TIPS Serves Adults with Autism

tips-167Serving others is obviously important to members of the Triangle Indian-American Physicians Society (TIPS); they are, after all, in health care. But serving outside of their chosen careers is also important to them. For years, members have volunteered their efforts and expertise at free clinics all around the Triangle and at a yearly free screening.

 

Three years ago, TIPS wanted to give back to the local community in a different way. They worked with friends and local business leaders to research charities and decided the Autism Society of North Carolina had the kind of impact they were seeking.

 

“ASNC has been the leader in helping not only families but adults with autism. Some of the success stories of adults being able to be a functioning part of our society really hits close to home,” a TIPS board statement said. “We as health-care providers are always trying to make a positive impact on patients, and we feel ASNC also is doing the same for people living with autism in our state.”

 

Several TIPS members have loved ones with autism and others frequently work closely with patients with autism as in their health-care practices. In addition, ASNC has supported multiple adults with autism who have gained meaningful employment at one member’s local Raleigh pharmacy.

 

TIPS has held three events to benefit ASNC: two golf tournaments and a gala with live and silent auctions. These events raised close to $100,000 to benefit ASNC’s Employment Supports department, which enables adults with autism to become contributing members of society and feel a part of the communities in which they live.

 

The events also brought in hundreds of attendees, raising awareness of autism in the community, a success that the TIPS board notes is immeasurable.

 

tips-133Kristy White, Chief Development Officer, praised the dedication and time that the members of TIPS put into their events to give adults with autism full and meaningful lives. “I think it is so remarkable what they give on a daily basis through their work, and then to do this for us in their spare time. They spend every moment making a difference in each and every life.”

 

We are grateful for the partnership of TIPS and excited to see its future!

 

The TIPS board stated, “We hope to continue to raise awareness about autism professionally as well as socially in the surrounding communities, and hope to keep hosting these great events to raise the much-needed funds to keep this program running and helping empower adults with autism.”

Supported Employment Brings Fulfillment

2014-11-07-adamricci-003-terry-hamletEditor’s note: This article previously appeared in ASNC’s Spectrum magazine.

David Roth’s parents never have to wake him up in the morning or push him to get out the door on time for his job. The 27-year-old with autism works at the Courtyard in Chapel Hill, mostly in the fast-paced, physically demanding laundry, but he is always happy to go.

“He loves to work. He absolutely loves it,” said his mother, Susan Roth.

David started working at the hotel when he was still in high school. It was a volunteer position, facilitated through East Chapel Hill High School, where the young man was having some behavioral issues when he was made to do things he did not want to do. “He was absolutely the happiest when he was out in the community and especially when he was at his job,” Susan said.

Now, almost a decade later, David holds a paying position at the Courtyard along with two other part-time jobs, with the support of an employment supports instructor from the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC). His mother says the jobs have helped him learn how to interact with other people, provided the consistent schedule that he needs, and given him pride and a sense of accomplishment. They have even improved his reading skills because he is interested in reading about his job duties as opposed to school topics.

Lorraine La Pointe’s 25-year-old son with autism, Adam Ricci, also holds several part-time jobs. She says they have “opened up his circle”; when she is with him in the community, he always sees someone he knows. She also noticed that Adam has recently matured. “I think it really has changed him.”

Kathryn Lane, who is Adam’s employment supports instructor through ASNC, agrees, saying that Adam is calmer on the job than at other times. Having a job has also taught him responsibility as it requires him to be punctual, have clean, neat clothing, and manage his time as he completes tasks, she said.

“Seeing the progress is really rewarding for me,” Kathryn said. “The goal is to make him independent someday.”

For individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), meaningful employment is a key part of a fulfilling life, but studies have shown that as many as eight out of 10 are unemployed or underemployed. David Ingram, ASNC Employment Supports Director, said that individuals with ASD improve their odds of obtaining integrated employment 400% through using job placement services from an organization such as ASNC while using Vocational Rehabilitation supports.

Businesses giving back

2014-11-07-adamricci-004From the employers’ viewpoint, providing job opportunities for individuals with autism is a win-win situation.

“The benefits that we have with David … it actually keeps us humble, grounded, and grateful,” said Lisa Giannini-White, the Director of Operations of Southpoint Animal Hospital in Durham, where David Roth works in the afternoons. “We thoroughly enjoy having David here.”

Terry Hamlet is President of S.H. Basnight and Sons, a small Hillsborough company that makes specialty hardware, doors, and frames. Terry said she and her employees benefit from working with Adam and another employee with autism. “I think that at the core of each person, they like the idea of doing something for other people. I think that in some way, that is happening here,” Terry said. “Hopefully they can feel good about the fact that they work for people who care enough about other people to give them an opportunity.”

Lisa said it was a part of Southpoint Animal Hospital’s original business plan to “offer opportunities to everybody.” Before David came to work for them, she did research about how to support individuals with autism and also consulted with his father about David in particular. When she talked to her employees about bringing David on, they were all for it, she said, and so she shared what she had learned.

Valued employees

But it’s not just about a feeling they are doing good; David is a valued employee, a consistent team player with great attention to detail, Lisa said. “He helps others see that well, gosh, I guess I could be more detailed, or I guess I could be a little bit of a harder worker.”

Alex Griffin also brings strong attention to detail to his position at the Center for Urban Affairs and Community Services (CUACS) at NC State University. Alex, a 30-year-old with high-functioning autism, does not need the assistance of an employment supports instructor, but he did participate in ASNC’s JobTIPS program, which emphasizes the development of social skills that are critical to identifying, applying for, securing, and maintaining employment. The group facilitator provides coaching and feedback for job interviews, encourages peer interaction, and helps members develop a broader community network.

Sheila Brown, Alex’s supervisor, said he does not really need supports at CUACS and performs well in a variety of duties. “He’s got a great attitude, and everything he’s done for us he’s done very well, very thoroughly,” she said. The reviews of assessments and testing that their work group do can be tedious and require a lot of attention, and Alex has found things they might have missed, she said. He also is very responsive to feedback and happy to do anything that is asked of him.

Alex said he would like all employers to know that “our value as employees isn’t overshadowed by the minor cost of accommodation.”

David Ingram said, “Individuals with disabilities, including ASD, experience less turnover than nondisabled individuals, allow access to numerous tax incentives, and return an average of $28.69 for each dollar invested in accommodations. Individuals with disabilities and their networks represent a $3 trillion market segment, and 87% of customers prefer to patronize businesses that hire employees with disabilities. I’m excited to see businesses starting to understand the value in hiring workers on the autism spectrum and contact us seeking support in placing someone with ASD with their corporation.”

Supporting the workers

2014-11-07-adamricci-007S.H. Basnight and Sons’ employees with autism are productive parts of the business because Terry matched tasks that the company needed to have done with their skills, just as she would with any employee, she said. Having patience and teaching how to complete tasks properly is necessary with any worker, she said. “There is no employee ever that is totally easy. The key is to work with people to help them do things correctly.”

“It’s very important for everybody – it’s important with our children, it’s important with our co-workers, it’s important in our businesses – when there is a weakness, to help that person develop that.”

Adam’s mother, Lorraine La Pointe, said Basnight has done an “amazing” job of supporting him. “They are just naturals. He operates on a visual schedule, and they have magnetic boards set up for his tasks. They are just on it.”

The visual task boards give Adam the opportunity to choose the order in which they will do the tasks for that day as well the independence to move from one task to another, Terry said. At Southpoint Animal Hospital, Lisa also set up visual supports for David, such as laminated sheets showing his duties in the restrooms.

Terry also said that employment supports instructors are a key to success for individuals with autism. With the job coaches supporting their clients well, there is more potential for growth in the job. Kathryn Lane, who has worked with Adam since July, said she has seen that; he has started recognizing more details at his job and times that tasks were not done correctly.

Part of the team

For employees without onsite support staff, many issues can be avoided with just a little research about autism and the employee in particular, said Sheila Brown, Alex Griffin’s supervisor at NC State. “We tend to have a stereotypical picture of what autism is, but it’s really more what autism is not,” she said. “Just be open, trying to make sure that the person is comfortable with what you’re asking them to do until they feel a comfort level with you and your staff.”

Adam feels very comfortable with his Basnight co-workers and Terry Hamlet; when he sees her in public, he greets her with a hug. She said they strive to make him a part of their team. Adam’s mother said they have gone a step further, including him in parties for holidays and birthdays; “they treat him like family.”

Terry says the effort was worth it.

“My life and the life of our company is richer for having had them here. I really believe that.”

For more information about Employment Supports, please go to www.autismsociety-nc.org/employmentsupports

Public Policy Update: Some Bills Survived “Crossover” and Some Did Not

NC House Chamber

As I mentioned in my previous blog posting, the week of May 10th to 14th at the General Assembly was crossover,  a “do or die” week for policy bills introduced in the legislative long session. Simplified: bills that pass one chamber, either the NC House or the NC Senate, stay “alive” and can be voted on by the other chamber either this year or next year during the short session, and have the possibility of becoming state law.  Bills which affect the state budget (they require funding or they affect tax revenue) are NOT subject to the crossover deadline and can be considered anytime.  Below is some information about bills that survived and ones that did not which would affect people with autism and other developmental disorders. You can check out a full list of the non-appropriations non-revenue bills that made crossover, as well as the House and Senate rules for crossover in a memo on the NCGA website.

Bills highlighted in green are on the ASNC policy agenda and ASNC is actively working to pass them. Other bills on the list are being monitored because they affect children and adults on the autism spectrum.

Alive

[Bills that met the deadline OR affect the state budget and are not subject to crossover]

Insurance:

H 498Autism Health Insurance Coverage –  Read about the autism insurance bill passing the House in our previous blog. The bill is in the Senate Insurance Committee. Write or call your NC general Assembly Senator to ask for their support.  Find out who represents you in the NC Senate by looking at the district map second from the top.

Education:

H 269Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grants – This legislation would fund a scholarship program modeled on the existing child with a disability education tax credit, known as H 344. Legislators and advocates expect that the tax credit program will end under proposals for tax reform and have proposed this scholarship program to replace the existing tax credit. Families to apply for a grant of up to $3,000 per semester for children with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) who move from a public school to a private or home school. Students would need to have been in a public school for at least one semester, or have had an IEP in pre-school before entering kindergarten.  The legislation would initially fund about 600 scholarships each year. Legislators and advocates expect that the tax credit program will end under proposals for tax reform. The bill passed the House and is currently in the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee.

H 469 – Education Budget Flexibility – Much of this bill is likely to end up in Senate and House versions of the budget. It would allow local education authorities (school systems) more flexibility in deciding how to use state education funds, including reducing the numbers of teaching assistants. The bill requires schools not to change funding related to special education, but with many students with IEPs now in mainstream classrooms, the reduction of teaching assistants directly impacts the inclusion of students with disabilities in classrooms.  As one advocate put it, “Teaching assistants are not optional for special education students.”

H 587 – Occupational Course of Study/ Extended Course of Study  no ACT – The bill ends the requirement for students enrolled in Occupational Course of Study or Extended Course of Study to take the ACT Test if they do not score at or above on end of grade tests and have parental permission.  Passed the House and currently in Senate Education/Higher education Committee.  ASNC supports the option to remove the requirement for OCS and ECS students to take the ACT.

H 719 – Education Improvement Act – This bill does a number of things, but is mainly focused on changing teacher tenure, new ways to assess teacher performance and assessing school performance. ASNC does not have a position on the bill but is monitoring to make sure that any impact on students with special needs is considered as the bill is debated.  Parents of students with autism have long looked for ways to determine which programs in their district are well performing, and while the bill does not specifically address this, it could be a step towards allowing families to better assess which schools will work for their child.

H 731Vocational Training/Persons with IDD (Study Bill) – This legislation will be rolled into H 718 “Study Issues in Education.” It allows the Education Oversight  Committee to study model programs for people with intellectual disabilities to participate in vocational education, higher education and become more job/career prepared following high school.  This bill is part of our efforts to begin addressing the significant problem of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities being permanently employed by highlighting good programs and policies that have employment as an outcome.

H 838 – Exceptional Children’s Services/ Study – Sets up a Commission to Study the Provision of Exceptional Children’s Services in the North Carolina Public Schools and examines reporting and oversight of exceptional children’s services including student performance assessments, class size, costs to educate students with disabilities and reporting requirements for exceptional children’s services.  The Study bill passed the House and is currently in Senate Rules Committee. ASNC supports looking at Special education and finding ways to improve outcomes for special education students, especially those on the autism spectrum.

S 374 – School Flexibility – while not exactly the same this bill is very similar to H 469 above and provisions of it have been rolled into the Senate’s proposed budget.

S 516  – Public School Regulatory Reform – This bill eliminates some of the required reporting by schools and sets up a study on special education, similar to H 838. The bill has passed the Senate and has been referred to House Education.

School Safety:

H 452 – 2013 School Safety Act – The bill addresses several aspects of school safety including requiring schools to hold safety drills, provide school blueprints/schematics to law enforcement agencies, established a state tip lines, adds school safety to school improvement plans, and allows schools to develop volunteer school safety resource officer programs in conjunction with the sheriff’s department. Schools often do not address students with disabilities in school safety planning, in practice drills and in staff and law enforcement training. Advocates are working to improve the bill to specifically talk about students with disabilities. The bill has passed the House and is in Senate Education/Higher Education.

S 361 – Excellent Schools Act – Since this legislation impacts the budget, it remains alive. Some aspects of the legislation have already been put into the Senate’s version of the budget. The full bill would move student end of grade testing to the final 10 days of the semester, change teacher licensing to require more rigorous standards for continuing to teach, change the performance system for schools to incorporate student performance growth,  remove teacher tenure and allow for more rapid removal of low performing teachers and administrators in low performing schools.

Services, Supports, and Medicaid:

H 867Medicaid County of Residence – Removes outdated requirement for people on Medicaid to remain tied to their original county of residence when they applied for Medicaid.  This county of residence issue is preventing people from accessing services in our statewide Medicaid system. Passage of the bill would mean that CAP/Innovations wavier slots would be portable and people could move to the county of their choosing without losing their services. The bill has passed the House and is in the Senate health committee.

Guardianship Bills

H 543 – MHDDSA Providers as Uncompensated Guardians – Current regulations prohibit providers from serving as guardians of the person since it is generally a conflict of interest. This bill grandfathers in several uncompensated guardians who are providers of mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse (MHDDSA) services whom the court appointed guardianship to when there were no other reasonable options. The bill passed the House and is currently in the Senate Committee on Health. There is also a Senate bill, S 573 MHDDSA Providers/Guardianship Issues that would clarify that MHDDSA providers and Local Management Entities (LMEs) could not be appointed corporate guardians and that caregivers, such as foster families, could be guardians. Because the Senate bill did not make crossover, it seems likely that the House and Senate would combine bill language during the committee hearing process so that all issues would be addressed. 

Voting:

H 589 – Voter Information Verification Act – This bill would require identification to vote in North Carolina elections.  Disability advocates worked with bill sponsors to make accommodations for voters with disabilities: people can get a free state ID through the DMV and get assistance in getting a birth certificate if you need one (another bill would help home-bound individuals get ID as well), people with disabilities who cannot get into the voting site can vote curbside with state issued ID or other documents, and the ID requirements are phased in over 3 years to allow time for people to get IDs: IDs are not mandatory until 2016. Those over 70 can use expired ID that was valid when they turned 70 and nearly all forms of state issued ID are considered valid for voting. Not all issues that disability advocates raised were addressed, but they continue to advocate as the bill has passed the House and is now in Senate Rules. This significant change in elections law will require much work to outreach to voters on the part of disability advocates and provider groups.

Other Policy News:

Group Home Fix and the Budget: The Senate’s budget bill was introduced and passed last week. ASNC will provide a more detailed overview of the Senate’s proposal in our blog next week. However, it is important to note that the Senate budget does not include funding for a fix for the loss of funds from changes to Personal Care Services under Medicaid. The House and Senate came back in January and almost immediately passed a bill allowing from group homes to be able to access funds set aside for adult care homes.  Senate and House leaders have proposed fixes for Alzheimer’s/Special care units with similar problems, but have yet to do so for group homes for people with developmental disabilities and mental illness. While a pilot program has been proposed, it would only help group homes in 6 counties leaving those in the rest of the state without enough funding to continue to house people with disabilities.  Read more on this issue here.

Dead

[Did not pass the crossover deadline, or was voted down. While there are procedures to resurrect bills, including putting them in a study or adding them to a budget special provision, it is very unlikely that these bills are going forward this session or next]

S 646 – Higher Ed Plan for Students with Disabilities – Would have clarified the laws and ensured that community colleges had programs supporting the education of students with disabilities, similar to those in universities. A good proposal, but one requiring addtional funding for community colleges.

S 27 – Public School Protection/ Firearm Amendments (School  Safety Marshals ) –  Many of the ideas from this bill regarding school safety officers have been incorporated into H 452 which is still alive.  See above.

S 59 – Armed Security Guards K-12 – Another bill on school safety and allowing armed security guards. Many questions arose about training and arming school security guards during the session. Some of these ideas were incorporated into H 452 which is still alive. See above.

S 146 – Private Schools Safety – Additional legislation on school safety and allowing for armed staff and volunteers on school property, including private religious institutions attached to schools. Many concepts were incorporated into H 452 which is still alive.

S 633 – No Voting By Those Adjudicated Incompetent – This bill that would have ended voting rights for anyone who was under any kind of guardianship, did not get a committee hearing before crossover and is unlikely to move forward. Guardianship issues are very complicated and more information is needed for legislators to understand the complexities of the reasons someone might be under guardianship, such as having difficulties managing their financial affairs,  (i.e .be considered “incompetent”)  and still be completely capable of exercising their voting rights.

For more information about these or other public policy issues affecting people on the autism spectrum, please contact Jennifer Mahan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at the Autism Society of North Carolina  jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org. Or, you can post your questions in the comments section provided below.