Mother’s Day is a special time to celebrate motherhood. This Mother’s Day, we’re highlighting one of this year’s conference speakers, April T. Giauque, a mother of nine, five of which have special needs.
Coming to the Milestones Conference all the way from Austin, Texas, April is a public speaker and trains teachers how to implement social skill strategies, transition skills, independent living skills, and employment skills to support students who are on the autism spectrum. She moved to Austin in 2015 to pursue better education supports for her children, which also led her to her most recent position as a transition teacher at the Texas School for the Deaf in the 18+ ACCESS program.
Tell us about your experience as a mother and as a special needs teacher?
Being a mother to 9 children is never boring! I’m on the go making, baking, lifting, hugging, holding, counseling, laughing, disciplining, helping, social coaching, crying and cheering for and with them. Since I do all of that with my own family, it was an easy transition to do that with students. For me, motherhood and teaching are synonymous with each other.
How do you juggle being a mother of nine and an educator?
Oh that! I just use wrinkle my nose and ta-dah, its done! No, seriously, there isn’t any magic in it. There is a lot of organization, hard work, and prayer that goes into this. There are large “to do” lists, schedules, and communication. It is all about what motivates me which is love. I love others the best way I can and through love my family, students, and others feel uplifted.
Mother’s Day can be used as a time to reflect on the accomplishments and challenges motherhood brings. What would you say are some of the most rewarding aspects of motherhood?
When I watch my children stumble, fall, or even fail at something—they don’t stay down. They get right back in the game of life—that makes me feel amazing. Other accomplishments are when I hear about my children from other people and the impression my children left with them. Finally, the best reward is in the quiet of the evening as they open up and talk about their day while I massage their backs or arms, or hold them as they drift to sleep.
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Being a past conference speaker and member of the Milestones Board of Directors, John Harrison is no stranger to Milestones’ mission. As an attorney, he practices mostly elder and disability law at Hickman & Lowder Co., LPA. With his practice, John mostly assists seniors and people with disabilities, while also handling disputes in litigation, such as fights over guardianships or trusts.
This year, John is lending his expertise to educate conference attendees about the recent Medicaid waiver changes and how to navigate the new system.
So how did you get into elder and special needs law, John?
I have a hidden visual impairment which gives me a great deal of understanding of what it is like to be different and to face adversity. I’ve always had a strong desire to help. I did public service work with Disability Rights Ohio and Legal Aid. Eventually, I found myself in private practice helping people too.
We are so excited to have you back as a speaker this year! What do you enjoy most about being a part of the conference?
I really like the people the most. Everyone at Milestones is dedicated to this work and it’s reaching many families and providers who care about the special needs of individuals with autism and their loved ones!
Why is it important that law firms like Hickman & Lowder have a presence at events like the Milestones National Autism Conference?
Without information, there rarely can be a successful outcome. Hickman & Lowder, among other lawyers, are helping to advance knowledge and empower families to care for those they love who have very specialized needs. All of us are working together through Milestones to make our community a better, more inclusive place. I am hearing now we are helping people all over the country! It’s so great to be a part of this.
You assist families in navigating through a lot of the logistics that come with accessing government benefits. What would you say is the most common need from families who have a family member with autism?
This is a very broad and important question! Estate planning is often more complex for families with loved ones on the spectrum because a trust is needed. There can be a concern with accessing and keeping public benefits, including Medicaid and waivers. Often, there are concerns about decision-making and guardianship, or other decisions. We see issues involving education too, and sometimes there are even issues about medical care.
You’ve been a presenter at the Milestones Conference in the past and are returning this year with your session, “Something to Hold Onto: Keeping Your Medicaid Waiver Through System Changes.” There have been a lot of questions surrounding these recent changes to the waiver program and waitlist. Can you explain what a waiver is and describe this change in the waitlist status?
Hold onto your seats! Yes, there are many changes to the system. Generally, anyone who is otherwise eligible for Medicaid and who has serious care needs can receive this care in an institution. Examples of facilities are Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs) or nursing facilities. However, many people and their families prefer to live and work in a community setting. When we talk about a “waiver” in this context, we are saying that the state asked for and got permission from the federal government to provide services in the community rather than the institution.
There is a big caveat – services in a facility are a “right.” Services under a waiver are not guaranteed. The individual has to meet the terms of the particular waiver, and there must be an open waiver slot available.
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One of the reasons the Milestones National Autism Conference is unique is its workshops and panels made possible by individuals on the spectrum. One of those individuals in Molly Dann, a 24-year-old self-advocate from Parma who is returning this year to speak about topics relevant to her life and to others in the autism community.
Between planning for her October wedding and being Milestones’ administrative assistant, Molly is also a Good Life Ambassador (GLA) for the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, a role that allows her to educate the local community about autism.
Can you talk about the conference workshops you are doing this year?
I am doing a Safety in the Community presentation with GLA and a session about sensory issues. The sensory issues workshop is my first time presenting a session that I came up with.
How would you describe common sensory-processing issues to someone who doesn’t understand the effects they have on individuals with autism?
Sensory issues are one of the most difficult things to deal with for me. It can make a simple trip to the store something I have to recover from. There are times when noises or textures make me want to physically hurt myself. There are a few basic sensory issues many people with autism share, such as loud noises and bright lights bothering them. There are also very specific and individualized sensory issues.
In your session, “Safely in the Community,” you’ll talk about personal experiences you’ve had. What advice would you give to someone on the spectrum experiencing anxiety when traveling or encountering related challenges?
Don’t let the anxiety keep you from accomplishing things. I have horrible anxiety daily and I have to be careful not to let it decide what I want to do. Continue reading →
Meet Wendy Duke of Theatre on the Spectrum and Center for Applied Drama and Autism. As a Milestones conference veteran, Wendy knows all the ins and outs of being an exhibitor. She’s also presenting this year! Learn more about Wendy and get the inside scoop on taking on the exhibit hall like a pro.
So tell me a little bit about yourself and the Center for Applied Drama and Autism (CADA)?
Laura Valendza and I are co-founders of the Center for Applied Drama and Autism, a non-profit located in Akron, OH. We were both teaching at Miller South School for the Visual & Performing Arts and began working on some ideas to help our students with autism use drama to develop confidence and to build social skills. Over the past six years, we have developed a Saturday youth program featuring classes for ages eight to 18 and a youth theatre company. Last year, we began a day theatre company for adults with disabilities in collaboration with Ardmore Inc., a local service provider.
What drove you to create your organization?
We noticed that many young people with autism were attracted to drama. We realized that the theatre provides a safe space to have fun and make friends while playing games and acting in roles that help empower our students in real life.
You’re also the program director for Theatre on the Spectrum. What is the most rewarding aspect of your position?
Each individual who has applied to join our theatre company has the same thing in common: the need to perform and the lack of an opportunity to do so, due to a society that has not encouraged them to step on stage or in front of a camera. You might say I changed careers from working with gifted students to working with students whose gifts were never recognized.
You’ve returned to the Milestones Autism Conference time and time again. What makes you come back every year?
I began attending knowing so little about autism and I come back because I learn something new every year! Each year, I take home piles of notes from the presentations along with books purchased from the fabulous vendors in the exhibition hall. In the past years, I hoped to see someone present on drama and autism, but alas — nothing! So eventually, Laura and I submitted a proposal and we were accepted! This year will be CADA’s third presentation at Milestones.
What insight would you give to other autism organizations and service providers who haven’t attended the conference?
First off, there is so much to see and so many presentations to attend that you will want to wear some sensible shoes! The presenters are always ready to answer your questions. Take time to have a cup of coffee and make friends with other people attending the conference. I have found that people are very willing to share ideas and resources. Continue reading →
As a speech-language pathologist in training, I recognize the importance of self-advocacy. As an Autistic* person and sister of another Autistic adult, I have seen firsthand how safety and happiness depend on it. I spent years watching my brother come home from school hurt, angry, and misunderstood. His self-advocacy, rather than being cherished and honed, was often ignored or even punished. The trauma he endured in these experiences, and my experiences learning to advocate for myself, while riddled with anxiety, have shaped my appreciation of the critical need to honor and promote self-advocacy.
My brother’s diagnostic process followed the usual timeline. My mother and the pediatrician noticed early developmental delays in areas of mobility and speech. He got his diagnosis by age 3 and was enrolled in early intervention. After school each day, I’d sit on the other side of the mirrored-window and watch various professionals work with him. My journey with autism has differed widely from the understood norm, but is not at all uncommon. In kindergarten, I was reading chapter books and already performing in the top of my class. My mother’s ongoing lament throughout my life was that I could be “so good at school, yet so difficult at home.” As it turns out, this holding-it-together-in-public-and-melting-down-at-home routine is common in people whose autism doesn’t present naturally. We have managed to appear “okay” when complete loss of control feels too unsafe. But doing so taxes our nervous systems heavily such that we pay for it later.
For most of my early life, it didn’t occur to anyone, myself included, that I might also be on the spectrum. At school, I was quiet, but quick to learn. At home, I was an unruly brat. My brother was probably the first to realize, though not consciously. We bonded with one another more deeply than with anyone else in this world. During family parties, we have always found where the other was hiding (or crying if we got too overwhelmed) and quietly kept each other company, an unspoken tradition of camaraderie. We would pick up each other’s stims and lift the mattress for each other to go under when we were struggling.
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