Autism Acceptance Month – Day #8: The Hiram G Andrews Center, Pennsylvania Disability and Autism Asset

In 2001 while in a Residential Treatment Facility, I learned a lot about the Hiram G Andrews Center in Johnstown Pennsylan-i-a and began exploring the possibility of attendance. It would be a long road ahead of me and many cheerleaders to advocate for the admission process to be done.

That year I was connected with the state agency that operates the school, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Plans were made for a tour that summer. I went and fell in love with the campus, 12 acres – barrier free. Only the state Farm show complex is the only larger Commonwealth facility under roof and barrier free.

Nonetheless I began the process of admission that winter with the plans to attend the school for evaluation the following summer. However, my past inappropriate behavior presented roadblocks from this occuring. With the guidance of several, including my parents – my biggest advocate ever and lots of extra time. I received a phone call in July 2004 that admission for an vocational evaluation was granted and I graciously accepted the offer and attended in October 2004.

During this process, I took a battery of tests, learned public transportation, and sampled career areas. My first preference was architectural drawing. However this was eliminated because I spent a lengthy time processing the material. The last preference was Retail. I didn’t like it because it was too menial. My choice was General Office Clerk, known today as Office Technology. I was granted admission on May 2, 2005 and graduated successful on April 28, 2006

While there I was socially akward to a degree. Having a roommate did help the process some, and a student across the hall in my dorm is on the spectrum. While I did not develop the friendships I longed for, I did run into some cool students that advocated for me including dorm officers. I did lack in areas of hygiene and cleanliness. However I did acquire the skill of expanding my usage of transportation to include Intercity passenger rail to go visit my sister.

Since 2006, services have been enhanced. While there was a cognitive skills enhancement program (CSEP), it has been enhanced by dividing it into three tiers. Access to and from campus has been controlled by a key card system. During my stay there it was discussed about installing security cameras, this has been done. The first semester I attended, smoking was permitted to occur in selected dormitories, including the one that I resided in. However this was stopped and you were free to smoke anywhere outside. This has been changed in recent years by limiting this to shelters strategically placed around campus.

Enhancements specific for individuals with autism include a group specifically for issues related to the needs of individuals on the spectrum. Fundamentals of transportation is more enhanced and is mandatory. Many of the language of the elements of the center has been changed to reflect the current norm. Dormitories are called halls, the health clinic is now called the wellness center, Recreation is now called enrichment and is more involved in the students social time.

In closing, this school is perceived to serve individuals with physical limitations z while it will continue to do so, it should not be overlooked as a place to start that post secondary journey. While I did go on some time later to Community college, which will be to tomorrow’s story, it is definitely a good start. By the way, while I do have a Associates degree, I utilize the skills I acquired at HGA on a consistent basis in my employment.

Before Learning to Drive, A Learner’s Permit was required, a struggle best describes it

I wanted to write another blog post to follow up on my first report on getting my driver’s license last week. I thought I would be worth explaining the struggle to get the permit alone, as it was a difficult task and as I was excited to just have a driver’s license. This is because I was writing a newsletter article for the entity that I recieve employment services through. I will share that once it is published mid-February.

Think Long, Think Wrong

Once I began the recovery journey, have pondered over the last decade about obtaining a driver’s license. The same entity that I receive job supports through also provided driving instruction. In fact, I knew the gentleman assigned to the post, as he worked with me in my youth as my casemanager. I even got more stoked when a close acquantice through the agency got his license. When he got his, I was more stoked, to the point I would get the physical form requred for the permit filled out my my practiconier. However, soon after he graduated, I would learn that due to fiscal austerity the program would be discontinued in my area and if I wanted to pursue this, I would have to seek other options.

I knew that studying for my permit wouldn’t be hard, as I obsessed on traffic signs as  young child. It would just be learning manuvers, laws and other pertinent information, like teen driver and DUI laws, etc. Here in Pennsylvania, a Android App made this easier and I began in earnest for this, practicing occasionally.

Better Late than Never

As time went on I realized that taking the knowledge test became a necessity. Therefore, I had a close friend escort me to the local DMV. The DMV can be a very diffucult venue with someone on the spectrum, as in my area, it was undersized, crowded and overstimulating. Nonetheless, my wait was short and a proceeded to the proper destination when my number was called upon.

As I was seated, I had all necessary paperwork, all that would neeed to be administered would be a simple eye examination. Simple, I thought, because I was at the eye doctor less than a week prior, I would have no trouble. I was wrong! When I looked in the device, which was ancient, I read what was seen, and the proctor stated that I was blind in one eye. He then stated that I would have to have my eye doctor fill out a form for me to proceed and if I met the state law for vision requirements, I could take my knowledge test. He said that it would be up to them.

I was shocked, maybe because like many other individuals on the spectrum, I took this seriously. As I told my friend she was shocked, and would drive me home.  She instructed me to cover each eye and read road signs, etc. Could there be faulty equiment? I was very doubtful and was regresing some Meanwhile,  I went back to the eye doctor and had the state form filled out. But, I would be hesitant on going back to that DMV anyway.

Another County, Another World

As time neared, I had to muster the courage to visit a DMV, and as such, I had a week left on the physical form. So on Easter Saturday, my mom would escort me to the DMV in a neighboring county, as we are within a half hour drive of either and it was close to my sister’s house. I went early in the morning, being a Saturday, the center is usually attended by teens . As I went in a driver’s instructor said good luck and I went in, the first one for the day,

I handed all my paperwork to the proctor and she said because I had the form filled out by the eye doctor, she would not need to provide the eye examination and that I could take the knowledge test. She directs me to the computer, I put on the headphones and begin, I take  my time and narrow the answers, and answer the questions, of which when submitted return a correct response. In Pennsylvania, 15 out of the 18 randomly selected questions is required for approval. After answering the fifteenth question, I am directed to visit the proctor, where she tells me that I earned my learner’s permit and directs me to write a payment for the four year license, a standard in Pennsylvania

After I leave the center, I go to my sister’s house where she took this photo in her kitchen. Sadly,  I was not wearing the best of clothes, as I was wearing a thrift-shop shirt representing a neighboring school district that was a little snug. None the less, she makes the following photo. I later sharded it on my autism page that same day.

learner's permi

I have a permit, now I don’t want to learn.

With the permit, I had a year to take my exam. There was the option to extend it, however in psychotherapy, this was not a option. My mother offered to assist me in paying for lessons, but the buck stopped at her teaching her as she had difficulty in teaching my sister. The search began. One day, I was in a local convenence store where I seen a ad for a specialized driving school. I went home and did my research, the website, Facebook and Google reviews, etc. The number I knew was a cell phone exchange and I was hesitant in calling. Nonetheless, I mustered up the courage to call, the dreaded voicemail. I immedately hung up.

Not a few minutes later, he calls back. I explain my interest in taking driver’s lessons. He asks me a few simple questions, like how old I am, and have I ever drove a car. He then proceeds to ask if I have any disabilites. I feel open enough to elude to him that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. He then asks if I have a job. I state yes. He now instructs me to call my local Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) as they will assist me in paying for the lessons as it is a step to independence.  I call OVR the next day and they instruct me to go online to fill out a referral, of which my job support staff assist me in completing.

A few weeks go by and I hear no response from the OVR district office. Family and friends direct me to call the local office. and I did. The operator linked me to the assigned counselor and we talk for a bit and a meeting is needed to re-open my case. This would be the third time for such activity. I had attended their post secondary school over 14 years ago and the last time was nine years ago whwn the job supports assisted me in getting stuff I needed for my job when I needed it.

I go to the local field office on a Thursday and fill out the required forms to open my case. The counselor is overly friendly, I share my prior experiences with OVR and she states how the agency has chaged for the better. We close by her giving me a folder with informatioon.  The next steps are to develop an goal plan then proceed with a goal completion in January 2019,

It Gets Even Better

Four days later, I get a call from who would now be my apartment manager stating their was a opening here and would I like to move in beginning in August. I graciously accepted and would spend over a month, prepping and moving in.  (I will write articles o this later.) Within that transition, I did not change my contact information with OVR and the counselor called my house. Nonetheless, I called her right back and we set up a time to go over the goal plan, still keeping the same school I want and the target goal date of January 2019.

The next month, I get a purchase order from OVR in the mail and my instructor calls the next day. You could say the rest is history. We began instruction the following week. Again, read my prior post my learning to drive.