Regions Bank Rolls Out Autism-Friendly Initiatives

Regions Bank, which serves 15 mostly Southern states in the U.S., has joined the growing number of businesses offering autism-friendly services and programs. The Alabama-based financial institution is promoting autism awareness and adopting autism friendliness by implementing accommodations for autistic individuals within each bank branch. They’ve also focused on training staff to recognize autism, react to situations appropriately, and communicate with autistic individuals.

Regions partnered with the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Autism Society of Alabama to develop and launch this initiative. In addition to designated quiet areas in all branches, the banks have “sensory packs” that contain noise-cancelling earbuds, sunglasses and a stress ball, to help reduce the stress of noise, light and other environmental factors. Regions contracted with Workshops, Inc.—a non-profit whose employees have developmental disabilities—to put together the kits.

Future plans may go further than just autism awareness, by focusing on helping autistic adults as customers—not just as companions to customers. As this image from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network shows, there are actions that Regions can implement that will help autistic adult with their financial needs.

Kathy Lovell, the ADA manager at Regions, continues to meet with autism support groups and service organizations within the bank’s branch communities, and has plans for the future.

“Just because an individual has a disability does not mean that they don’t have earned income and want to make wise investments,” she said. “I really feel like this supports two of Regions’ core values: doing what is right and making life better.”

12 Year Old Creates Disability App

Twelve-year-old Alexander Knoll is a shining example for changing the world at any age. The tween has invented the prototype for Ability App™, an application designed to “help people with disabilities and their caregivers search for specific disability friendly features, services and employment.”

Set up as a directory, the Ability App features locations such as restaurants, stores and hotels that state they are “disability friendly.” The app then lists exactly what disability-friendly features and services are available, such as Braille signs and menus, wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, service animal relief, and more. Services such as occupational therapy, grocery delivery and transportation are also included, as are employment opportunities specifically geared towards individuals with disabilities.

Most people assume that Alexander first thought up Ability App because a close friend or family member has some type of disability, but this isn’t the case. The idea came to him after he watched a man in a wheelchair struggle to open a door at a local sporting goods store. It made him wonder whether there was an app that would have helped the man determine ahead of time that this store didn’t have automatic doors, and also list other local sports stores that did. When Alexander went home and researched, he found out that such an app didn’t exist. So, he decided to create one.

He submitted his idea to Invent Idaho when he was just 10, and won its “Best of Show” award. After that, his app prototype received awards and recognition from I Cubed, the AT&T and Imagination Foundation’s Inventor’s Challenge, and the Discovery 3M Young Scientist’s Challenge. He’s presented his plans to teachers and university students and on various news shows, culminating in his appearance last week on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Watch this wonderful young man tell Ellen about his amazing app below.

We Are All Different, Not Less

Most people, including me, seem to be primed to recognise faces in inanimate objects. I know that I instinctively add a layer of social story to the things and events I observe.

I find myself constantly making up imagined and complicated backstories for my fellow commuters when I’m travelling to and from work.

In order to keep the kids amused, my husband and I used to really go to town with backstories about other families in neighbouring cars when we were in traffic jams on long road trips. I suspect our children may actually believe that we were once in a ferry queue next to the handsome and extremely wealthy Prince Razis, who had decided to try out life as a “normo” by hiring a VW van for a week’s camping holiday in Northern Ireland with his young bride and baby daughter. The chap was more likely a software engineer from Telford, but our version of him was definitely more entertaining. Other families do this too, right?

A few years ago, my autistic son, Edward, and I sat down and watched a Horizon Documentary presented by one of the UK’s leading experts in Autism, Uta Frith. If my memory serves me well, at one point in the documentary an experiment was shown where both autistic and non-autistic adults watched a very short animation involving a large triangle, a small triangle and a rectangle. The shapes moved in relation to each other and viewers were asked to describe the story being depicted.

I can’t access the Horizon episode now but I think the animation shown was similar to, but probably not the same as, the one devised in 1944 by Heider & Simmel, two research psychologists. The Heider & Simmel animation is available on YouTube here.

I wonder what story you see when you watch it? (If you plan to watch it, do so now before you read any further. It’ll take less than 2 minutes, but if you haven’t got time please read on.)

Uta explained that people on the autistic spectrum were more likely to stick to descriptions of how the shapes physically moved in relation to one another when asked to describe what was happening in the film clip. “The large triangle moves to the top right of the rectangle whilst the circle moves backwards and forwards inside the bottom third of the rectangle,” etc.

Non-autistic people were more likely to attach roles and meanings to the animation, with shapes becoming personified. A story involving humanistic interactions would usually be forthcoming.

At this point, I remember turning to Edward and saying something like, “It’s a story about a mum who wants her kid to stop playing outside with their naughty friend. The kid wants to stay outside and so the mum ends up shooing him in through the door. The kid escapes and runs off with the naughty friend and the mum is furious about it.”

Edward looked at me as if I was saying the most ridiculous thing in the world. I think he even said, “Where did you get that idea from? it’s just some moving shapes!”

Uta then told viewers that because people are primed to see social behaviour and purpose even in the movement of geometric shapes, most people would have clearly seen a mother and child having a disagreement about where the child should play.

Edward turned to me, dumbfounded.

He honestly looked at me as if I was a living genius.

It’s the only time in my life when I remember him holding me with that regard. He was completely in awe of my ability to make sense of something that made absolutely no sense to him whatsoever.

It was quite nice to have the tables turned.

You see, Edward has a brilliant memory and can understand, store and retrieve all sorts of complex pieces of information. I don’t even come close to matching Edward in these skills.

As a young child, Edward would repeatedly ask me, “Tell me something that I don’t already know.” I soon ran out of things to tell him that he was interested in learning about. At one point I even ended up teaching him phonetics, which I’d studied at university, and for a while afterwards I’d hear him making weird vocal sounds from his bedroom in much the same way as I had done whilst trying to learn the subject as an undergraduate.

One day, despairing of my inability to divulge any new information, he asked me, “Mum, would you say you were of average or below average intelligence?” He wasn’t being intentionally rude; he simply couldn’t believe how limited my ability to recall factual information was.

When I told him I was probably of above average intelligence, he looked genuinely shocked and surprised, and then I think he then moved swiftly into a position of worry about the state of humankind.

You’ll therefore appreciate just how wonderful it was for me to bask in the temporary glory of being viewed as a genius by my own son.

The world needs humans who are diverse, who think different thoughts and who have different skills to offer. After all, human progress would come to an abrupt stop if we were all the same.

It can so often be the case that our autistic children are pathologised and everyone involved becomes overly focused on the things that they find difficult. It is, of course, important to try to help our children develop new social skills and learn compensatory strategies for the things they find challenging, but it damages them if this intervention and attention is delivered at the expense of failing to fully recognise, celebrate and nurture them and their strengths.

My son couldn’t tell you a convincing social story based on watching some moving geometric shapes. Unlike my son, I couldn’t tell you about all the candidates who stood in the recent French election or about all the latest developments in green technology.

We are all different, not less.

The original version of this article first appeared here.

When Living With Your Autistic Child Becomes ‘Unsustainable’

I went with my daughter to see a mental health advisor. Her anxiety is out of control, her sleeping is poor and her eating almost non-existent. It is obvious my daughter is struggling and is on the cusp of being diagnosed with a mental health condition. The more my daughter talks and the more the advisor hears about home life, the more she shakes her head.

“This cannot continue,” she says with a sigh. “This level of anxiety is unsustainable.”

“Until the root cause of the difficulties is addressed,” she says looking right at me, “your daughter is never going to get well.”

“You already seem to know this. Will you help your daughter?”

She is asking me to put one child above another.

My son with severe autism is destroying his sister mentally and keeping them together is now “unsustainable.”

I had a long chat with the social worker. The hours of screaming, the self harming, the level of control that rules the entire house: it is killing my family. The smearing, the lack of sleep, the isolation: it is destroying my marriage. The violence and anger is damaging both physically and mentally to us all.

She gives me a stark choice: either one child will end up in a mental hospital or the other will need residential care.

Continuing as we are is not an option.

Then there are the parents. Both already on antidepressants, both exhausted and drained and barely functioning.

Love is not the question here: living is.

What do you do when caring for your autistic child becomes “unsustainable” for the rest of the family?

What if his unrelenting need for sameness means others are denied change too? What if his lack of sleep is physically exhausting everybody else? What if his meltdowns are so severe they are putting others at risk? What if his care needs mean siblings are denied having friends over and can never be part of the community they live in? What if his rigidity is so severe that nobody can have a haircut or even a new pair of glasses? What sort of effect does that have on a family?

Is love enough when damage is being done daily to everyone, both mentally and physically, by keeping the child with autism at home with his family?

He is my child, my heartbeat, my every breath, my all.

I can’t let go of him, but I am not sure I should keep him either.

This is not bad parenting; this is life with severe autism. 

I am doing my best with insufficient support. So many families are in the same place.

Love is not the question, living is.

Can I actually admit to myself that living with my own autistic son is “unsustainable”?

The Autism-Friendly Products We REALLY Want

When your child has autism and disabilities, you start to notice as they get older that some products you’d like to buy just aren’t easy to get hold of — or available at all. And, if they are, you can guarantee that there will be a disability price tag attached to it! You know that one where they multiply the normal price by ten, adding lots of extra zeros?

My friend and I often joke that if we were entrepreneurial enough, we’d set up a store for the disabled community with an array of products at affordable prices. Someone is missing a trick! There are so many products not on store shelves that I know would sell! And why are we so often ripped off?

So businesses, if you ever feel like listening, here are just some of the things parents would like to be easily available to buy…

Bigger Nappies and Swimming Nappies

In the U.K., we are lucky to have the NHS continence service, but not everyone is entitled to free nappies and not everyone gets the amount that they need. There are bigger nappies available online, but they tend to come with the disability price tag and with fewer in a pack than standard-sized nappies. It would be great to be able to buy bigger sizes at a reasonable price in supermarkets. I actually started a petition about this in the U.K. last year, so watch this space!

Similarly, we have the same issue with swimming nappies. I’ve just bought my 5 year-old son, Brody, one online that is washable, but in the U.K. it’s very hard to buy disposable swimming nappies for older children and adults.

Bigger Ride-On Toys

Brody learnt to use a ride-on toy when he was nearly 4 years old. He is tall and now, sadly, too big for them all. He is unable to use pedals. I contacted Little Tikes last year to ask if they would consider making a bigger Cosy Coupe because it breaks my heart when Brody tries to climb into his younger sister’s. And I know I’m not alone. I have seen lots of people online with the same predicament so many times.

Little Tikes response was that there wasn’t a big enough market for it. Hmmm… I beg to differ!

Bigger Push-Along Toys

Bigger push-along toys, like buggies, for children who are late to walk or just like to push toys along would be great. My son was a late walker and needed support for a long time. These days he loves push-along toys, like his toy lawnmower and buggy, but they are fast becoming too small for him.

Cartoon Character Clothing

Character clothing tends to stop at a certain age. The age when a neurotypical child is no longer interested in having “Bing Bunny” or “Peppa Pig” on a T-shirt. It’s sad for parents who can’t buy their child a T-shirt with their favourite character on it because they are typically “too old” for it. Someone please make them in bigger sizes!

Whilst we’re at it, can we make the head holes in T-shirts a little bit bigger for children who have slightly bigger heads, like my son?

Trouser Pants with Nappy Space

Yes, I’m back to nappies again! There are a limited number of stores where I can now buy Brody trousers because a lot of trousers for children his age have less room around the bum and not enough space for a nappy. They also have really skinny legs on them.

We need trousers — jeans, joggers, cargo pants, shorts and pyjama bottoms — with higher and elasticated waists. I’m lucky there are a few stores I can rely on at the moment. But I know this will get harder as he gets older. Then I’ll have to refer to a catalogue with no doubt overpriced trousers and a disability price tag. Sigh!

Trouser Pants with Reinforced Knees

If your child falls over a lot like mine, you’ll get through trousers very quickly. Is there such thing as trousers with reinforced knees? If not, please can some entrepreneurial genius design and sell some for our kids?!

Sensory-Friendly Clothes

A friend of mine struggles to find her 12 year-old daughter short-sleeved jersey dresses with no buttons, textures or other embellishments. As seam-free and decoration-free as possible, please!

Can we add seam-free socks to this list?

Bigger All-in-One Pyjamas with Feet

Is it just me or do these seem to stop being available at around 4 years of age? We struggle with bedtime wear. A lot. Brody won’t keep a duvet on him and it’s hard to guess whether he is too hot or too cold (he is unable to tell us). Fleecy all-in-one suits with feet on have been brilliant in the past, but we now can’t find any in his size.

Safe Beds

Brody is fortunate enough to have a travel bed currently on loan from a charity. It has high material walls that are soft and is low to the ground. This means that when he bangs his head, which he frequently does, he doesn’t hurt himself. You can also zip the side of the bed up if you like so that he is asleep in a safe space. Brody has epilepsy, as well as autism, so a safe bed is essential.

The bed is fantastic, but it costs more than £4000. I’ve seen other safety sleeper beds advertised online for similar prices. The cost is ridiculous! I don’t know how they even begin to justify it.

You can add specialist seating here too! My friend’s son, who has complex disabilities, has a bean bag with effectively a Velcro strap attached to it. It cost £600. It’s not hard to make, so why the high price?

Specialist Shoes

If your child needs specialist shoes, you know that these come at a price. Thank God for the NHS in the U.K.. Brody’s piedro boots cost around £120.

If your child has an AFO or splint, you’ll know finding shoes that they fit into is a total pain!

There’s a gap in the market here!

Bigger Strollers

Someone please design a bigger stroller that you can buy in stores that doesn’t have that disability price tag. I promise people will buy it. Do it now, please!

Bigger Car Seats

Again — come on! Why does a seat that looks identical to the typical, slightly smaller version cost so much more money? Bigger car seats with a five-point harness that don’t cost the Earth to buy. They. Will. Sell!

Inclusive Play Parks

When playgrounds are built, so often children with autism and other disabilities are left out of the thought process. Bigger swings, equipment for wheelchairs, sensory play equipment. There are so many things that could make play parks inclusive. Yet, most aren’t inclusive in the slightest. This is why we love our own garden so much. There is play equipment Brody can use and we know he is safe, which is paramount.

But surely all children should be able to enjoy their local playground?

Rant over!

What do you think?

What would you add to the list if you could?

Maybe one day, if we all shout loud enough, someone out there will hear us and help us parents out.

Please?

 

Piece by Piece

Piece by piece, I felt my aching heart shatter into a million pieces. Each piece slowly tore away until my heart, which was once whole and perfect, crumbled into a million pieces. Little did I know that it would be slowly put back together, but in a much different way than before.

“Your child has autism.” It rolled off the doctor’s tongue as if it was nothing. It came out of her mouth so effortlessly and without any compassion. I sat there, feeling my heart start to break, piece by piece. Little did I know then that it was just the beginning of my broken heart.

As time went on, each piece disentangled more and more. The therapy schedule filled up and the life I knew before was no more.

My phone calls for catching up with friends turned into phone calls to fight insurance companies. My relationships with friends and family changed. I no longer could be the friend I wanted to be. I couldn’t do shopping trips away from my child. I couldn’t have a girl’s night out. It simply couldn’t happen. I had a child who needed me 24/7 and no one was pounding on my door, begging to babysit.

The anticipation as a first-time mother to hear my firstborn say, “Mommy, I love you” never came.

Trips to the store with my child simply couldn’t happen.

Normal, day-to-day living was hard work and exhausting. Nothing was easy. Brushing teeth, putting on clothes, and potty training were a far cry from what typical families experience.

Shopping for age-appropriate toys doesn’t happen. A simple look in the eye from my son may happen once a month, if I am lucky.

A full night’s rest was no more. We don’t know if and when we will sleep. Slowly, as life changed to adapt to our new life with autism, my heart just kept breaking, piece by piece.

The stages of grief came and they still happen daily. The rollercoaster life of autism was our new normal and it was the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life.

I soon found myself wondering the dreaded question: “What will happen to my child when I am gone?” I worry and ask myself this every single day.

Again, each day the pieces fell from my heart. It’s a hard life, but even though my heart broke piece by piece, I finally found the way to put it back together.

Slowly, over time, acceptance entered my life and I started to put the pieces back together.

As hard as it is some days, I started focusing on the positives. I started to see the joy in the unexpected. I soon saw the beauty. On some days, it is hard to find the beauty in severe autism, but there is always something even if it is a small thing. I long for the life I had before every day–that never goes away. However, I do enjoy the beauty of my new life.

Even though I have worked through and put the pieces of my heart back together, it will never be like it was before. I smile and laugh behind the scars that my heart has. The scars hurt and they are wounds from the life I envisioned for my child; a life without any trials. However, piece by piece, I put my heart back together and learned how to work though the scars. That is simply what we have to do.

Autism parents don’t have a choice. Our hearts breaks into a million pieces when our child is diagnosed and slowly, over time, the pieces are put back together, but in a different way than before. None of our closest family and friends could ever begin to fathom what we went through with each piece that was torn off. The only ones that know that feeling are other autism parents.

As time goes on, I hope you can enjoy how your new heart is put together, piece by piece.

The Wheelchair Icon Discussion

Is it time to update the International Symbol of Access to represent all the special needs that need accommodations?

Over the last decade, the global community has made great progress in the recognition of special needs. Whether it’s Autism, Down Syndrome or ALS, few can argue that people are less aware of special needs than they were a decade ago.

And sometimes as a society we need to revisit how we represent these needs in our words and symbols to reflect culture today. Brands do it all the time. Coca-Cola has changed its logo eight times since 1886; Pepsi eleven times. Even new companies like Instagram changed their logo in the first decade.

The icon on the Disabled parking permit logo is the International Symbol of Access (ISA), also known as the (International) Wheelchair Symbol. It was designed by Danish design student, Susanne Koefoed, in 1968.

The current icon is probably one of the most recognized symbols in the world (and ISO 7011 standard). It is also one of the greatest examples of an icon that needs changing today.

Who is actually eligible for a Disabled/Handicap Parking Permit?

Let’s first say you don’t need to use a wheelchair to get a permit.

This is a critical point.

With a symbol that looks like a wheelchair as part of the icon, it implies that you have a physical walking disability.

This post is not intended to undermine the importance of ensuring accessibility for those with a walking disability or who are in wheelchairs. It’s just pointing out that the current icon insinuates a physical walking disability is the only one covered, and that’s simply not true.

Is it a wheelchair in the icon?

It’s important to note that the wheel cutout is simply that. A wheel. Not a wheelchair.

I understand that completely. But it is still hard not to think of a wheelchair when looking at this icon and, again, you don’t need a physical walking disability to be approved for a pass in many states.

My son has autism. He walks fine. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t fall into the permissible categories for application and be approved. It would mean, however, that now we would have a permit with what looks like a wheelchair on it. I would imagine even my son would ask, “Daddy, why are we parking in the wheelchair spot?”

On one hand, it shows the incredible success of this icon—a level of success many brands would kill for. On the other hand, it shows why we need to change or modify it.

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, you can apply for a special parking permit in many states, even if your child can walk.

In New York, for example, on Form MV6641, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Application for a Parking Permit or License Plates for Persons with Severe Disabilities, an applicant doesn’t have to indicate they use a wheelchair. They can apply under these conditions:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment or condition not listed above which constitutes an equal degree of disability, and which imposes unusual hardship in the use of public transportation and prevents the person from getting around without great difficulty?

Where does it say the applicant needs a wheelchair?

Let’s think about this for a moment. Your child can walk, yet the government decides to label them with a permit that visually looks like it has a wheelchair on it. Again, I get that it’s not supposed to be a wheelchair, but a wheel.

Social Stigma

With that said, I understand we live in a society where social media has magnified the power of almost any issue. Whether it’s race, age, sex, religion, or something else, not everyone will be on board, and not everything can be changed.

One solution could be to create another symbol altogether to identify non-walking disabilities for people who need similar accommodations in life.

The current International Symbol of Access is powerful and successful. However, it is a visual sign that reinforces a social stigma. And persons and/or families of special needs should never have to defend the reason they get to park in a space. Neither should they be judged by strangers who don’t understand the laws of who gets to receive a special needs parking permit.

I am going to keep using the phrase “special needs” here since I refuse to call them handicap or disabled parking permits.

The current icon justifies a social stigma and that is my biggest issue with it. In fact, before becoming a special needs parent, I actually thought you needed a wheelchair to get one… because it has (the look of) a wheelchair as part of the icon.

Some Change Has Been Made

In 2013, Sara Hendren and Brian Glenney co-founded the Accessible Icon project, designing a new icon that displays an active, engaged image with focus on the person with the disability. The new proposed symbol was met with some debate (as almost everything always is), but ultimately is now used in the states of New York and Connecticut, and elsewhere around the world. It also has a spot in the permanent collection of MOMA, The Museum of Modern Art.

Change doesn’t happen unless people know what they are trying to change. From the Water Bucket Challenge for ALS to Movember for Men’s Health, there is no doubt the level of awareness for special needs and causes is growing. This seems like the perfect time to look at our icons again.

Can You Get a Handicap Parking Permit for Autism?

Did you know that many states allow families of autism to apply for a special parking permit?

Most states refer to these special permits as Handicap or Disabled parking permits and (while these terms are outdated – that’s a whole other topic), some states even extend application approval to passengers in your family.

In New Hampshire, for example, you can apply under a Walking Disability. The application provides various conditions that would apply, such as someone who is:

  • “severely limited in the ability to walk due to an arthritic, neurological, orthopedic, or other medically disabling condition.”

In many states you also do not need a walking disability for approval.

In New York, for example, the New York DMV’s application for a Parking Permit or License Plates for Persons with Severe Disabilities reads that a person can apply under these conditions:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment or condition not listed above which constitutes an equal degree of disability, and which imposes unusual hardship in the use of public transportation and prevents the person from getting around without great difficulty?

Other states have the same or similar language.

Simply click here to view your state’s rules and regulations for applying.

Social Perception

Having a pass can provide special needs families with the accommodation they often need. On the other hand, they can also open up a sense of social stigma (or labeling) that some may not feel comfortable with.

We even wrote an article about the need to change the International Accessibility Icon or add another one which better represent those persons with special needs who do not a have walking disability, but still need other accommodations.

There is no right or wrong answer to this. Every family can make a decision as to whether or not applying for a special permit has benefits for their family, but the fact is in most states you can apply and be issued one.

For some families (however government wants to call it), these passes can make a world of difference in day-to-day activities.