Managing Editor's Note: I live in Connecticut and was impressed to learn about HB5435 which includes a provision for a tax credit for hiring those with disabilities, and includes autism. We need to tackle the issues of autism at all levels, and that includes assisting adults find gainful employment. KS
By Shannon Leary Knall
All I have ever asked for is a seat at the table. My voice to be heard. My chance at bat. The clichés are ongoing. I am a mother to a nine year old with autism and I have learned that once I have that seat, a lot can happen.
After the bloody, exhausting battle to bring autism insurance reform to Connecticut last year, I wondered if I was cut out for this advocacy stuff. But yet, here we were. The beginning of a new legislative session before us and my son’s stimmy words “To infinity and beyond” ringing in my ears.
The beyond is what scares me. Beyond school. More like the …beyond ME. How would he support himself? How would he live?
A job. Down the road, he needed a job.
On a bleak and cold January day in Connecticut, I assembled a group of our legislative champions at the Walgreens Distribution Center in Windsor Locks. Senate Majority Leader Senator Martin Looney, Senator Joe Crisco, Senator Jonathan Harris, Representative Cathy Abercrombie and Representative Karen Jarmoc have really listened and learned from what I, and their constituents, have taught them about living with autism and we have been so fortunate to have them fighting the fight. I often talk about the difference between legislative supporters and legislative champions; supporters being those who vote “yes” because they are supposed to, champions being those who stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the trenches and “get it.” These five have given me a seat at the table and listened, learned and treated my experiences with respect. This autism mom and advocate is tremendously grateful.
Based on a wonderful partnership with Autism Speaks, we were able to tour the Walgreens facility, which has made a commitment to hiring, training and successfully employing people with intellectual disabilities like autism. And can you believe it? This amazing resource is sitting quietly right here in the quiet of Connecticut. This facility is made to foster career success for people with autism. No computer screens with tiny type and codes to input inventory. Instead, picture sequenced computer screens to provide VISUAL learners with guidance on how to complete a task. No loud and ear-piercing noises or buzzers to indicate the start of assembly. Instead a simple green light or red light so as not to assault the senses. There was so much respect. But I digress, because the point was the look of excitement and awe on the faces of these legislators.
THEY WERE GETTING IT! THEY WERE SEEING HOW OUR KIDS COULD SUCCEED! THEY UNDERSTOOD WHY IT NEEDED TO HAPPEN.
House Bill 5435, an Act Concerning the Recommendations of the Majority Leaders’ Job Growth Roundtable was a plan to address the need to create jobs in Connecticut. Section 9 in the attached link is the language of the legislation (HERE) And wow! People with autism were part of that plan.
Finally. A seat at the table. Further affirmation that people with autism are employable if we give them the chance and we set them up to succeed.
Like anything, this change won’t happen overnight and our community will need to “sell” this a bit to employers who are hesitant. We will have to find business champions, willing to invest in employing our adults. We will need to hold Walgreens up as an example of how it can work.
This can be done. I don’t want to delude anyone into thinking that it is EASY, because it is not. I don’t want anyone to think that Autism Speaks whipped in to Connecticut and told anyone what to do. I don’t want anyone to believe that any of these legislative champions automatically “got it” because they have a personal connection to autism, because they do not. I would not want anyone to believe that this bill happened overnight, because it did not. I have spent six years, since my son was diagnosed, talking constantly about autism, writing and calling legislators to tell them what life with autism meant. Legislative advocacy is hard, tireless, often thankless work. But it can be successful if you find your champion to give you a seat at the table.
Shannon Leary Knall is the proud mother to three boys, the oldest has autism. She is the Inaugural Walk Chair for the Autism Speaks Walk Now for Autism, and chaired the Walk for three years. In 2007, she became the Connecticut Advocacy Chair for Autism Speaks. She has worked with Connecticut’s state legislature to pass private autism insurance reform and several other critical pieces of legislation. She has a Masters in Organizational Behavior from University of Hartford, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Ohio Wesleyan University.