My stay at the Hiram G. Andrews Center was a Success, there are others, don’t rule out recent incidents

Recently, the Johnstown TV Station aired a story about the recent police activity at the Hiram G. Andrews Center there, It outlined that there were three incidents there in recent weeks including a bout where four students that broke into the old Westmont-Hilltop Elementary school and vandalized the interior, a instance where security was in search of illegal drugs and found a gun and mass quantities of ammunition, and yet another incident where a student had a episode and assaulted a center security guard and center staff member. Nonetheless, in all three incidences, the local police Department of Upper Yoder Township was dispatched to respond.

Being out of the school for almost thirteen years, I can honestly say we too had incidents at the school, One of the major ones that was publicized on TV was where two students went to the Little League field adjoining the center and elementary school next door set ablaze property there. Another incident involving the law was involved members of the community that were in physical altercation in a courtyard. Of course being a facility that housed young adults we had the typical incidents that HGA security handled like possession of alcohol which is prohibited within the confines of the center.

WJAC attempted to actually find out more about HGA and what they offer for students there.. While a prepared statement by the Department of Labor of Industry was dispersed to the  local media, the media questions as to whether students are background checked prior to admission.Today, the center had a post on their Facebook Page about their CNA program and stated that background checks were provided as well as all other necessary processes for employment activity.

When learning about HGA almost 20 years ago, I really wanted to go. At the time I was a teenager in High School was unsure of post-secondary plans. I followed the recommended course of action and became involved with the district Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. I did have some prior and then-current behavior that rose concerns to those at the school. Nonetheless the summer between my Sophomore and Junior years, I toured the school, about one hour and fifteen minutes from my home. I seen a model dorm room, visited the shops and common areas and fell in love with it. This is where I wanted to learn.

However OVR and HGA staff had concerns about my attendance at the center. I had to get letters of recommendation along with exhibit one year without a major incident. I adamantly did the next two years. even becoming a swim team manager at the high school and later becoming discharged from in-home wraparound services. However, OVR and HGA staff kept pushing the cart. To make certain of what program you would like to attend, a two to three week evaluation stay is required. While getting all necessary documentation ready, I received a call in the summer of 2004 stating I would get the opportunity to attend a evaluation in October 2004. I had to get a mengonococal vaccine to attend, which became the hardest part. However, my parents PCP agreed to get it for me, costing $80 to get it. When I received the letter from the Admissions Committee indicated that 1.) you will be closely monitored, 2). Any Incidents will lead up to immediate discharge, and 3.) You will meet with the center psychiatrist.

On a Sunday Morning in October 2004, I made the trip to Johnnstown, PA to start my Evaluation visit. I checked in with the Male Dorm Counselor and was assigned my room, which was in at the time a co-ed dormitory. Don’t worry, we didn’t share the bathrooms as we each shared one with the adjoining room and it was equipped with a shower in it. That afternoon, my roommate arrived, which was surprisingly someone I knew from the high school that I attended while in residential treatment. That evening, we got a small walk-around campus by the recreation department. The next morning we visited the counseling department where the counselor stated that he too had reservations about me attending, but deep inside he felt I would be fine.

The first week would be a battery of tests, with one of those evenings participating in a orientation on how to utilize public transportation, something I will never forget, The fist half of the next week resulted in me performing more tests before being able to tryout some more classes the next week and a half, before being able to come home with opportunity in sight.

The next spring, I met with the local OVR counselor who stated that I would be accepted and could chose the General Office Clerk program. While not my first choice, today I am grateful in this choice as I use skills I learned there every day in my job and volunteer opportunities that make me a true asset to both entities. In April of 2005, I would yet receive yet another letter that with the two of the three considerations being there and the “Any Incidents will lead up to immediate discharge” not being there.

In May 2005, I went back to Johnstown and followed the same procedures and was with another roommate that we got along in so many ways. I used the bus, saw the clinic psychiatrist as needed, attended classes as required only missing when needed to do so. That summer I also learned to uses intercity passenger rail to go to Greensburg on the weekends to see my sister, I did this every other weekend. I did play bingo most weeks, spend time with colleagues, the usual stuff. I never had disciplinary action, however the dorm president did advocate for me once when other residents were bullying me. The Christmas there was a dorm decorating contest that I participated in and our dorm won with a pizza party and a movie. The dorm president was the life of the party. Sadly, he completed a suicide a few years back, I do think of him sometimes.

In April of 2006, graduation neared and I was on the honors list all three terms and was honored a kudos award for showing evaluation students to the program. On graduation day, April 28, 2006 I walked on that stage and proudly moved back home.

For a few months I stayed home with my dad, this was detrimental to my life, and a few months later, I returned to the Clubhouse that I attended prior to attending HGA. While sometimes I found this to be a setback in my mental health and vocational recovery, I today reflect on it and find it was one of the best things that I could do for myself. A month after returning there a new director would be appointed , he’s still there today. I would work some jobs off and on. The next year, I would attend colleague training in South Carolina for two weeks on that model. And yet in 2010,when that same director would explore what would be my job. I had no intention at the time on working as I was very happy relying on social security alone.  However, my supervisor was very adamant on bringing me on board, and  I kindly accepted. This job, which will reach the nine-year milestone on being employed in has not opened so many doors, but has made me a better person. Yet, I use those skills that I learned at HGA in my work daily and will continue to do so.

Does HGA have stigma? yes it does. Can you be successful there? Absolutely! It is all in what you make it. If you dont skip class, perform to the best of your abilities and behave, it can be lauded as on of the best opportunities you can have in your life. One of the things I regret is that I never bonded many friendships while there, however, since then I have blossomed socially since and plan to blossom more. In the end, HGA is what you make it, there are successes as well as failures, but don’t bash these three incidents as what it is all about.

The sugary drinks, the realized effects

As mentioned in the last post just posted (read down) I had a bad Soda addiction and recently gave up diet soda, all shy of having three regular sodas and sweet tea, which I no longer plan to consume.

Tonight at my Weight loss meeting it will officially be 21 days of forgoing soda. I am proud of where I’ve come at this point, yet I’m disappointed that I have been using sweet tea as my new drug of choice and I realized that last week and cut back a good bit to no longer wanting it as of right now.

Nonetheless, all things aside I will mention some of what is bad about not only soda, but energy drinks. I have seen alot of individuals with mental health needs consume them and time and time again have seen some things it causes. Let me make it clear. I have NEVER consumed as much as a sip of that stuff. I know of the cheap ones for 99 cents and the more common ones like Rockstar and Red Bull. One time I saw what the drink actually looked like outside the can and was disgusted, that sold me on never consuming it, nonetheless seeing some of the side effects of consuming them.

In an article online regarding Caffeine and Autism,, the chemical can help improve memory and concentration, but may also worsen anxiety and interfere with sleep. Abnormal fears and increased anxiety are common in autistic patients and are likely a result of a dysfunctioning amygdala.

The article further notes To date, there’s little research to indicate that caffeine plays a significant role in autism treatment. At best, reducing caffeine intake could lessen anxiety and hyperactivity. To find out if caffeine has an impact on a patient with autism, experts suggest an elimination diet, which systematically eliminates foods that could trigger unwanted behaviors prior to gradually reintroducing each food one at a time to see if the patient has a reaction. “Several lines of investigation have shown that the chemistry and function of both the developing and the mature brain are influenced by diet,” writes J.D. Fernstrom of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in the June 2000 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.”.

In our community, many individuals on the spectrum are now becoming adults and as a result, parents in many cases can’t oversee every food or beverage choice they make. This became more evident in myself. Freedom can be a scary thing, yet it can be wild to the manner that you start exhibiting behaviors that are unusual for anyone, if it isn’t presented to the individual by someone they trust. Maybe at that point the individual will “get it” and realize that it is a danger to not only their well being, but it could be hurt those close to them.

Additionally this just doesn’t apply solely to those in the Autism spectrum, soda and especially energy drinks have a very adverse effect on those taking them to control their mental health or to prevent other neurological events, like seizures and for example. I know of many neurologist who highly recommend not drinking Soda, and if they must, regular. The stuff that sweetens diet sodas is dangerous sometimes to the touch, and you must be extremely careful in what you consume.

Over the last decade, I have had several sodas of choice such as Coke, Diet Coke, Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi and Coke Zero to name some, of which I don’t have The desire to ever consume again. I now realize that a former psychiatrist that had a good working relationship with my mom told me when I had a liter bottle of Diet Coke in my hand during a medication Management session that I needed to quit drinking Soda, especially diet immediately. Until recently I was under the impression that my mom was pressuring him to say this stuff. Now I realize years later that I should have done it then, and then when I had a meltdown the night after I was awarded the Leadership in Recovery award. But that was then and this is now.

Since forgoing soda in most cases three weeks ago, there has been a report by the
American Heart and Stroke associations that in having two or more diet sodas a day could result, especially in females over 50 in clot based strokes, heart attacks and even death. This risk is higher in women that are obese. as well as African American women. While this is only a association, nothing could be more fitting than to give it up.

In a way I’m excited to forgo tea too. It may seem odd and funny but I have been told by told by many TOPS members and leaders, including my mother when she held the leader title once that drinking water is an important function of life and it flushes you out. I know it’s for the best and the way I think about it is peculiar and odd, but it’s what I need to believe to do it. End of story.

The sugary drinks have been winding down the last few weeks and now I find more reason to give it up for Good

As promised, I am going to write that follow up on the detrimental effects on Soda that have affected me for many years. In fact, many of those years I was in denial about quitting pop although several family and friends as well as medical professionals said it wasn’t good for me. I continuously ignored their advice, and drank a lot of it anyway.

When I was living with my parents, my dad hasn’t drank any Soda in 72 years of his life and my mom who would go for a glass now and then would have to hide it from me because I would drink it in spite of it being hers, sometimes after she drank from the bottle. I know that is disgusting. I never knew how truly addicted I was to the Soda.

Soda was eminent when growing up. My extended family always had it in their fridges. Many times it was caffeine free, sometimes not. Being younger and on Ritalin in my early years, I didn’t want anything to eat or drink for that matter. It didn’t really start in excess until I went away after High School to vocational rehabilitation school. There was no one watching or judging me and what I consumed. The facility was barrier free and was connected under one roof, meaning accessing vending machines was no difficulty. There was a bank of them very close to my dorm wing available around the clock. Also at the school was a canteen that offers hot food and yet another bank of drinks for consumption. I constantly visited these places, especially after I began to have social security benefits, because I didn’t have to pay rent, just a cable bill and some other things, so money was no object at the time. Regardless, in the year I stayed there, my weight blossomed from 256 to 280.

When I graduated, I came back home and joined a local gym, but with no real guidance and lack of proper diet, I never lost any weight. I continued to drink the soda in excess. My soda of choice when I first moved back was Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi. I loved it, I would usually buy a two liter bottle that would be short lived in my parents refrigerator. We had went to an amusement park later on and we visited the gift shop where it was the end of the season and merchandise was reduced. My mom bought a large blue plastic tumbler with a handle for 50 cents. From that time 12 years ago until I recently gave up pop. I would take that cup and fill it up with soda as far as I could possibly fill it without spilling it. My parents complained, sometimes excessively, but I acted like a jerk and did what I wanted anyway.

Also around that time, I joined the local TOPS chapter, yet still unwilling to make a full change, I would attempt at times to quit, but would relapse. One of the van drivers has for about five or six years would stop every morning at a local convince store so I could fill up on the sauce and this was later mixed with food that wasn’t healthy by any means.

Later I would have a change in transportation that I would no longer be able to get sodas in the morning, but the addiction continued. Everywhere I would go i would be looking for a vending machine so I could get my fix on sugar and caffeine. I kept ignoring the advice and guidance of my parents and others as I thought they were treating me like a child. However, I now realize this simply wasn’t the case, they were trying to look out for my best interest.

One of the days I remember my soda addiction got the best of me was April 21, 2017. I, along with my parents and co-workers made the journey to a hotel where I was awarded the Leadership in Recovery award by the local managed care organization for efforts in my mental health recovery. I knew were the soda spots were in the hotel and I wasn’t social that day alot. I just wanted my fix.

When the pomp and circumstance ended for the day and I was at my parents house. I requested for my mom to take me to the local store. She knew why and adamantly said no. For about twenty minutes I continued to ask again and again, and again and again the answer was NO! I ended that half hour screaming and yelling some pretty inappropriate stuff that someone who had a mother that would do anything in the best interest of her child should had no baseboard right doing. I realized how silly, yet so addicted to this stuff I was. And while my mom would then prohibit me from bringing it in the house from that point on, I had the van driver I currently have and he would stop pretty regularly for me to get my fix. It would be almost another two years before I would give the sauce up for good.

The next year I would have many changes as some of them are outlined here in this blog and some will be discussed later

While I got my learner’s permit early in 2018. One of the biggest hurdles of 2018 was that I began living independently, thus not being under the control of my parents. I began making rules like no Soda and the house. That lasted two days, if that.

Nonetheless, I became addicted more than ever to soda and at massive quantities. While I never took an exact inventory, I do recall instances of buying four liters at time on top of 44 or even 52 fluid ounces of diet Coke zero was my choice. This would be sometimes added with a half gallon of sweet tea.

Also I started learning how to drive at the end of 2018 and I do have to admit it was difficult to judge and stay focused. However over three weeks ago I passed my exam. It wasn’t until one week later at that TOPS meeting that I learned what was actually in diet soda. After drinking over 5 liters of soda within a 24 hours prior (conservative estimate) I gave up the pop, somewhat.

Now I can’t say I am perfect, but what I can assure you that I no longer drink any Diet soda. I have had two regular sodas and a ginger ale this past week. This is only because I was having sweet tea for about two weeks and I’ve gradually cut that back, using water, etc. There are so many affects of sugars. I’ll get into that and relating that with autism in another post.

As of right now, other than the few occasions I had a social soda, I have been free from Soda for 21 days at TOPS meeting tonight. As of today, I plan to go to mainly water as its effects are nothing but positive. I hope it works out for me. Stay tuned.