Susan's Blog

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Matters Most

Here is a piece I wrote about an event I attended on December 9 at the John F Kennedy Library in Boston, for Tim Shriver to talk about his new book, Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most. Enjoy!

2014-12-09 20.26.37

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fragile Talking

Warm sunny Sunday

Come sit, my darling

You are yellow and blue but not afraid, not sad

Together we dent the couch, sinking in

You’re so close, I breathe you. My heart’s a balloon, filling, stretching.

Pick who you want to talk to

I ask you to give us some words, if you can. Are they light inside you today, effervescing at the top of your throat?

“Yes,” soft and fragile, floats like a bubble.

Finger crooked over the letters, darting: where are they? Don’t lose the word, quick. I’m breathless waiting for the connection.

Fingertip to key,

Words to me.


Thursday, November 13, 2014


Kaleb Gaudinier, Missing from Clinical Support Options Respite in Florence, Massachusetts. He weighs only 110-115 lbs. and is in a fragile state of starvation and dehydration. He was last seen on 11/12/2014. He is 5’10” and is a white male. He was last seen wearing a black hoodie sweatshirt and black sweatpants. He is autistic and may shy away from people.

Please contact his family at 603-762-7809.
Ted Myerson©2013

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Self-Determination Should Precede Integration

“We should all have equal rights. We need a place to live, too. Not just typical people…any number of people that you wish.” A developmentally disabled client of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, November 6, 2014.

“I love my house. Don’t shut it down.” Another young man with a developmental disability, I did not hear where he was from.

Integration, and Community First Vs. Self-Determination is the issue at hand. Does one-size ever fit all?

CMS, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has come out with new rules related to home and community- based settings: “Full access to community living, integrated settings.”  Department of Developmental Services in Massachusetts is proposing to go further, beyond the new CMS rules and restrictions on community residences and DayHab. They are having two hearings, one was tonight, November 6, the other is November 12. (Send your email testimonies to for comments by November 15)
Tonight there was a gathering of perhaps 150 people at Mass Bay Community College in Wellesley, Massachusetts for the HCBS Medicaid/DDS public hearing. Many of these giving testimony were family members, residential home staff, and self-advocates. Many great points were raised, for example (please forgive my paraphrasing, I tried my best to follow their exact words). I am not doing justice to the passion and eloquence and variety of great points raised, I’ll just do my best to pull out points that jumped out at me:

First there was Steven, from Stoughton, stepfather to M, 44, developmentally delayed, lived at New England Village since 1993. There are over 150 ppl there. Full time nursing staff. Life skills, pool, wellness center, arts&crafts, helps other residents, takes cooking lessons. Friendships develop betw residents at diff houses and outside of NE Village. “Working is what she does best.” His wife is always in the loop with regard to every aspect of Michele’s care. Michele has learned about the cycles of life, even death. (sat with resident who had Altzheimer’s in his last hours).

John of Berkshire Hills Music Academy said, “A shame to judge a community by just one standard.” “Community should never be defined as a fixed location.” “Don’t assume that just because it is a community setting doesn’t mean it is unsafe.” Used example of those many in Assisted Living. “What if we take that choice from them?”

Paul, brother of M, who is as he put it, “severely retarded… Couldn’t take a bus anyplace. We had an objective: to find a happy healthy place for her to grow.” Has been in New England Village for 42 years. She has grown: library card, white water rafting, kayaking, shopping with others…It is a village, not a home, not an institution. You must look at each person individually, you come out and look at these establishments, see how the people react.

Barry: Chair of Board, NE Village. Created as an answer to the de-institutionalization. “Speak to understand what the person wants and help them achieve their goals.”

Kathleen, A’s sister, also NE Village. A is very involved…picked out her own room colors, goes to the animal shelter.” Later, A spoke, too.

Another, a mom of a 22 year old at an Amigo group home. “He receives prompts and reinforcers to help him through his day which could be defined as coercion inadvertently.” “Taking away the ability to use restraints judiciously could result in dire consequences,” And “What will be the fallout in terms of disability sensitivity  when videos from community are released into the media?” Also, “Forcing Timmy into the community for 30 hours would cause him serious distress.”

M — a client who spoke for herself. She lives in “The Yellow House” since 2010 w 6 roommates. “See how awesome our home is,” she said proudly.

A sister, guardian of a 63 yo. Lives in home run by Charles River Arc, one of three houses on a cul-de-sace. Less than 2 miles from Needham Center. No evidence that these three homes are contrary to the goals of HCBS. “There is no way that my sister would choose to relocate.”

Stephanie B asked: “Are we responding to the integration mandate or the person centered choices first?” Person-centered Planning will lead to integration!!”

J, who lives in The Yellow House: “I want to continue living with my six friends. Thank you.”

Another, M, lives with eight housemates. “That is a better number to live with than just being with five…We plan meals together, we enjoy talking to each other. To me living in a Shared Living apartment helps me to grow up and live away from my parents.”

Irene, I’s mom. Isaac is autistic, 26, served by Amigo. About DayHab: in school, they trained Isaac in voc tasks. He needed a one-to-one. He never got any training doing these things in the community. The school deemed him not ready. At 22, no money for a one-to-one job coach for him. Too difficult to fade out the job coach. So, what good is it to have a person do a job when you need another person right next to that person to make sure the job gets done? So Isaac is in DayHab, scheduled day. He has more opportunity than when he was in a program that exercised voc skills !

One woman with a disability spoke of the need to push for integration, to give people chances to grow. “Community First,” was what she said — so she is of a different mind from the others who spoke before.

Gary Blumenthal, ADDP, told DDS, “We’re all here because you all have done such a good job!” We ask that the Dept of MassHealth not Pre-judge CMS. CMS will hold you to your word. We ask that you work with the providers that will be part of the Joint Committee of DDS and ADDP to determine in a manner that is outcomes-based that looks at the total experience of the individual with the disability and not just on their location. We ask that we have a chance to see what amendments you take before it goes to CMS.

Jude, an autism mom, and J, her son: “J is not an adult but he will be soon.” Crying, she thanked a lot of Jack’s friends for coming. “Important that our loved ones with autism be seen and heard.” Jude mentioned that she also works for Autism Speaks when CMS looked at these rules, Autism Speaks “expressed concerns about rules that restrict where people live.”

A, who is from Sage Crossing. Her son told her he always wanted to live on a farm. He wants to work the land. Under the proposed options, he won’t have that possibility.

Another couple: “What is the number five? …Why should the folks that live in the over-five-people homes, their family be limited to just three or four others?”

Cheryl C, an autism mom: “The broader community is not inviting my son to come to their house. No one has the right to decide that people with disabilities aren’t capable of being friends and supportive of each other. And that they must be in a public place to be fulfilled. I’m sorry, but that’s crap.”

Cathy B, an autism mom: “Overwhelming sensory issues limit the time some individuals with autism can spend in the community.”

My feeling while listening was: Forget the fact that there are so many family members and staff testifying about the need for self-determination, not tenant number-based or location-based restrictions for happy, healthy residences for the developmentally disabled. BUT the fact that all of these self-advocates –  intellectually disabled people could come here and testify themselves — doesn’t that say anything about how things have changed since the closing of the institutions?  There is so much more independence, people working, living worthwhile lives. Why is the DDS messing with success?



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Massachusetts: DDS changing Medicaid-based rules

If you live in Massachusetts near Wellesley, or Westfield, PLEASE consider attending this hearing! Maybe work it out so that your autistic adult family member/loved one attends with you. DDS et al. need to have AUTISM IN THEIR FACE. This may help them get it. Wear RED!!!

If you have considered creating or settling your autistic loved one on a farm, for example, you can forget about that if these rules go through.

BULLETIN From Cathy Boyle, of Autism Housing Pathways:
This Thursday 11/5/14, at 6 p.m. there will be a public hearing at MassBay Community College, 50 Oakland Street, Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Westfield State University campus, 577 Western Avenue, Westfield, on November 12, 2014 at 10:30 a.m.

MassHealth will be hearing public comment on its draft transition plan on Medicaid’s new rule on home and community based settings. While this sounds complex and technical, the bottom line is that the final plan will determine where you can use Medicaid funds to pay for your adult family member’s services. Even if your child is not yet an adult, these changes are likely to be in effect for a generation. As of right now the draft plan means people with DDS funding will NOT be able to be used in:

SELF-CONTAINED, QUIET SETTINGS REMOVED FROM THE COMMUNITY (* Settings that have limited, if any, interaction with the broader community);
* Settings that use or authorize restrictions that are used in institutional settings;
* FARMSTEADS or disability-specific farm community;
* GATED or SECURED communities for people with disabilities;
* Settings that are part of or ADJACENT TO A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL;
* Multiple settings co-located and operationally-related that congregate a large number of people with disabilities for significant shared programming and staff;
* Multiple settings on a single site or in close proximity (see directly above)

“DDS may license or fund new homes in the community that are duplexes, “triple-deckers”, or free standing homes that are either side by side or adjacent or on bordering lots only upon the review and approval of the regional director, the assistant commissioner for field operations and the assistant commissioner for quality management. The capacity in these settings may not exceed four (4) individuals on each side of a duplex, in each unit of a triple decker or in each free standing home located on adjacent lots.”

The new Medicaid rule also applies to day services, and may result in severely restricting the use of center-based day programming. Individuals who cannot participate in the community 30 hours a week, either in competitive employment or recreational activities, may find themselves at home much of the day. While the current draft transition plan refers only to residential services, we have been told testimony regarding day services is also appropriate at the hearing.

If you are concerned by any of the above please come to the hearing. We ask that you wear red.

To learn more, please go to

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Circle of Friends

I was in the lobby when those first notes from “Circle of Life” broke through at the autism-friendly Autism Speaks-supported Lion King at the Boston Opera House. I was standing just outside the doors, as Main Floor Navigator, in the lobby with the actors about to walk through the doors onstage. They were the animals coming to see the new baby Lion. I stepped backwards to give them more room. I felt like a child allowed to be at the adult party. All around me the actors had their costumes half-on, with the masks on the floor, at their feet. Huge hairy water buffalo heads rose from the ground like monoliths; a ghostly translucent giant rhinoceros, made of blue grey papery ribcage and thick tree-trunk legs materialized off to my left. They all tensed at that first call; then there was a velvety hush in the lobby, and they answered as one, a capello, angel-like,,getting into their roles, summoning all that clear, half-whispered awe in those syllables. The doors opened, and they strode into the theater, through the audience. I felt chills, and tears sprang to my eyes. A profound beginning, but also, so many memories swirling around me, carrying me away on their sweet tide. My first two babies,Natty, 3 1/2, and 18 month old Maxie, sitting in the backseat of our little red Honda Civic hatchback at the Wellfleet Drive-In on Cape Cod. It was Max’s first movie.

The animals all sang to their new tiny king to pay homage, a blast of brilliant hue, animal shapes, a cacophony — really a symphony of cries, so loud, so moving — filled our ears. Then, as if a plug is pulled from a bathtub, the sound is sucked away and it’s all dark.

“What dis movie?” Little Max asked me, thinking that the opening scene was the entire film — it was that huge to him. Oh Maxie! You were so little you didn’t even know that. Even then you were fascinated with film. Who knew you’d grow up to graduate from NYU’s Tisch School of the arts, a camera artist, a budding cinematographer?

But I’m getting behind — and ahead of myself. Yesterday Max wasn’t there, but Nat was, now almost 25. Wearing the same oversized yellow lion face tee shirt as Ned and all the other adult volunteers. We were all there to navigate, assist, calm, and bask in this beautiful Autistic Assembly, this army of parents and caregivers, for once not fighting bureaucracy, school systems, or sad wistful taunting dreams. They were there, at peace, accepted and loved. Some guys didn’t make it through the next scene. Ned told me parents would come up to him, he was an usher, and say, “We just have to — ” And he’d say, “It’s okay,” and point the way to the calming room, or the exit, or the bathroom. One friend came out with her grown son (who had her very same face) (I’d never met him, I got to meet so many of my Autism friends’ kids). This friend said to me, “I think we’re going to declare victory…” Ned turned to me and said, “Was she thinking of my words?” So long ago, Ned had come up with our family mantra: “Declare victory, then get the hell out.” Meaning, we, the family, would set the terms of success. We would decide how much of this moment in time we could get through and then we could leave feeling triumphant.

Yesterday we were all triumphant. The Opera Workers seemed delighted. The actors hummed with their energy and ours. The “regular” world had met us and welcomed us. We were surrounded, and embraced, by a Circle of Friends.

Friday, October 10, 2014

My Facebook Troubles

Okay, and here is my latest Washington Post Oped, about my troubles with Facebook. It’s all true, bro. Yeah, it’s already up on FB, too.

The Untapped Potential: Autistic Adults

Here is where you can find my latest piece for WBUR-FM’s “Cognoscenti” column, a propos to President Obama’s recent authorization of $450,000,000 in grant money to community colleges that partner with employers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Can you feel the love on October 11?

Family-friendly Broadway is nothing new, and its success is no surprise. But autism-friendly Broadway is a stroke of marketing genius. Billed as “judgment-free, ” these shows generally offer a stimuli-sensitive environment: low light and sound, quiet space, autism specialists available for extra support.

There have been pockets of such performances offered around the country in the last six years but Theater Development Fund’s (TDF) Autism Theatre Initiative has taken the concept to a new level. TDF has been funding overwhelmingly popular performances – most recently the Lion King — at venues like Los Angeles’ Pantages Theater and the Autism Speaks-Boston Opera House venture on October 11. The Madison Square Garden Lion King on September 28 apparently sold out in just days.

I am of course, a veteran autism mom – Nat is almost 25 – and this kind of trend is, well, music to my ears. When Nat was a child, he didn’t even get to go to school in his hometown, let alone participate in any normal after school fun. For Nat, rather than taking an art class like his brothers did, or a group music lesson, everything Nat did was  therapeutic — music therapy, art therapy. Or I had to pay big bucks for a one-to-one, which I only did for Sunday School because back then that synagogue had no special needs curriculum. I did organize an autism spectrum soccer team, but the coaches gravitated towards the less autistic teammates and left Nat in the dust. One year he was taught to tolerate wearing a costume so that he could be in the class play. Everyone could say he was being included, but was he? It just seemed so — fake.

Still, I never gave up looking for a welcoming place where Nat could really participate, like any other kid. And every now and then we did manage a family outing to a movie, with no behaviors, no outbursts, and with a lot of positive reinforcement. In the safe accepting dark of the theater we’d dole out a piece of popcorn to him every few minutes that he was quiet. Back then our goal was usually getting through things – enjoyment took a back seat. “Declare victory then get the hell out,” my husband would say.

I will readily admit that I had serious problems with being oversensitive to anyone looking at Nat cross-eyed. I have intolerance-for-Nat radar that may be highly tuned to a faulty. So I was not much help when it came to joining with organizations that offered kid experiences. Still I yearned for a time when we didn’t have to explain Nat and watch his every move and try to intercept his autism so that everyone else could enjoy their lives. I faulted society for being intolerant and clueless. But most of the time, I faulted myself for being unable to give him more of a normal life.

Wow, have things changed. Not to sound cynical, but autism is big business. And yes, many more people really care about our guys and want to help them enjoy our world. So I am cheering for the autism-friendly Lion King performances — not only because I love the show, but because of the attention and respect being given to kids like Nat. Yes, it is a separate performance, but it is the real deal. And I have made my peace with the fact that with autism, sometimes inclusion simply means having the same experience as other people.  Sure, I wish that every performance in every theater could be autism-friendly. Yes, there is still a stony part of me that is resentful of the generally autism-unfriendly world. But, hey, one step at a time. You know – Hakuna Matata.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Great News About the ABLE Act!

This article is from the Disability Scoop, by Michelle Diament. If you are a person with a disability and you have Medicaid benefits, the bipartisan ABLE Act would allow you to save up to $14,000 a year, and up to $100,000 total, rather than the current $2000 total  — and you would not lose your Medicaid benefit. You could save for a home, education, transportation…

The Stealth Mommer

I decided to be the Stealth Mommer today. I was so anxious as I drove to Nat’s workplace. But I told myself there was no need to worry, that I would not let him see me. He would not detect a blip in the Shaw’s parking lot forcefield and freak out. And why should he freak out that his mom was shopping there? Well, because it is Nat and me. We are connected by an invisible umbilical cord. That is not meant to infantilize him. It is a statement of fact, that our connection is deep and eternal. I’ve mentioned my plans to haunt him, yes? I do not plan to lie passively in some grave somewhere while he goes on trying to figure out this damned complicated world. Nor will I be a Mombie, chewing up his life. I plan to be a wisp of a presence in his soul, a memory, comforting and guiding him.

Okay, well, I don’t believe in afterlife, so that probably won’t happen. It sucks that we have to die and leave our kids to grieve and muddle through. Sucks doesn’t even begin to describe it, actually, but I don’t feel like dwelling in my saddest place today. Because I saw Nat at work.

Anyway… I planned to observe covertly. But soon after going into the store I almost bumped right into him. He was in profile, tall and sure in his navy down jacket (Yay! Warmly dressed!). He did not notice me, and went safely past me with his coworker and coach, pushing carts, smiling, talking to himself. So happy they don’t bug him about stimming. I kept watching him from afar. He went from carts to stacking the baskets. His coach was right there with him, which surprised me — I thought they were fading back a bit. But I leave that decision to them.

I then ventured closer and closer. I asked a Shaw’s worker if she knew him and she said, “Nate? Your Nate’s mom? Oh, he’s great!” I wanted to hug her. But I smiled and thanked her and left her with her table of sample cake slices. Nat had moved around to the other entrance.

I must confess that I gave in to my hovering mothering tendencies and finally let Nat see me. I stood still, 15 feet away, and removed my sunglasses. Right away he said, “Hi.” but just kept walking. I sheepishly introduced myself to the job coach. We shook hands, and she was smiling so much. She also told me how “He’s so great.”

I worried that Nat would be knocked off balance because I was there. So I said casually, “Nat, I’m shopping because I needed some food for the weekend!”


“I got you brownies!”


“I’ll see you soon, tonight, for supper!”


I went back to my car and drove past them again, an odd trio: tall blond Nat, short round coworker, tall thin smiling coach.

I sighed with happiness over my son. This is called “nachas” in Yiddish (pronounced “nakhahs”). Nachas is a perfect way to end one’s week, seeing a so-called “disabled” young man who is a treasured employee and fellow great guy to them. Plus now I have brownies.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Love nat

Today Nat wanted to do some Facebooking. The way we do that is I have him look at the column of all the people who are logged on at the moment — the green dots show him — and then he chooses whom to talk to. He initiates the conversation with “hi.” After the person responds, I help him by reading their response and then repeating it to him. So when they say, “Hi Nat, what are you doing today?”  I then say, “Nat, she wants to know what are you doing today. So tell her, what are you doing?” And whatever he says, I say, “Okay, so tell her that. Type that.” And then I sound out his answer for him, a sound at a time. So if he answered, “Sitting here.” I say, “S..”  and I wait. I say again, “S…” He then says, “S” and I say, “Okay, type that!”  If he does not say “S” then I go back to, “Nat, you said, ‘Sitting here.’ Type that.” And begin again.

Today he was very logy. And yet he really really wanted to do Facebook. He just had a hard time getting his info from his brain to his mouth and then to his typing finger. I had to repeat back his letters and sound things out but I never tell him what to say. Only if he says something that is completely default or echolalic, like “hi” too many times. Then I say, “Nat, you already said hi to her. Now say something else. You can tell her what you did yesterday. You can tell her what you want to eat.” Then he will answer something, like, “You went on a walk.” Or “Cereal.” So I’ll just say, “Okay! Type that!”

I always ask him the other person’s question and take whatever he says, no matter what it is, and help him shape it into a response. I coach him a sound at a time how to spell and type it. He does invented spelling, not accurate spelling. I don’t care. These are his direct thoughts.

This morning he chose his Aunt Laura to talk to. Here is the conversation, and I am beyond proud of him because he really really wanted to hang in there and talk to her.

NAT: hi

LAURA: Hi Nat!
NAT: hi

L: Where are you?
N: where here

L: at your mom and dad’s?
N: alrtan st

L: What are you doing today?
N: stay at al alrian st
go to kalton streatn

L: Did you do anything special yesterday?
N: went on wlk

L: I bet you got a treat too!
N: treat
is ceam
happy barfly jon love nat

L: Thank you so much Nat, I will tell John.  Yesterday Kim and I had cupcakes for a treat!
N: hi snaman tost cranch

L: Yum, I love that cereal, but my favorite are Lucky Charms.
N: lake charms

L: Yes. do you like them?
N: i
love nat

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Heartbreaking Quiet

Nat comes home every weekend. He is quiet. Sometimes he’s “activated” as his psychopharmacologist says — I hate that. It is such an inhumane way to describe someone. He’s just active. That’s it. Activated — what’s that? It’s referring to how maybe his meds make him? No, his meds are not like that. Besides, he is practically weaned off them.

Sometimes Nat is not active at all. Sometimes he just moves from one couch to another. I can’t get away from feeling like this is something that should not be. I remember years ago, a behavioral consultant who believed in that ABA bible, “Let Me Hear Your Voice,” told us we needed to scaffold with Nat, and to chain. Lots of construction, building — and also keeping down. The eternal struggle of ABA. We’re supposed to wrestle the autism to the ground, like Secret Service agents.

So I didn’t do that. Not really. People think I’m such a good mother but I did not do that. I got tired. Depressed. Lost hope. I didn’t consistently practice the ABA. He’s almost 25 for God’s sake and I’m still beating myself up for it. I did not believe it was the way.

Was I wrong? He is so quiet. If I had believed and converted, would I be hearing his voice more?

My heart just breaks for him. How is it okay, living such a quiet life?

I did the best I could, but my best was at times anemic, tired, mediocre. And he suffers for that. He is only as engaged as I make him be. That’s what a teacher told me when he was 5. It was all up to me in the end.

It’s always up to the parents. Even Post-Refrigerator. I see that now even with Nat as an adult. It’s up to us.  From the start. The parents give birth. The parents try. The parents have to figure out that something’s wrong. The parents have to convince the doctor. The parents have to push the school system. The parents have to deal with their sadness, their incompetence. Everyone’s incompetence. And ignorance.

Then the evil of the adulthood system starts and there’s even less. Parents come to the rescue again. Parents will tell you what to do. Parents will listen. Parents write the blogs. Parents run the workshops. And write the books. I’m still writing mine, but just so you know. I’m no expert, either. I am just a mom, and not always a good one.

It’s just we humans and our beautiful, vulnerable children.




Thursday, August 28, 2014

Our Journey Into Shared Living

Here is an essay I wrote for our service provider’s newsletter, about Shared Living for Nat. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Development for Disabled Housing Mortgages!

Valuable home-purchasing information for anyone in the country with a developmental disability looking for a possible low percentage down mortgage. I received this information from Autism Housing Pathways’ Cathy Boyle. It may now be possible for parents to buy with very little down through Fannie Mae if the property is for a son or daughter with a developmental disability!

How to get a 5% down mortgage from Fannie Mae if you are buying a property for a son or daughter with a developmental or physical disability:

  • A parent (or parents) who is a natural person (i.e., not an LLC, or a co-op) can get a Fannie Mae loan for 5% down, and there is no cap on the parent’s income.
  • Fannie Mae considers it to be owner-occupied by the parent who does not live there, if the child is unable to work or doesn’t have enough income.
  • The parent is still allowed to have their own primary residence.
  • You may collect income from residents, but this income cannot be used for the mortgage qualification.
  • You will need to check with an accountant to determine whether the mortgage interest is tax deductible. It is quite possible that the IRS will consider it an investment property (i.e., the mortgage interest wouldn’t be deductible).

The key language is in the Fannie Mae selling guide.

Note: If a property is used as a group home, and a natural-person individual occupies the property as a principal residence or as a second home, Fannie Mae’s terms and conditions for such occupancy status as provided will be applicable.
Also please note, this is different from the Fannie Mae HomeChoice program, in which the individual with a disability is the owner of the property, and the family member is a non-occupying co-borrower. In this case, the family owns the house. This *should* allow the person with a disability to use a Sec. 8 voucher, provided the local housing authority permits the family to be the landlord as a reasonable accommodation. This is not true of HomeChoice, which doesn’t permit the use of a Sec. 8 rental voucher.

This is a very exciting discovery.

As always, neither I, nor Cathy Boyle, nor Autism Housing Pathways, is engaged in providing financial or legal advice. Always double check everything with your own financial and legal advisers. A full legal disclaimer is available at the Autism Housing Pathways website.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thinking About Autism Housing?

Another great resource for Massachusetts autism adult housing: Housing 101 Workshops you can set up for your own organization. Autism Housing Pathways will bring their workshop to you!

Autism Housing Pathways* has now developed “Thinking about housing” to be “Housing 101″ for families. This free 2 hour presentation introduces families to the range of public funds available to pay for housing and supportive services (including for those without DDS supports). Some examples are given of how these can be combined with private funds to create housing. The presentation also introduces a checklist of things to do when your family member turns 18.

Their current schedule of presentations is:

Oct. 6, 2014 at 6:30 PM at Community Resources for People with Autism, 116 Pleasant St., Suite 366, Easthampton (RSVP to
Oct. 7, 2014 at 6:30 PM at 7 Hills Family Services, 128 Main St., Sturbridge (RSVP by calling 7 Hills Family Services, 508-796-1952)
Nov. 5, 2014 at 6:30 PM at BAMSI, 155 Webster St., Unit D, Hanover (RSVP to Mary Ann Mills-Lassiter at 781-878-4074 ext. 11, or
Dec. 16, 2014 at 7:00 PM at Cary Memorial Library, 1874 Mass. Ave., Lexington (sponsored by Lexington SEPAC; RSVP to Barbara White,
Dec. 17, 2014 at 7:00 PM at Morse Institute Library, 14 East Central Street, lower level, Natick (sponsored by the Autism Alliance of Metro West; RSVP to
At least 5 more presentations will be added during the school year. If your organization wishes to host a presentation, please contact Cathy Boyle,

*Autism Housing Pathways is a non-profit that my friend Cathy Boyle developed here in Massachusetts. AHP’s core values are as follow:

Autism Housing Pathways (AHP) is a family-driven, membership-based organization serving individuals and families in Massachusetts impacted by autism and other developmental disabilities. We have the following core goals:

  • Building the capacity of families to find or create housing solutions for their family members with disabilities;
  • Improve the professional development of direct support staff;
  • Conduct research on the housing needs and resources of the Massachusetts autism community
  • Building the capacity of the housing sector to meet the residential needs of individuals with autism

Massachusetts Families: Terrific Opportunity

If you are a  Massachusetts resident living with a developmental disability, or if you are a Massachusetts family with a loved one with this diagnosis, pay heed! Especially if you are unlikely to qualify for a Priority One from the Department of Developmental Services at age 22. Priority One is for the most severe cases. Priority One is residential funding — home and staff. Most people in the DDS system do not qualify.

My favorite nonprofit in the entire world, Autism Housing Pathways has received a grant from the Mass. Developmental Disabilities Council. As part of the grant, Autism Housing Pathways will take a cohort of 12 individuals and families through a process that will enable them to identify housing options suited to their available supports, finances, and interests. They are currently seeking individuals and families to participate. There is no cost to participate. The preferred audience for this process are those not likely to qualify for residential services through the Dept. of Developmental Services at age 22.

What You Will Have to Do As a Participant:
1) Families will participate in a day-long housing workshop, to be held in Framingham, MA on Nov. 8th. Topics covered will include public funding streams, applying for benefits, asset development, calculating what the family can afford, possible ownership models, financing options, location, design, construction, and service providers.

2) Individuals will complete a workbook (either independently or with assistance from a trusted individual) touching on preferred activities, lifestyle and location, and being a good neighbor. The workbook will be available in three formats: one written at an 8th grade reading level; one written at an early elementary reading level; and one comprised of picture-based social stories and sticker activities.

3) Upon completion of the workshop and workbook, individuals and their families will engage in a person-centered planning process, using the PATH tool. While the primary focus will be to develop a housing vision, it will be necessary to include other parts of the personal vision to assure compatibility between housing goals and other personal goals. Each plan will include a pre-meeting with the individual and/or his/her family, as appropriate, to determine whom the individual would like present when the plan is created, and to help the individual begin to reflect on his or her vision; the main meeting, where the individual and those he or she has invited create the plan; and a follow-up meeting a few months later to check in on how things are going in implementing the plan. Person-centered planning meetings will be scheduled at the convenience of the individual and his/her family, but must take place before June 20, 2015.

4) 6 months after completion of the day-long workshop, a questionnaire will be sent to individuals and/or families to determine if a Sec. 8 voucher application has been completed, what benefits have been applied for, whether an asset development strategy has been adopted, and whether their living situation has changed.

Individuals and families MUST commit to the entire process in order to participate in any of it, including the day-long workshop and the workbook. Participants will be selected on a first-come, first-served basis.

Please contact Cathy Boyle,, 617-893-8217, if interested.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

How Does He Know?

Life is not a bowl of cherries, but you might be able to get a lot out of a bowl of strawberries. I’m sure you don’t know what I mean, but you will.

I am a writer, a word person, and an idea person, so I am obsessed with the way people say things and know things. Also, I am a mother deeply connected to my sons; put it all together and I am fascinated with what they know and how they express it. They are all three young men by now and so I have the added challenge of trying to figure out what’s going on with them while not seeing them all the time.

Most of the time I write about Nat, because it feels like Max and Ben, who are typically developing, are much more in need of boundaries and privacy.  Nat, who has intense autism, inhabits a different kind of territory, and appears not to be aware of what I am writing about him. I may be dead wrong about this stuff, however. Sometimes I explain to him about a book I’ve written or a television or radio program I’ve been on because of him, but I am not sure how to talk about with him in a meaningful way to him. I say stuff like, “Mommy is talking on the radio about you, Nat, because you have autism and you’ve learned so many great things so other people with autism want to hear about it. Like how you talk sometimes, and how you do Facebook, and how well you ride your bike. Or how you work at Shaws. A lot of people with autism can’t do that. So people want to hear about you. It’s because you do a good job,” I say, rounding it out, distilling the message in case I’ve said too much.

The questions I often ask are what does Nat know, what does he understand of the things going on around him? But today I was thinking, “Why now, and not then?” By this I mean, why is he showing understanding of that right now, but not all those other times? What happens in his mind that makes these circuits switch on? The people that believe in Applied Behavioral Analysis — and I believe in pieces of it, which in itself might nullify ABA which is an entire system, a stack of concepts and trials layered intricately one upon the other, built in a particular order so that if you work on only this part or that, you end up pulling out blocks as if in a big Jenga tower — the ABA-ists would say that Nat knows because of the repetition over the years. But I am not so sure. I of the Rube Goldberg-type junkyard mind, like to pick from this and that, the scrap heaps of ideas and creations, and find pretty things I can use in some way or another.

My mind works in great loops, with trains of thought broken, derailed, and then reuniting at the very end of the line. So how does Nat’s mind work? In the distant past I have imagined a radio with static, an impossible place filled with distracting noise, where you try to listen to the song but you just know it’s going to get knocked out again in the next moment. So you not only have a fractured song, you also have the tension of waiting for the interruption.

Lately I’ve been seeing Nat’s mind as being more like mine, maybe the way mine works in therapy. I’ve been in therapy for a very long time, on and off, mostly on, and the way it works for me is I keep learning the same things over and over, but each time deeper and clearer. So I wonder if it’s that way for Nat, where rather than a staticky radio — which implies just kind of a jumble of stuff in his head — it’s more like spiraling tunnels through the earth, mines and mine shafts that collapse sometimes. But each time he comes back up to the surface, he knows more.

I was thinking of this today that led me to consider Nat’s learning process. This morning, I gave him a bowl of strawberries. When he was younger I sprinkled sugar over them because — why not? But later, I kind of stopped because if he could eat them without sugar, then why not? And he never asked for sugar unless I offered it, and well, I just kind of stopped offering it, figuring it was probably better without all that sugar.

So he was eating the strawberries and looking up at me ever few seconds. But I was busy with something so I ignored him. I didn’t mean to. Then suddenly he got up from his chair and stood in front of me at the counter. He bent towards the sugar bowl but then stood up straight again, looking at me. “What, Nat?” I asked, really not knowing what.

“Sugar, want sugar please!” (I think he said please.)

“Oh, wow, Nat, that’s great that you told me! Wow, great!” I said, dumping a pile of sugar on his strawberries.

So why now and not all these other years? What does he suddenly know, that he asked for something like that?

I sure as hell don’t know.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Is De-Auticizing the Goal?

This New York Times piece came my way, and frankly I’m pretty disappointed. “Kids Who ‘Beat’ Autism” is the title, so right away you can see the bias. The author, Ruth Padawer, obviously thinks she is onto something new (decades-old Applied Behavioral Analysis, ABA, of all things) by showing that sometimes such treatments “work” and the kids lose all their autism symptoms. But what she is not seeing is the harm such a viewpoint can unintentionally cause.

The thrust of the article is to draw our sympathy for the families whose kids do not de-auticize, no matter how hard they tried; I don’t even know where to start with this. I understand how hard having autism can be — not firsthand, because I don’t have it — because I have witnessed my own autistic son struggle with it. But to be more precise, he struggles with communication and processing issues that have gotten in the way of his understanding mainstream behavior and interaction. In fact, typical interaction is so puzzling for him that he is often silent. When you do talk to him, it takes long moments for him to find the words. Sometimes it seems like he doesn’t even want you to talk to him, and I have to assume that is because of the effort it takes him.

I do feel for Nat, and I do feel for my family’s and other families’ struggles with disability. Disability can often mean hardship of one kind or another. Blame it on the disability or blame it on an overly complicated intolerant mainstream human race — any way you slice it, having autism is something a person does struggle with at some point or maybe all of his life. It is hard to be a square peg in a round hole.

But the author of this article reminds me of the person who comes to an Internet joke that went around years ago, and passes it along to everyone she knows as the most clever thing ever. Wow, cats with captions! Who knew? In this case, imagine, behavioral modification and positive reinforcement can be effective in squelching certain ways of acting! And oh how tragic it is — why it is downright a puzzle piece — that the other kid just smiles and makes noises. What the heck is wrong with him?  (fist shake at the world that did me wrong.)

And yet!  I empathize with that mother because I do want Nat to be able to talk, I think it would help him lead an easier life and be more independent and that is a value of mine. But he just might not be able to do more than he does, ever, and that is that.  And I’ll never be a UN interpreter or a ballerina. I will never be able to run regularly because of my knees. I will always struggle with depression, no matter how hard I try. And how about you? Does your lack of autism make you happy? Or is there something that makes you less than perfect, and struggle?

Should you feel sorry for me because Nat is fairly severely autistic after all this time? Should you pity him? No! If you read this blog regularly, you love him! You’re proud of him. And your own kid.

We must be able to move on to, “Well, I will try to help him lead the best life he can, and most of all, I want him to be safe and happy.”

What’s more, to tell you the truth I sympathized a little also with the kid who is now “no longer autistic.” He had so many aspects of his behavior taken over by others, so that he could learn how not to monopolize a conversation or be one-tracked. Sure, he can now be in mainstream society. But there are so many messages he may have learned about himself along the way, that the way he does things naturally is not acceptable. His mom was “ecstatic,”when the doctor said he could find no more autistic symptoms in her son, and to be honest, I would be too. Because maybe doors would open more for Nat. But he also has so many doors open for him, from his own growth and sweet personality. You can’t say that about a lot of so-called verbal people.

The author of the article writes the piece as if there is unquestionably no other way to feel about autism except that those that “beat” it are the kids you feel happy about, and the others are kids you feel sorry for. What kind of a message, then, is she conveying about lifelong disability? When are we ever going to get passed this quest for perfection?



Friday, July 11, 2014

Loving Nat

Loving Nat — The Jewish Advocate, July 11, 2014

My day suddenly became very dark when I got the call: “Nat’s had an incident.”

This happened when he was at his most anxious, and we did not know why. He was biting himself. Yelling, stomping. He’d punched a wall, apparently. He had to leave the store he was in. No, Nat, no! I moaned in my head. Not after all your hard work.

Nat is 24 and has autism, alleged developmental delay, possible sensory issues, suspected processing disorders, really a whole smorgasbord of challenges and disabilities. He also has a keen eye for detail, an open mind, and he’s very, very beautiful. That’s neither here nor there, but I mention it because I hate giving a whole dirty laundry list of his troubles and casting him in that light, when truly, Nat shines in a light all his own. Autism has been called a kidnapper, a scourge, a monster-creator. But the real truth about it – the worst thing about autism – is that it casts a very long shadow. People see it, and not the person.

But here’s something interesting: Shadow isn’t a bad thing. Shadow just is. It exists because of light. Shadow and light together help us see something. But when Nat’s behavior is inexplicable and aggressive, I feel like he disappears inside the shadow and I can’t see him. I forget that shadow is a part of everything. Light needs dark. Yin and yang. Chiaroscuro.

For the first time in a long while, I prayed. My way of praying is not in Hebrew. I kind of just talk to G-d. I try to connect with Him, just like I do with Nat. I think of G-d as a person who knows so much, but I don’t know what he knows. Perhaps G-d has His own brand of autism: He’s all there, but it takes a lot to feel that you are communicating effectively. And also, I feel love for G-d, without question. It just is, like my love for my children.

I did what I could in my fashion of praying for Nat to come out of this dark moment. I talked until I felt done. Then real life took over again, as we got a phone call after phone call from Nat’s group home manager, into the night, to let us know that Nat was not himself, that he was getting out of bed, obsessing about other people’s routines. We all slept badly.

Morning came, and so did another call. The word was, Nat was not “stable enough” to go to his day program. This had never happened before, in two years. What was it, Nat? Please, don’t go back to those days when you were 17 and biting, jumping, screaming! I didn’t even know what it was about then.

But I heard from the autism community a long time ago that we need to check these “behaviors” out. We should always get our children examined when they “act out” and be absolutely sure they are not sick. Thank goodness others know that, even if I cower under the covers and shudder with the thought, “It’s baaaack.”

Here and there we’d been hearing from the house manager and also maybe it was the day-hab director that they had asked Nat if he was feeling sick he’d said, “froat.” I was skeptical; whenever Nat is asked about his health, he just seems to say what he thinks you want to hear. I always tell medical professionals that he is unreliable that way, inaccurate. Still, I take him – of course I do.

The house manager told us this morning that he was taking Nat to the doctor, and did I want to come? Did I want to come! Within a few minutes, I had taken over. First we’d take Nat out for a treat – to Starbucks – and then to the doctor. We got to Starbucks and sat on one of those bench tables, right near two women who were deep in conversation. Nat chewed his chocolate-chocolate cookie and I sipped my creamy drink. Ned had a smoothie.

Nat seemed strangely calm. He wanted to see the doctor – that was clear. His spirit seemed soft once more. I hoped that the crisis might be over, that it was an aberration, all because he was sick. Later on we would learn that he did indeed have strep throat. Good for you, Nat, for telling us all. I will never doubt him again. He had been getting sick, and he’d been very uncomfortable, and he had acted it. His behavior was perfectly natural, given the circumstances.

But even before the affirmation from the positive strep test, I knew that “ it” wasn’t back.He was back.

He’d never gone. He’d just retreated into the shadows while he was sick, like we all do.

Looking down at his cookie, he put his hand through his hair and ruffled it. I absentmindedly reached out and straightened it. The woman next to me suddenly said, “He’s got great hair.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said. I often say “thank you” for Nat. I looked at Nat. His hair, thick, soft and golden like a chick’s feathers.

“Really, he’s beautiful,” the woman said. “He’s lucky to have been born that way,” she said.

And as I sat there, basking in my son’s light, I kind of felt like, yeah, it is definitely worth it, trying to connect with someone you love – whether it is your child, or even G-d.

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