By Megan Kolsch, Quality Improvement Director
I arrived November 30, 2013 to the Day Habilitation Program on Foster Ave in Brooklyn New York expecting to begin a record/chart review and a long day of cross-referencing documentation, interviewing team members, etc., when I saw some unexpected excitement in the multipurpose room. Many of the men and women Human First provides support to were gathered in this room talking with a special visitor. At first, I simply passed by the room, but the smile on this man’s face and the energy within the room stopped me in my tracks.
I began to ask team members, who was this man and why was he here? Many of the staff smiled and informed me that he was “Al the Con- Ed guy.” Al worked at Con-Edison, directly downstairs from the day habilitation program, and over the past years he was a frequent visitor to the program, often invited up to hear the men and women sing and perform.
Today, Al explained, he was to retire from Con-Edison and wanted to say his goodbyes and share how being a part of the individuals’ lives had meant to him. Some of the individuals decided to sing “I believe I can fly…” for him one last time. They sang with passion in their hearts, for Al Russo, a friend who has influenced their lives simply by taking the time on his lunch breaks to walk upstairs to visit the men and women who attend this Day Habilitation program.
After the heartfelt song, Al shook many of the individual’s hands and gave a few hugs. When I introduced myself to him, I thanked him for being so kind and taking the time. He looked at me and said “No, I am the one who would like to say thank you.” In a moment, he shared with me how much visiting had meant to him.
I was so impressed by the participants and the program employees for welcoming Al into their family. Al is a great example of what can come of programs reaching out to members of their community. Al made such a strong connection to the program that participants that he gave us his contact information and promised to stay in touch.
It is important to remember that the relationships we develop with our neighbors enriches the experiences of program participants, the staff and the community. I feel privileged to work at an organization that has embraced this open and accepting attitude towards their community.
Megan Kolsch is the Quality Improvement Director at Human First. Prior to coming to Human First full-time at the beginning of 2013, Megan was the Quality Improvement Director/Assistant QI/Education Director at Family Residences and Essential Enterpises, Inc. in Bethpage, NY.
What do you think of when you see the word “Obsession”? How about “Enthusiasm”? If you are like me, obsession sounds negative and unhealthy while enthusiasm sounds positive and energetic. By choosing the word “enthusiasm” instead of “obsession” to describe someone’s interests, we open up a world of possibilities.
In the world of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), which include autism and Asperger’s syndrome, the decision to use one word instead of another can be life-altering. The effects these words have can help us open up an individual, revealing their abilities, and potentially help them discover a career or vocation.
On Tuesday, April 2, 2013, I went to the United Nation’s celebration of World Autism Awareness Day. The panels and discussions ranged from personal to organizational and the overall message was to embrace each others differences instead of focusing on a person’s deficits.
The panelists emphasized the abilities approach, which means to focus on the interests and skills of a person, not on what they are lacking. Elaine Hall, founder and president of the The Miracle Project and one of the coordinators of this celebration, spoke about how attitudes are the real disability facing people with ASD. We should stop using the terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” and instead focus on the person’s abilities. We should also stop referring to the interests of people with ASD as obsessions, but instead as enthusiasm for a particular topic or activity.
Our word choices are just one aspect of the more complicated goal of integrating people with different abilities into broader society. Changing how we speak with our families, our neighbors and colleagues about people with special needs, we will alter the conversation to allow for people’s potential.
To see an example of how siblings and friends of people with autism help to reframe the conversation, take a look at the website for the video What are you doing? Autism Awareness Australia’s CEO, Nicole Rogerson, shared with us the video that her organization distributed to schools in Australia to increase awareness about people with different abilities.
If you think you are seeing more blue than usual on Tuesday, April 2nd, that’s probably because you are. The world will be recognizing the 6th Annual World Autism Awareness Day, most visibly commemorated by the campaign Light it Up Blue to bring awareness to Autism. Buildings and landmarks, like the Empire State Building, will show their support in increasing awareness about autism by turning blue. Individuals can also show their support by wearing blue and decorating their homes with blue lights. Home Depot partnered with Autism Speaks to sell blue lights, with part of the proceeds going directly to Autism Speaks.
Since 2008, nations and organizations around the world have used April 2nd as a day to bring increased awareness to this pervasive neurological condition that affects children around the world. Below we have included some of the activities available in our area during the month of April designed to appeal to families with children with autism .
If you would like to learn more information about Light It Up Blue or World Autism Awareness Day, please visit Autism Speaks’ website.
- April 6, 2013, Saturday – Sensory-Friendly Movies: The Croods, 2D. On Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 10:00 am select AMC Theatres will show a sensory friendly version of The Croods. To make family films more accommodating to families with children with autism, the theatres keep their lights up, the sound down, and encourage movie goers to get up, dance, and sing. To find a theatre near you, please click here. Cost:
- April 14, 2013, Sunday – Long Island Special Needs Expo 11 am – 4 pm at the Long Island Huntington Hilton. Find new and different resources, activities and more. Cost: Free Admission. Click here for more information.
- April 27, 2013, Saturday – Spider-Man, Turn off the Dark – Autism Friendly Theatre Initiative Presented by Theatre Development Fund. Cost: $80 for two tickets. Click here for ticket information.
- Ongoing- Brooklyn Children’s Museum Sensory Room. Cost: $9 per person. Click here for more information.