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Connecticut Works on Autism & Disability Employment Legislation

1willwork 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. 


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.



Connecticut Works on Autism & Disability Employment LegislationAge of Autism (blog)… an Act Concerning the Recommendations of the Majority Leaders' Job Growth Roundtable was a plan to address the need to create jobs in Connecticut

Mike Frandsen

Click on the NIH and Special Report links at to see how the federal government has been negligent in hiring people with disabilities.

You can contact Special Placement Coordinators to try to get jobs at They have not done a good job but the more people who contact them the better.

Managing Editor

Judith, Kim here. I think we're talking about completely separate sides of Walgreens and maybe one can push the other into the human side? Do you mean the insurance plan Walgreen's offers to its employees? What plan is it?Help me understand, please. Thanks.


I am FULLY aware of ERISA and self-funded plans. But Walgreens has a CHOICE! It can CHOOSE to cover autism and it chooses NOT to.

But they can stand around and have a photo op and get praised by Autism Speaks for doing right in the community.

Thank you Autism Speaks, for continuing to support hypocrisy!


Autism Speaks is horrible. They were invented by the CDC anti-ligation bloc with designs on eliminating all vaccine injury claims for Autism.

Health insurers are a leading reason why the proliferation of Thimerosal-containing vaccines led to steady increases in Autism in the 1990s.

Everybody in America knows insurance companies demanded bargain basement forms of health care. The leading product? Of course, multiple vaccines for every child by two.

Now state health care systems overwhelmed by developmentally disabled children are looking to spread the misery of having to foot the bill for tens of thousands of vaccine-induced Autistic children.

Autism Speaks is simply providing anti-litigation aid to the guilty insurance industry with their "proactive" intervention.

What the really smart people don't want the public to know is by "volunteering" to step forward and "provide coverage" Autism Speaks is help the insurance industry maintain billions and billions of dollars in state settlements.

Fortunately, a lot of states fully see the kind of creeps are behind Autism Speaks "advocacy" and they are not dumping our vaccine injured children into the bottomless pit a.k.a. Autism Speaks approved insurance coverage.

Look for yourselves. Autism Speaks literally writes the legislation then hand-picks a stooge to drop it on the state.

This legislation is offensive to our children on so many fronts including the U.S. Constitution it's no wonder to suggest that Autism Speaks is the stable boy of foreign interests.


Thanks Kim:

Personal experience/life experiences is the best way to explain. That was very helpful.

Managing Editor

ERISA is the law that self-funded insurers adhere to - and it means they can exempt the hell out of people. Even with the new CT insurance legislation, our family wasn't included because my husband's company at the time was self-insured. More and more companies ARE self-insured meaning a lot of legislation passes us by.

"Most private sector health plans are covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Among other things, ERISA provides protections for participants and beneficiaries in employee benefit plans (participant rights), including providing access to plan information. Also, those individuals who manage plans (and other fiduciaries) must meet certain standards of conduct under the fiduciary responsibilities specified in the law."



Shannon, I did not know employee retirement income security act had anything to do with health benefits of some one that is presently working?

As far as retirement:

I suppose that by the time they reach retirement the dignosis would be changed from autism to alzieheimers and then be covered???
I know I was trying to be funny which most times does not come off. But I really am on the bottom of the learning curve for all this stuff and am trying to catch up quick.

But I thought ERISA was for retirement only.


Judith - I don't think this is an exclusive Walgreens issue. This, as you probably know, is an ERISA issue. ERISA governs most large companies' insurance policies. So indeed, the hypocrisy is rampant, likely among any large company that employs people with autism. Thank you for writing this. It's a critical point to make, and might be a really strong arguement for further coverage of autism treatments.


Here's the problem with Walgreen.....Walgreens has excluded autism from their health care benefits.

So they will help to employ individuals with autism, but will not cover services related to a diagnosis of autism???

Shannon, you might want to ask them why they deny services related to autism.


Thank you Shannon for your response and thanky for working toward something. Hope Conn is successive and will prove to be a model that other states will want to follow.


Benedetta - Our vocational services is called Bureau of Rehabilitative Services (BRS - those letters can be arranged however you like :)), and yes I understand the lip service. BRS says the same thing here in CT, but there is nothing large scale until Walgreens came along. Walgreens has also been working with companies like Lowes to try to implore the same facility for the autism population. Walgreens also provides health insurance. This step in CT is small, but it's a step. I saw the Walgreens facility and it is not like anything you mention above, though I totally understand your skepticism. And that goes to my point, that we need to hold Walgreens (and potentially Lowes) up as an example to businesses about how to employ this population successfully. The implementation of a law is always the hardest. But the first step seems to be getting something on the books, and working from there.


I have read this six times now. So much more information is needed???
I do not live in Conn. and as far as Austim Speaks it has always been somewhere far - far away as it takes my donations. (Not saying it is a bad thing, just saying).
Here in Kentucky;
There is something called Vocational Rehabilation ran by the state.

I have tried to work with them. It is mostly lip service so far, but I will admit I am keeping my Aspergers in a communtiy college as long as I can afford it and he still has an interest.

Vocational Rehabilation also says they too have joint things with different companies, and if these companies hire and train then the state helps pay the salaries and tax cuts too. They say this, but yet at the same time they keep telling us to ask the school if there is any coop jobs they know about. Well, there is not!

My husband says that Dow Chemical in Ohio, had a Man-Power company (not sure but it could have been state run involvement somehow) but it was separate from the Dow company and they came in every day and ran film onto foam. They used big machines to do it and it was somewhat dangerous.

Now what I do not know was how for these disabled workers was thier health insurance, or how much did the workers get paid,or how was job security, or was any retirement plan involved, or was there any 401K plan and some company was matching it (I doubt it, and I doubt if the state of Ohio was matching a 401K).

Sometimes I think this is some dark conspiracy to make a new class of workers that will be satisfied for scraps of meat. A potential for new slave labor.

But then my trusting nature -- well it is gone forever.

Managing Editor

Thank you to Shannon for initiating this legislation on her own time.

This may be an area where AS can make an impact. If they can convince employers that our kids are worth hiring and retaining, that's a good thing. I may not like some of what AS does and Lord knows we do not give them a pass at Age of Autism, but this initiative was started by Shannon herself - she happens to be with Autism Speaks here in CT as well and works on other issues.

I've met so many parents of older kids on the spectrum, and including Asperger's, who say, "My son isn't employed but he's smart." We need legislative help, I fear.

So this program is a good start.


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