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Regions Bank Has More Than 1,500 Autism-Friendly Branches

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More and more companies are embracing sensory-friendly events and autism-inclusive programs, including Regions Bank. The Alabama-based banking company recently rolled out a company-wide initiative to more than 1,500 branches across 15 states to better accommodate those on the spectrum, as well as their families.

To provide autistic individuals a better experience, each branch offers a designated quiet area and provides complimentary sensory packs to those who request them. Each pack includes a pair of earbuds, a stress ball and sunglasses. The packs are made by the nonprofit organization Workshops, Inc., which employs adults living with developmental disabilities.

Regions also created an informational training video for its bank employees to provide education and awareness. The video features communication tips from autism experts at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Sarah O’Kelley, Ph.D., a clinician at the University of Alabama, Birmingham’s Civitan-Sparks Autism Clinic and Department of Psychology, who worked with Regions on developing its program, said:

One of the best things associates can do to be more autism-friendly is to show tolerance and understanding for those who may respond to the social and sensory aspects of the banking experience differently. Some of the symptoms of autism may seem unusual to people without experience with this diagnosis, but being clear and direct with a person with autism and letting that person know what you’re thinking can be very helpful.

The program started in 2016 after the Autism Society of Alabama reached out to Regions Bank to see if it would be interested in starting an autism-friendly initiative. A pilot program began locally in July 2016 and was expanded to Regions’ more than 1,500 branches in April during Autism Awareness Month. Participating branches are spread throughout Regions’ 15-state footprint: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Lousiana, Mississipi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

“In just listening, it was obvious that this was a group of individuals who have been underserved and not always welcomed in a place of business,” Americans with Disabilities Act Manager for Regions Kathy Lovell told The Mighty. “We’re reaching out to let them know we do value their business and are looking for ways we can enhance it.”

According to Lovell, feedback for the program has been positive, not just from customers but from bank employees as well. Regions hopes to further improve its initiative by offering additional services for autistic children and adults. This will hopefully include, Lovell said, a series of social stories around banking, covering opening an account, online banking, financial literacy and writing checks.

“Based on our research, we have not found any other bank that is doing this,” Veleka Finch, Regions’ vice president of corporate communications, said in response to the idea that Regions is the first autism-friendly bank. “The Autism Society also supports that, but we have not found another bank on record to do this.”

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Speaking Up About the Proposed Budget Cuts as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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I grew up in a family with three sisters; I was the only boy. When I was very little, I often wished I had a big brother. I always imagined this bigger brother would stand up for me and defend me from the other kids in my life who bullied me. As time grew on, this position was filled by my older sister who stood up for me when I was in school. As I got to be older, I had various friends and my parents who stood up for me as well. All my life I have been used to other people speaking up for me instead of doing it myself.

President Trump recently released his budget proposal. The President’s budget cuts Medicaid by $1.4 trillion over 10 years. It also reduces Supplemental Security Income (SSI) spending. Both Medicaid and SSI are important programs to people like me on the autism spectrum. Medicaid is more than just a health plan; it provides home and community services that can help autistic people live independently in the community. The cuts to Medicaid proposed in the President’s budget will lead to unacceptable reductions in services to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Medicaid benefits like home and community services are optional, meaning states do not have to cover them. If Congress passes the President’s Medicaid cuts, many states may choose to stop covering these optional services, which will put disabled people at risk of losing these services.

SSI is also an important tool because it provides cash assistance to disabled people, and elderly people living below the poverty line, and can be used for rent, food, utilities and other expenses. Receiving SSI qualifies disabled people for Medicaid in most states. It is important to protect SSI funding because it is linked to Medicaid coverage.

President Trump’s budget contains cuts to these critical programs that help autistic people live independently. In light of these cuts, who will speak up for me and other people on the spectrum? I’ve come to realize that the time has come for me to become my own self-advocate and speak up for myself. In my capacity as an American citizen, I’ve been writing emails to my Congressman and Senators about why Medicaid and SSI are such important programs for autistic people like me. Becoming my own self-advocate and a disability rights activist will help bring public attention to the fact that Trump’s proposed budget cuts will hurt people with autism. The more public attention we bring to the President’s budget, the greater chance we have of swaying Congress to oppose, or at least reduce, the amount of cuts proposed.

As a self-advocate, I am not planning on reducing my pressure on Congress anytime soon. I want them to know that disability services need to be protected and fully funded. I believe the deep cuts proposed in the President’s budget to Medicaid are unacceptable and must not be allowed to pass. I am very encouraged now, because standing up for myself now means my voice will be heard, and that my opinions as an American matter. I would encourage every autistic person and neurotypical ally to find their voices as well, and stand up for disability rights.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

 

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Dad With Autism Creates Autcraft, a Safe Minecraft Server for Those on the Spectrum

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When Stuart Duncan started Autcraft, a private Minecraft server for people on the autism spectrum, he had no idea it would become the community it is today. With more than 8,200 members, Autcraft lets children and adults on the autism spectrum play Minecraft in a judgment- and troll-free space.

Autcraft started in 2013 after Duncan noticed parents of children on the spectrum were looking for safe spaces where their children could play the game. “It turned out that their children were being bullied on public servers because they behaved a little differently and were easily angered,” Duncan, who goes by the username AutismFather, told The Mighty. “So, having a background in web development and a love for Minecraft, not to mention the fact that I have Asperger’s myself and my oldest son has autism too, I decided to get my own server and give those people a safe place to play.”

The goal of Autcraft is to provide safety. Prospective users must submit an application to join the community. Adults and children on the autism spectrum, as well as their families, are welcome to join. All users are required to follow a set of community rules which prohibit bullying, killing, stealing, griefing and swearing. Autcraft is free to join but accepts donations as a way of covering its overhead.

While Duncan does a good job ensuring Autcraft players are safe — two trolls who recently made it through the screening process were kicked off the platform within minutes of their harmful actions — he encourages parents to be active in their children’s online activities. “Be there. Be involved. I can’t express it strongly enough how much I push parents to join in with their kids and play,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you understand what is going on or not, you’ll learn. Just be a part of what they’re doing. Not only is it the most amazing bonding experience ever but you are able to monitor their online time as well.”

With members logging in from more than 140 countries, running Autcraft is a commitment Duncan takes seriously — so seriously, he quit his full-time job to run the server. “Honestly, I’m a guy who wanted to help,” Duncan said. “I have no Ph.D. or formal education in disabilities or therapies or anything like that. And yet, I feel very successful in what I’ve accomplished because I’ve seen children go from being shy and quiet to making friends, and then off to making friends in the real world and finally to getting their first job.”

This growth is a testament to the community Autcraft provides. “The players are the community,” he added. “It’s not just me or any other single person. It’s everyone, and we’ve all grown to support and encourage and even celebrate each other. We all know what it feels like to be alone or to be hurt and we all want to make sure that no one else feels that way.”

What Duncan has witnessed of the Autcraft community is more than just observations. A study conducted in 2016, which won the Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing’s award for “Best Paper,” found that Autcraft helps people on the autism spectrum internally self-regulate and externally manage their engagement with others.

As for the future of Autcraft, Duncan says he’d never leave the community behind and hopes to add more game types and servers. “What I’d hope is simply to inspire other people to do as much as I have or more,” he added. “Surely there are smarter, better educated and wealthier people out there that can replicate and even improve on everything I’ve done.”

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When No One Listened to Me, I Found My Own Voice

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Age 18 can bring so many different opportunities and new avenues to go down because you are officially an adult. To me that meant university. I had been told that university would be so many things, but what no one told me was that university is lonely. You are suddenly an adult. You are in charge of everything about yourself. I had been told by doctors for seven years now that I had a mental illness of some form or another, so I believed them. I believed I needed medication and took it but wondered why it made no difference to my mood (good or bad). But who was I to question the experts?

I began self-harming at 18. I have some clear memories of the time at university of me wondering what was going on. Wondering why I didn’t seem to be getting fixed in the way that the doctors said each round of medication would. I agreed to try a counselor again at 18. Each time I would go to see someone, I talked through my history, tried to make them see that “no, nothing happened to me as a child” and that “no I don’t have a traumatic memory I am bottling up and need to tell you” and then they would say they disagreed with me but that they would need to pass me to someone else who was more specialized in people like me. Eighteen is so magical for me because from GP to final psychiatrist, in these five years I saw 18 people (and no I am not making that number up for effect or exaggeration. It happened).

Eighteen is so magical for me because at 18 I got an adult voice. I could say when I wanted something or when I wanted to go somewhere, and I could make it happen. So when I felt suicidal and was scared, I went to A&E. I knew I had to be responsible for myself, so I went. I went there and was asked, “Well what do you want us to do?” to which I didn’t know. I was just doing what I had been told to do in this situation. At 18 I suddenly realized when it came to my medical care, I didn’t know very much but knew I had to find some answers soon because I was now in a place where it was down to me as an 18-year-old to figure it out.

I left that city and began a passion for the career that to this day I am still doing. A long-term relationship broke down because he couldn’t deal with my illness anymore despite the fact that I had been honest from the very beginning (you can’t hide issues with food, body image, no eyebrows or eyelashes or scars on your arm and legs for very long). I was still seeing someone for my mental health every so often, still taking medication, still doing everything they told me to. Then came a crisis. I saw a lead consultant psychiatrist with my mum (who throughout this has only ever been loving, supportive and helped in every way she possible could be and can be) and we sat there while I was told I had BPD (borderline personality disorder) and that there was no hope. There was no cure. There was nothing she could do for me. There was no medication I could take.

I put her on the spot. I was the person over 18 taking the medication and going through this and I wanted answers to why they didn’t seem to do anything. Her response was, “Well, just stop then.” I was so angry I burst into tears, every ounce of frustration and upset came out in that moment. She had given up on me. My mum got angry. She demanded to know what options there were then. I didn’t know what to say and I shut down. Mum took over the talking and basically got the psychiatrist to discharge me. She was not interested in it anymore. We would work on this as a family. So we did. I went back to my GP who suggested a new medication that was in the family of another that had looked like it had worked so it would be worth trying. Again I agreed. I kept taking the medication even though I didn’t see any benefit.

Fast forward a little and its 2014. I took an overdose. I don’t know why because I don’t remember it. I remember two days later having a hospital bracelet on but was in my own bed. A frantic phone call to Mum and she filled me in. Eighteen months later I did the same thing again. This time I agreed to a stay on a psychiatric ward for a few days. I didn’t know it would be more than a couple of days. Yet again they were fixated on “fixing” me. To be honest that attitude had never gone away completely. I always felt that anyone within the medical world wanted to put a label on me, fix it, and then with a happy smile say the label had gone away.

Eighteen months ago I decided that I had had enough of this. I had spent my entire life it seemed being “fixed” by the NHS and nothing had ever really changed. I felt that I had done a lot but missed out on so much, too. I didn’t feel I had what my friends had. I wanted so much and felt that by listening to others I had not done what had been important to me.

So I decided to find my voice. I looked up all the things I felt made me different. Odd. Weird. Whatever word you want to put on it. Those quirks must be linked to something. They had to. I couldn’t possibly be the only one like me in the world. I found this one thing that seemed to fit. It was me. Right there on paper. The quirks and uniqueness that made me “me” was right there and someone else was saying it was them. Then another person. Then another. And another. And another. Suddenly it appeared there was a whole heap of us. Then it dawned on me.

I’m Autistic!

So I went back to my psychiatrist. I still had to see someone once a month for my mental health to check in with them. I said, “I’m not ill. I’m autistic and I want to see someone to prove it.”

Friday, December 2, 2016 was they day it happened. The phone call to say “Aimee. You’re autistic.”

The thing I want to say is this. You have a voice. Being 18 is daunting, an adult in the wide world and for some that is scary. If you, like me, feel different in the world then I implore you to read. Use the internet. Search a word or a phrase to see if there is someone like you. There will be someone, somewhere in the world. Being Autistic is brilliant. I am still learning to accept it and be OK with the way I have to do things because of how my brain is wired. The truth though is that I am happier now than I have ever been. I am me. I am only me. I am who I always was and always will be. Being Autistic is in me, it defines who I am and how I am. I cannot get rid of it nor do I want to. It is brilliant being me.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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When 'Passing' Means No One Believes I'm Autistic

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I love clothes. I invest a lot of time into my “look.” I am, by no means, any kind of comparison to a supermodel, but I care about what I look like. I find clothes I feel represent my quirky, flamboyant self, and I present as a confident, put-together person. I like to dress up; it gets me ready to conquer the day ahead. But somehow, this confuses the general public when I suddenly reveal I’m Autistic and have several mental health conditions.

When I was a child, my parents felt a lot of pressure to present me in a way that didn’t make me stand out more than I already did. Trust me, I get it. If I were a parent, and my kid was going to run away, cause problems in classes, and be seen as overall disruptive and misunderstood, then at least I could dress them up nicely. No one can fully hate your kid if they are dressed in adorable clothes, right? Clothes were something that could be controlled when my behavior and sensory difficulties could not be. Physically being able to blend in was the constant desire for both my parents and I.

No one believes me when I tell them I am Autistic. For some reason, it always comes off as a shock. Originally taken as a compliment, I thrived being told no one would ever be able to tell… until an incident happened, and that same person is then thrown off and doesn’t understand why I’d act a certain way… an “autistic” way. My outer-appearance is then no longer my safety net when trying to “pass” as neurotypical. My autistic, anxious, and ADD tendencies tend to make people very upset at me, because they don’t see it coming. Someone seemingly “normal” has just had some kind of episode and all credibility has gone to hell in their eyes. Story of my life.

This is not to say I do not discuss my autism, anxiety, or ADD. I have learned to be pretty open about it, hoping it will help people be more understanding of a trigger going off, or if I experience sensory overload. But I try not to broadcast it to the world the second I meet someone. I shouldn’t have to in order to convenience others. It really is, at the end of the day, no one’s business… that is, until, it is someone’s business (such as in a work environment, or school, or dating, etc.). Then, if I didn’t explain beforehand, I will get very rash, judgmental reactions because there wasn’t a prior knowledge of my disability. Oh, the struggle is so, so real.

There is a unique psychology behind how people with disabilities are perceived. There is often a stigma that disabilities are supposed to be visually identifiable. Society makes judgments about people’s economic, social, and mental health status based on how they dress and present themselves. So when someone sees me having a hard time, there is often a mental disconnect. “Someone like her couldn’t possibly be acting like that right now… what is wrong with her?” Caring about my appearance has caused a loophole in my believability. I spend more time proving I am disabled than I do proving my capabilities (which is its own kind of battle).

When I tell you I have these conditions and you say you don’t believe me, that isn’t a compliment. I don’t need to hear your surprise. I don’t need to be told that “no one would ever guess.” Because yes, they wouldn’t, and it sucks when they don’t at the same time. Being misunderstood is shaming. I am shamed when I have a panic attack. I am shamed when I don’t pay enough attention when expected to retain information by ear. I am shamed when I need repeated instructions, or need an extension on an assignment, or when the lights or sounds in the room are too bright and I need to leave. I cause deeper frustration for people because I don’t “appear” to need help.

As much as I hate admitting it and asking for it, I sometimes need help. I need to be listened to when trying to explain the different ways I function. I need to be heard. I don’t need you to necessarily “get it.” I don’t fully understand the way you work because I am not you. I can still acknowledge and accommodate your needs, but that doesn’t mean I know what it is like all the time. The way I dress should not be a substitute for knowledge of my conditions. I should be able to present however I want without being looked at weirdly because I am different mentally.

People with disabilities are not ugly. There isn’t a “look” to my mental health. I can not wear make-up and still be respected just the same as if I wear make-up. Society needs to stop judging with their eyes and love and understand from having an open mind — and ear.

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My Boy Displayed Signs of Being on the Autism Spectrum as a Baby

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On a crisp, cool morning almost 16 years ago, my husband, Brad, and I left our home as a couple. When we returned, we were a family of three. Gray made me a mommy, and while I know it’s cliché, my heart and life have never been the same. And I wouldn’t want them to be.

He was 8 pounds 9 ounces of a quiet, contemplative baby. He liked to be held and look around with his big blue eyes. The hospital staff referred to him as “the sweet baby.” There was one nurse who called him the “poop master,” but that’s a different story.

We were discharged with our quiet, sweet boy and drove home so very, very carefully. Brad winced every time another car came within sight, I sat in the back so I could protect my boy. He slept through the whole thing. Soundly.

We arrived back at our condo, took some pictures of his homecoming, and then opened the door and entered our Christmas wonderland of a home. We had spent the entire weekend before his birth decorating and it was spotless. Within two hours of our homecoming, we had a pile of dirty diapers and dirty laundry covered in spit-up in the middle of the living room floor. Hospital bags, paperwork, cups, remnants of snacks and meals covered every surface. Which is how it would remain for the next 10 years, minus the poop and spit-up laundry.

Our quiet, contemplative boy turned into a screaming baby who could not be comforted. Unless, by chance, one of his exhausted parents gathered the strength to march him around the house. And we had to march, because regular walking didn’t help him.

He had trouble nursing, he’d latch on and gulp but immediately fell asleep, then he’d wake up 10 minutes later crying because he was hungry. This happened 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Finally, he lost so much weight his pediatrician insisted we supplement nursing with formula. He preferred the bottle and quit nursing, but was able to put on weight.

Despite the difficulties of having a baby who cries a lot, we were smitten. In love. We adored him and could look at him for hours on end. And we did, because he was so perfect and beautiful.

But he was also perplexing. The baby books said he would enjoy gazing at us, that even at a few days old he would try to imitate facial expressions and respond to us. But our baby didn’t focus on our faces, he stared at lights and white spaces.

When his doctor mentioned at his 2 month checkup this was such a fun age because of the cooing and vocalizations, I was alarmed. He hadn’t done that.

As he grew, he did begin to interact with us, but he seemed fretful and small things could upset him.

When he was almost a year, we saw him display some behaviors that worried me, I didn’t know what I was seeing. I didn’t know these were all signs of autism, and my beautiful boy was going to have to work so much harder to fit into this world.

There are many other stories I could tell, many things he has faced and overcome. He’s come farther than I could have dreamed when interacting with others.

But I could never have anticipated what a funny, sweet and thoughtful young man my son has become. He loves people and always thinks the best of them. His love has changed me and made me a much better mom, but more importantly, a much better person. I am incredibly proud of my son, for who he is and what he has accomplished.

And if you are a momma who’s terrified because your baby won’t look at you, won’t interact, bangs his head or has other puzzling behaviors, take heart. It’s hard work, it might feel impossible sometimes and exhausting and some challenges feel heart-breaking, but there is hope. Keep on.

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