents and teachers, I have a lifetime with Aaron so Tiger Mom went into action.
I figured the normalization lesson would have to wait because there was no way our group was ever going to blend in. (How could two aides handle seven people with significant disabilities, three who used wheelchairs?) We also did not have enough staff to divide up in small groups and spread out in the store.
Let’s Buy Something?
So I suggested, “Let’s buy something, and I will treat. What could we make for a snack? Or what do you need?” (MAKING CHOICES—giving dignity to the people.)
One person suggested we make smoothies. Great, smoothies! (That is AGE-APPROPRIATE. People of all ages like smoothies. It was hot outside so it was appropriate for the time of year.) Smoothies it is!
I ask the group what ingredients we needed to make the smoothies. Each of the seven people had a particular item to find on the shelf and put in the cart Aaron was pushing (FUNCTIONAL SKILL: IF THEY DIDN’T GET THE ITEM, SOMEONE ELSE WOULD HAVE HAD TO GET IT.)
Aaron pushing the cart was a balancing and behavioral technique to keep Aaron on task and keep him from running off down the aisle. It also put Aaron in a valued position because he was needed for each item. It also required each of the people to (SOCIALLY INTERACT) with Aaron.
Teaching “Learned Helplessness”
The people with disabilities all got into it. But the kind, but totally clueless aide was doing everything for them–even putting the item in the cart for them. And, obnoxious me, I would return the item to the person, put it in their hands and ask them to put the item in the cart. (LEARNED HELPLESSNESS.) Geesh!
Since Aaron was pushing the cart, he was like the leader of the safari. He did great, but I swear, the others had either lost their skills or hadn’t had much opportunity to learn about PARTIAL PARTICIPATION and practice being an active participant in the shopping environment.
We had a hard time finding the frozen juices, but guess what? Near the ceiling, there was a big sign that said “JUICE” – which I of course, pointed out so the group could READING CONTEXT CLUES it.
The aides–actually, I don’t know what the aides were thinking—they looked at me like I was nuts to point out a sign to these people who they knew couldn’t read.
The safari ends with checkout and the group being loaded into the vans.
I let Aaron leave with the group. I said goodbye and I hoped they enjoyed their smoothies, and then… I sat in my car and cried for 20 minutes and was depressed for the next week.
All of our fight for inclusion in a regular school, fight for a functional community-based curriculum, all the research and knowledge we have acquired for the last 30 years in special education–and here is Aaron in the middle of what felt like a freak show.
Even if I tried to feel some redemption about the functional shopping experience with the outcome of them making a smoothie, and even if I tried to ignore my overstepping boundaries and staying, “Just a mother.” The low expectations (click here) and lack of skills felt hopeless. All the skills that Aaron had, and now was losing.
I haven’t resolved this. The aides were good people doing a tough job. Imagine lugging 7 adults in and out of vans, and not having the funds to buy anything on a trip to the grocery?…. but my heart just breaks for Aaron. His dream plan, years and years of work–and it is like it never happened.
Children have value and hope. The adult world has no mandates, no IEPs or due process. Where are the people who certify these programs? How can these good aides have so little support and resources?
Thanks for listening, I know you don’t have the answers either. I stopped in Aaron’s day program again yesterday and the group was making lady bugs on green construction paper leaves from a pre-school activity book. Geesh!
Deep breathe, in-out-in-out.
Lady bugs are supposed to be good luck, right?
I feel like I should end with a joke or something to lighten this up, but I feel betrayed by the paid “Professionals” in our county who know better. Where are they?
Am I really supposed to just “feel grateful” that Ohio has any programs at all, and Aaron’s developmental twin in Tennessee and South Carolina are just sitting at home doing nothing?
Of course, last year was worse and at least now, Aaron is out of the crowded back room with no windows at the sheltered workshop.
He is surrounded by kind people who care about him. It could be worse. But wow, it certainly could be better.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Please chime in:
What would you have done? Would you just watch? Would you just leave Aaron and go? Would you go back to the grocery for a bottle of scotch? Any suggestions? In this jungle, what would a “normal” shopping trip look like for the people with severe disabilities? What message do you think the preschoolers got? What would be better?
If you liked this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Thanks.
Every day businesses and community groups try to influence us with logos and symbols.
Did you ever look close–really close–at some of these logos? Sometimes there are hidden messages.
How many times have you seen the Amazon logo?
Have you ever noticed the A-Z arrow? I didn’t.
Could this be a visual cue saying, “You can purchase everything from A to Z”? Not just books.
Business logos and commercials dominate the social media and we often take them for granted. But no doubt about it, they influence our attitudes.
See the 31 flavors?
What’s your first impression?
What’s your second impression?
Baskin Robbins’ logo reminds us they have 31 different flavors of ice cream—can’t you just taste the butter pecan and chocolate chip?
Are you surprised the number 31 is right there in front of you?
Did you notice?
See 2 people sharing a tostito?
Mexican flag colors, right.
But there is a whole scene right in the middle of the logo.
Do you see two people?
They are sharing chips and between them is a table with a cup of salsa.
Now that you are aware, will you notice the embedded image on every Tostito bag of chips?
Will you tell your friends?
Your actions are helping to socially construct the meaning of their logo, the meaning of Tostito’s brand–Friend to friend.
Tour de France
See the bike? Guy in yellow Tshirt?
The most famous bike race in the world, The Tour de France logo shows an action shot of a man on a bike.
See it? The R is a man bent over the yellow wheel of a bike.
What emotions do you feel?
Bet the marketing company spent hours researching the color of the t-shirt including study groups on whether the best color was blue, red or yellow.
Perhaps this ad was donated or created by a student…or a giant ad company on Fifth Avenue.
Wolf Wolfensburger spent years teaching us to be thoughtful about the images, logos and symbols we use when we market our agencies and companies that worked with people with disabilities.
He spoke of the social construction of knowledge–we are what others say we are:
“Impairment is a normal part of life. Disability is not. That is caused by our attitudes towards people who have impairments. It’s about time we accepted that wholeheartedly. Doing so is good for people who are disabled, for community and for the planet.”
Final Question: What do you see?
What do you see?
(Martha Perske, artist)
As parents and caregivers of adults with disabilities, every day we send out messages to the world.
Our neighbors, our relatives, our children and our community are watching and learning. They are socially constructing what they see based on their experiences.
Are we spreading the message that people with disabilities over 18 years old are adults—NOT children?
Are we marketing our services in unhuman images of angels, devils, elves, giants in our company names and logos?
Does a group of people with autism walking in a store blend in, or do they draw attention to themselves?
Are adults with disabilities seen as capable employees, volunteers, contributing citizens?
Or do community members see them as needy–asking for charity, or pity?
Are we promoting inclusion and normalization?
Are we teaching others what they see? how to understand?
If this was a business, what would our logo look like and what would be the embedded message?
How are we socially constructing our environment, our world?
Please share your ideas and thoughts. What message do we send on TV? in the community? What message in our personal life? What do you wish would happen?
I think wearing black would send a better message. Autism Awareness should send a plea for action NOW. We need help and resources NOW.
So, the United Nations has established April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. Great! Let’s talk about autism.
What causes Autism?
Well, no one knows for sure. The “experts” have narrowed the cause down to: environmental, biological, sensory, abuse and neglect, genetic, chemical, neurological, food…and the ever popular–it’s the parent’s fault.
So the short answer is, who knows?
Yesterday someone told me our children have autism because they don’t get enough eggs. Just add that to the list. They might be right.
I recently read a study (2013) that blames the grandparents. They conceived the parents late in life.
Don’t you love scientists–probably funded with the autism awareness fundraising, eh?
Dr. Anne Donnellan spent her career working with families and people with autism. She often says, “The more theories, the more proof that we don’t know.” She also gives her version of circular logic in Disability World.
Parent: My child keeps flapping their hands.
Doctor: Ah, that is because your child has autism.
Parent: How do you know?
Doctor: Because your child flaps their hands.
Is Autism the Greatest Gift?
Some advocates want you to think autism is the greatest thing ever. They talk about the special abilities of people on the autism spectrum and say it is only because of autism they have these talents.
Hummmm. Is that so?
Sure Temple Grandin, with a glance, can tell how many nails are needed to build a livestock yard–but is that only possible because of her autism?
Rainman could count the number of toothpicks on the floor. Is it possible there is someone else in the history of the world that could also do that?
Are we again caught in circular logic?
Parent: My child can count the number of nails or toothpicks.
Doctor: Ah, that is because your child has autism.
Parent: How do you know?
Doctor: Because your child can count the number of nails or toothpicks.
There are some people with the label of autism who can tell you the day of the week for every calendar year in recorded time.
I can’t. Probably you can’t. But, is it possible there is at least one other human being without the label of autism who can?
The Guiness Record books are full of typical folks who can do all sorts of incredible tasks.
Hurry, quick. Do we now need to give those persons the label of autism?
There are some who are going back to past genius’ and claiming they must have been autistic…Mozart must have had autism. Disney perserverated on those mouse pictures–he must have had autism….
Couldn’t Temple Grandin and Donna Williams just talented people? Isn’t it demeaning to say, “No, the individual Temple Grandin has nothing to do with it, it is only because she has autism.”
Is it possible the statistical increases in the number of people with autism is partly due to our current scientific paradigm of labeling and sorting people? And some people promoting “autistic envy”? The new figures are 1-50. One child in every fifty–and all we are doing is having Autism Awareness Day at the Philadelphia Zoo?
What is normal?
Well, turns out we don’t really know that either. Plus, we could say “normal” changes every year in every culture.
Sure we have tests, but anyone who studies IQ or other quantitative or quantitative measures will point out the flaws.
Multiple Intelligences| Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner, studied people with autism who were labeled as autistic savants (actually “idiot savants” was the term used at the time). He was able to identify at least eight different kinds of “gifts or intelligences.” Now, in every school in the world (that uses best practice) his theory of multiple intelligences helps all children learn. Gardner says each of us has all these eight intelligences, some are just more developed than others.
This is one of the side benefits of autism. Without the diagnosis of autism, the scientific community might have had a harder time making this discovery. Science needs large groups.
Could it be we all have gifts and traits of genius, gifts and traits that could be labeled as autistic? Are we all a little autistic? Are none of us “autistic” in the pure definition of wanting to be apart.
So, what’s the deal about autism? Can’t we just celebrate individual diversity?
If we really believe autism is a tremendous gift, then it would be logical for each parent to wish their child would have autism. Right?
I once went to a conference for people with Down syndrome. Everyone kept talking about how people with Down syndrome were the happiest people in the world–how glad they were to have their child in their family. They used examples like, “They will always believe in Santa.” “They are pleased when I fix them chocolate milk.”…
Using circular logic:
Parent: I want my child to be happy.
Doctor: Children with Down syndrome are happy.
Parent: Then I want my child to have Down syndrome.
So, if we want our children to be happy maybe we should try to figure out how to add an extra chromosome to every baby’s DNA.
If autism makes us gifted, maybe we should be researching how to make 100% of the population have autism–add autism magic to our babies’ lives.
This kind of thinking is just nuts, yet it is common in each area of disability. Stick around Disability World and you will hear people yearn to have the courage of people with cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, be sexy like people with cerebral palsy….
Okay, I understand some advocates are probably hyperventilating at this point. How dare I talk this way about people with autism and Down syndrome?
The person who gets joy in Santa, or in having chocolate milk is an individual. Each individual person–even if they have a label– is different.
We can love the individual–not the disability.
As family members, friends and as self-advocates, we can value the individual person’s talents, gifts, joys and sorrows. We can see them in the context of their environments–but, we don’t have to give all the power and credit to the label of disability. The individual should get the power and credit. They are the ones who are who they are.
I can love my Aaron–I don’t have to love autism.
I can see Aaron’s gifts and talents–I don’t have to think they are only because he has the label of autism.
Aaron is a loving person who makes kissing noises as I turn out the light. He smiles when I pull on the toes of his socks. He gives me hugs when I walk past him. He is patient as I try to figure out what he wants. He concentrates on his books and loves pictures. He gets excited when I come in a room. I love when he relaxes in his bath. I love when he initiates a song or going to the bathroom. I love when he figures out how to eat the cheese off my sandwich….
Aaron is unique. He adds his own version of diversity to the human family. He is a great son, brother, uncle, friend… just the way he is.
Autism sucks. Aaron doesn’t.
Autism affects each person differently.
In Aaron’s case, Autism means he can’t talk with words. It means he is 38 years old and can’t always tell when he needs to go to the bathroom. It means he has trouble making friends. It means he yells in public restaurants. It means he chews on his clothes and books and the car seats. It means he has motor difficulties and has trouble walking–crossing from the rug to a tile floor. It means he is always afraid of falling and losing his balance. It means he bites his hand to calm himself. It means it takes him a long time to learn things. It means he will forget them if he doesn’t practice them every day. It means he likes music, but not loud noises. It means he likes to be moving (in cars, buses, boats, planes…) It means he likes to swim, but not bend over. It means he can’t tie his shoes or dress himself independently…it means he cannot be left unsupervised even for a minute.
That all sucks.
I wish it was easier for him. I wish it were easier for me to help him.
But all those difficulties don’t mean I don’t love Aaron with every fiber of my being.
Each day for the last 38 years, I work to get Aaron the support he needs to live, work and recreate in his community. To allow him to be the best person he can be–For him to be able to make choices and have opportunities he wants.
There is a difference.
Dream Plans for Aaron Ulrich
I am adding our dream plan for Aaron. You can click on each of them and see I am NOT trying to cure Aaron. I am NOT trying to make him a different person. I love and respect him as the person he is.
I am NOT trying to make him the person I want him to be.
Every day Aaron teaches me about courage, love, and tolerance. But he knows he can count on me, my husband, and his brother. He knows Annie, his caregiver will do her best to look out for him. He wants a new housemate, like his former housemate Jack who will be there for him. He knows his grandma and extended family including Ana and his niece love him just the way he is.
And until our dying breaths, we will do our best to make his life happy.
No, I’m not going to inject Aaron with an extra chromosome to make sure he is happy. No, I’m not going to give this thing we call “autism” supernatural powers to dominate his life.
But I will give him opportunities to make choices about his life as best he can–in spite of “autism.”
Yes, I can Love Aaron and Hate Autism.
Autism Awareness Day Marching On
Celebrate each wonderful individual person you meet in this video.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.
All my best,
Are you sitting there thinking, “how can this mother be an advocate for people with autism?” Do these words make you upset? Do you agree? Do you think “Disability World” thinks different than “The World”? Can we separate the individual from the label?