How the ABLE Act Is Going to Help Me Succeed as a Person on the Autism Spectrum

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In the 113th Congress in 2014, both houses of Congress passed the Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, or ABLE Act for short. This piece of legislation amended Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code to create tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities.

Each state will be able to open their own ABLE savings program. An individual with a qualifying disability may save up to $14,000 annually, without losing access to means-tested benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. A maximum amount of $100,000 may be saved in an ABLE account before Social Security begins to count the amount against the asset limit for SSI. The money in these accounts may be withdrawn tax-free for use for qualifying disability expenses.

As a person who is on the autism spectrum, I want to work. I currently work part-time at Home Depot as the garden loader. Currently, I’m purposefully limiting myself to working no more than six hours a week; if I worked any longer than that, I would be at risk of losing my SSI and Medicaid benefits. SSI has a $2,000 asset limit for single disabled adults. In some states, the Medicaid asset limit is even lower than this. I am forced to choose between working more or losing access to the healthcare benefits and support I receive through Medicaid.

I saw an article late last year about Ohio’s ABLE Account program called STABLE Accounts. Ohio’s STABLE Accounts are open to anyone with a qualifying disability, nationwide, not just in Ohio. I opened my STABLE account recently, and I plan on funding it with some of the money I make from Home Depot. Next year, when I graduate with my Bachelor’s degree, I am hoping to work a lot more than I do now that I have the security of the STABLE Account.

With my STABLE Account, I am optimistic that I will be able to work at least 20 hours a week, put some of that money away in my STABLE Account, and still keep my Medicaid benefits. My STABLE Account money will be there for me when I have a disability expense that needs to be paid for. I am incredibly thankful that Congress and the Ohio Treasurer’s Office made the STABLE Accounts possible. I now know that I will be able to work, and save, and achieve the independence I’ve always dreamed of having.

Follow this journey on Michael’s Portfolio.

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Thinkstock image by Chalabala

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This Inclusive Brewery Is Serving More Than Just Beer

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The Brewability Lab brewery hires people with developmental disabilities and is accessible for both the employees and customers.

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This Inclusive Brewery Is Serving More Than Just Beer.

Opened in 2016, Brewability Lab is a brewery located in Denver, Colorado.

Tiffany Fixter, a special education teacher, developed the idea for the lab after meeting a home brewer.

The bar is designed to be accessible for both employees and customers.

The menu is color-coded to match the handles on the taps so customers can order by size and then by color.

The tap handles also have braille for those with visual impairments.

Employees use pictures and checklists for dishwashing, cleaning and other tasks.

Customers can utilize a braille menu and use sign language with their beertender, Tony.

Brewability Lab also keeps sensory items for customers and employees who need something tactile.

“Everyone comes together to support the idea that every single one of us is capable of impacting another life in some way.”  -Tiffany Fixter, Founder

“We all have an ability to share with this world and that is something to drink to!”

To learn more, visit brewabilitylab.com.

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This Cafe Is So Successful, It’s Expanding To Provide More Jobs for Those on the Spectrum

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Artistas Cafe trains and employs people on the spectrum and they plan to expand their program to include more training and job experiences in the community.

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This Cafe Is So Successful, It’s Expanding To Provide More Jobs for Those on the Spectrum.

Artistas Cafe has trained and employed those on the spectrum in Tampa Bay, Fl, since 2011.

Trainees work on developing their skills, abilities and self-confidence.

Some trainees go on to work at Artistas Cafe, receiving competitive compensation.

Other trainees are able to secure employment within other community businesses.

Due to its success, the cafe is expanding to create the Artistas Development Center.

This expansion will create more training and jobs for those on the spectrum,

And teach integration skills to local employers.

The Development Center will include a training academy, wellness center and retail program.

The retail program will provide job variety with a restaurant, gift store, art gallery and fulfilment center.

To learn more, visit artistascafe.com.

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Thank You 'Sesame Street' for a New Character on the Autism Spectrum

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My son, Leo, has been drawn to “Sesame Street” and its cast of characters from an early age.

Before autism trickled into our existence through his diagnosis.

Before the influx of new therapies.

Before the beginning school.

The show seems to be a comfort through the ups and downs of learning how to navigate his way through a world that isn’t always understanding, not only of the challenges he faces, but his extraordinary gifts as well.

Through it all, “Sesame Street” has been there, gently cradling my boy through each step of this journey. The show seems to serve a purpose expanding far beyond the realm of simple entertainment. It is the anchor that to me secures so much of what Leo holds dear — a constant source of joy and comfort he can turn to on days that aren’t so sunny. A beautiful place that gives Leo and perhaps many other children the opportunity to see the world as it should be: a haven of kindness, inclusion, and love.

Big Bird, Zoe, Cookie Monster, Elmo and the rest, are now firmly embedded into our family.

And with the addition of its newest resident, Julia, the show’s first main character with autism, I am hopeful “Sesame Street” will continue to broaden its scope of who they are able to reach, and the lives they can touch through this powerful medium.

Thank you PBS and “Sesame Street” for continuing to promote diversity and inclusiveness — and for showing Leo that he, too, is worthy of being represented, respected, cherished and loved.

Follow this journey at My Life With Leo

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Rising From the Ashes: My Journey With Autism and HSAM

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From the time I was born I’ve always felt autistic and I can remember every day of my life. As a toddler I enjoy organizing the cutlery drawer, reading the street directory and doing jigsaw puzzles. I did that so often I hardly ever played with my more “age appropriate” toys. Cuddling and showing any other form of affection has always been unnatural to me. Whenever someone tried to hug me, I screamed in fright. The same thing happened if I was given a plastic cup which was an unexpected color.

Mum strongly felt I had autism, so at the age of 6 she took me along to get assessed by a psychologist. Despite having virtually all of the classic characteristics, we were told I couldn’t be autistic due to the fact I had a separation anxiety disorder with my mum. They also said my unusual characteristics were a result of stress from my parents’ divorce and I would outgrow them all. I continued to receive psychotherapy for childhood depression, but it was treated as a temporary aid.

I struggled with school and had no extra support in the classroom. Once, I was awake until the early hours of the morning (for three nights in a row) completing an assignment. On the third night, I finally managed to complete it and went to bed smiling because I was so happy with myself. Yet, I sobbed the next day because I was given a detention for not reaching the standard which the teachers called acceptable.

At the age of 15 (in 2005) mum insisted on getting me assessed once again for autism, and this time I came out with a diagnosis. Everyone in the room was in agreement it was unfortunate this had come so late in my childhood and especially school career. Yet, we were told it was common for females to miss a diagnosis because ASD traits can express themselves differently for us.

My early adult years were the hardest of my life. I was depressed because I had no idea who I was or where my passions lay. Due to my depression, I was unable to think about my future at all. Instead, I was intensely fixated on my past.

In early 2011 my parents called me inside the house to watch a “60 Minutes” episode about a group of people who had Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM). The people in the show were able to relive every day of their life since childhood in precise detail. I thought that kind of memory was completely “normal” and I couldn’t understand why the story was describing it as incredible.

My mum and stepdad believed I too, had HSAM and asked if it was OK to send the University of California, Irvine — who were studying the people in the segment — an email. I wasn’t expecting a response because I knew our email would be one of millions, we live all the way in Australia, and I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a “lucky” person.

Amazingly, I did receive a reply in a mere two weeks.

After a variety of thorough tests, the UCI officially diagnosed me with HSAM in May 2013. I do most talks with the McGaugh/Stark lab over Skype (in the early hours of the morning Brisbane time). Occasionally I visit them in California and get to enjoy the Universal and Disney parks. Since May of 2016 the Queensland Brain Institute/University of Queensland has been doing a study of my case simultaneously.

My involvement in research has also gotten me into a few media stories. In October of 2015 “Press Association” wrote an online article about my HSAM and autism (in addition to me being so obsessed with Harry Potter that I’m able to recite the books each night to enable me to fall asleep).

Little did I know within six hours that story went viral worldwide, and all throughout the next day media were contacting me from everywhere. “Good Morning Britain” decided to have me featured on their show, so my family and I were told to be at our local television station in just a few hours time. The story aired via a cross-studio broadcast. I was also featured on “Channel Seven News” here in Australia and “Sunrise.”

I must mention here live television is terrifying beforehand but feels great while on air and afterward (much the same as how HSAM research tests and public talks at seminars feel to me).

There have also been a fair few magazine stories I’ve been in, including “Woman’s Day,” “Take 5,” “Logan Magazine” and “Real People UK.” When it comes to newspaper articles, the list is enormous. Many newspapers from around the world picked up on the “Press Association” story, and it’s been featured in articles of — literally — every language.

Most recently I was featured in a “60 Minutes Australia” story alongside another participant in the UCI’s HSAM research study, Markie Pasternak. Part of the epsiode was filmed in my house, and the other half was filmed in the United States. This included footage of me at the University of California Irvine, and also at the new Harry Potter park at Universal Hollywood.

As a career, I blog for a company called “SpecialKids.Company.” In addition to making and selling purpose-made clothes for children with disabilities, they also provide written support for people of all ages with disabilities (including autism). I’m also doing public talks on the topics of human memory, autism and anxiety.

I can be found on Facebook under “Teens and Adults on the Autism Spectrum.” At this moment we’re an online support group where our family shares articles, posts news, and I myself do monthly webinars. We’re hoping our community will eventually grow further so we can expand our support into the offline world. Our content is 100% G-Rated. Though our main focus is to help autistic people in the age groups who get overlooked in mainstream funding.

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