How a High School Musical Gave My Autistic Son a Stage

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This was the toddler who could not wear hats or mittens and who struggled with the change of seasons because that meant wearing different or new clothes. The little boy who wore the same doctor’s costume (shirt only) for three Halloweens in a row because costumes and change were terrifying.

This was the elementary student who sat alone at lunch and stood by the door at recess afraid of thunderstorms, bugs and the possibility of an ill-fated social encounter. This was the middle schooler who almost didn’t audition for Chambers Singers because it was new and taking risks was difficult for him to handle. The middle schooler who couldn’t wear cargo shorts and khaki pants like other kids because his body just wouldn’t allow it. This was a new high school freshman who felt like he was invisible and that no one knew he existed within the walls of his high school.

This is a teenager who still worries about taking risks (because sometimes things don’t go as you plan), but overcame that worry and took a risk by auditioning for his high school musical where he has never danced a step in his life. A teenager who once felt like he didn’t belong yet now declares his fellow cast members family.” A teenager who told his directors and his parents that he has “never felt so confident and proud of himself in his entire life” as he did tonight on that stage taking risks.

This is my autistic son.

Crushing stereotypes, destroying fallacies, proving “experts” wrong and showing every single person on that stage and in that audience the real meaning behind “different, not less.”

The most important person he proved that to, was himself.

The lady clinging to this teenager is his mother. A mother who felt her face would crack from smiling every time he walked onto that stage. A mother who remembers the toddler who struggled with change, the little boy who was so worried and anxious, the middle schooler who wanted to find his place, and the new freshman who felt so isolated. A mother who now sees a teenager demonstrating confidence, pride and joy in a way the two of them once only dreamed about, by taking a risk, by stepping way outside his comfort zone and by believing in himself.

Mother and son hugging, with son in costume from school play

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

Follow this journey on The AWEnesty of Autism.

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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.

Read the full transcript:

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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KultureCity Creates Free lifeBOKS Program for Kids With Autism Who Wander

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KultureCity’s lifeBOKS program gives families whose children are on the autism spectrum four items designed to prevent wandering and drowning.

Read the full version of KultureCity Creates Free lifeBOKS Program for Kids With Autism Who Wander.

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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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