Interview with Steven Cohen about self-advocacy, inclusion, and employment

Steven Cohen is a 32 year old adult with ASD and co-morbidities. He is utilizing his past experiences to create a better experience for his generation and the generation after his in Nevada. To learn more about Steven, check out the interview here:

Kevin Galbreth

This guest blog story is by Kevin Galbreth. He is a young adult diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. He was born and raised in New York, but now currently lives in New Jersey. Kevin has experiences working with adults with developmental disabilities. He is one of the panelists in the YouTube webinar series, “Ask An Autistic”.

My name is Kevin Galbreth. I am a 33 year old male with a diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder. I was born and raised in Ithaca, New York.  I have been living in New Jersey for the past 8 years.   This is my story of what living on the autism spectrum has been like for me. 

 I was born in Ithaca New York in January of 1987.  I progressed through infancy and toddlerhood developing normally for the most part.  I took my first steps when I was almost a year old and developed speech at the normal rate of development.  It was as I entered school that it became more apparent that things were different about me.  The first sign was in a day care.  I would often be sitting by myself watching the washing machine or dryer as it was running as opposed to playing with the other children in the day care.  Machinery was an early unusual fixation for me.  I would enjoy watching household appliances like the washing machine and dryer run.  I also recall really enjoying watching construction machinery.  My differences became even more apparent as I got into pre-school and kindergarten.  I would often be by myself in a corner self-stimming and making noises imitating the machinery I was fascinated by as opposed to interacting and playing with my peers.  My teachers were suggesting that I might be autistic.  My mom didn’t see how that was possible because my vocabulary and speech was very good for my age. This was the early 1990s when autistic people were thought to be non-verbal.  Not much was known yet about the population of people with high functioning autism.   I was eventually evaluated by a team of professionals at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester New York in December of 1993. This was right as Asperger’s Disorder was being introduced to the DSM.  I was given the Asperger’s Diagnosis.  I am probably one of the first people in the United States to be diagnosed with it at that time.  

I had a lot of trouble adjusting to school.  I was constantly acting out in class by doing things like making disruptive noises and inappropriately teasing peers.  I lacked the social skills needed for positive social interaction with peers so therefore would often deliberately interact in inappropriate ways just for attention.  I was place in a self-contained behavior intervention classroom for kindergarten.  I was then tried in a regular first grade classroom which had a disastrous start to it.  I was completely out of control and all of the teachers and school professionals wanted me either medicated or placed in a self-contained classroom. Both of my parents were against each of these things.  They advocated for me staying in the regular classroom with the support of a one-to-one paraprofessional.  My parents won that battle and I spent all of my elementary and middle school years in regular classes with the support of a one to one paraprofessional.  My behavior was still a challenge but I had excellent support from my paraprofessionals who helped keep my behavior in check enough for me to succeed in the regular classroom.  Towards the end of my middle school years and beginning of my high school years, I began to finally outgrow a lot of my behaviors and I no longer needed the support of a paraprofessional once I reached high school.  I also became a lot more serious and focused academically in high school and the amount of support services I needed gradually waned.

I attended Tompkins Cortland Community College after graduating high school and transferred to SUNY Cortland where I obtained a degree in Special Education.  College is by far my biggest success story.   I opted to go without any support services.  I left my community college with a 3.4 GPA and started earning straight A’s once I transferred to my four year college.  I graduated Suny Cortland with Suma Cum Laude with a 4.12 GPA. 

I unfortunately learned the hard way that academic success in college doesn’t guarantee success after college.  I chose Special Education as my major wanting to use my experience of growing up with a disability to help others with disabilities overcome obstacles and meet their potential.  While I was great at all the academic work, I struggled when it came to working hands on with students in the classroom.  Student teaching was very challenging for me and I came out of it feeling like I might not be suited for teaching.  Since then I’ve been struggling to find an alternative good career path. After college I ended up moving to New Jersey and started working in residential homes for adults with developmental disabilities.  While I did get some satisfaction out of this line of work in that I was providing a valuable service to the disabilities community, I also felt very underemployed given that I was a college graduate working in a job that only required a high school diploma.  It was also a dead end and low paying job and I definitely always felt like I could do a lot better given my credentials.  The problem was I was never sure of what move to make so as a result I ended up staying in the low level line of work far longer than I initially intended. 

I am happy to say that as we enter 2021, I am embracing a new beginning that will hopefully get me back on track.  While I definitely do not condone the Covid pandemic of 2020, it did end up providing me with a new opportunity.  When things got really bad back in March and April of 2020, I left my job working in the group home and quarantined at home for several months working on projects to enhance my credentials.  I took and passed the PRAXIS exam to apply for a New Jersey Teaching Certification.  I contributed to a recently published book titled “This is Autism” in which I and a bunch of other adults on the autism spectrum share our unique experiences of living with autism.   I also took an online course to become a Registered Behavior Technician.  I have recently gone back to work working in the schools as a substitute paraprofessional.  I will soon be starting a job as behavior technician.  At this point I am in the midst of trying out two different possibilities for a long term career.  If my behavior technician job goes well, I will consider going for a Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.  I also do consider giving teaching another shot once my Teaching Certification comes through.  I am hopeful that with the 10 years of experience and maturity I have since my last attempt at teaching, I will be more equipped to handle the challenges of teaching.  I am viewing 2021 as an opportunity to finish what I failed to finish when I graduated college 10 years ago. 

New year with strong start

I am so thankful for everyone that came on as a guest on my blog last year. It truly benefited the community so much, and I will make sure to continue providing guest stories and recording guest interviews real soon. In this blog story, I decided to share some personal insights about what has been happening for me lately.

Despite entering into a new year with the pandemic still around, I have been doing really well! Ever since November of last year, I have been really proud of myself for going back to pursue my bachelor’s degree through Purdue University Global. I am doing their full, online undergraduate program in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Everyone has been so supportive about my journey towards my bachelor’s degree, and it motivates me a lot! I am about to finish my first semester, and I am acing my courses. The challenges in the beginning were learning to balance everything again. I have been doing my college courses on the weekends, while spending time with my family and trying my best to keep in touch with everyone I love. I have been keeping up with my other commitments as well: Autism Specialist Focus Group, “Ask An Autistic” webinar series, and NJ Autism Think Tank Committee group. Plus, I still have been keeping up with my blog! I admit I still have to learn to take a step back from everything and relax a little here and there. Although, I must say, I am doing a great job with everything, and I am proud about where I am at.

Last but not least, I was awarded back in December 2020 at my work, “Best Support Staff of 2020-2021”. It is a huge honor for this school year, despite with everything going on still with the pandemic. Thank you everyone so much for continuing to support me in my life journey and my blog, and I will share more kinds of blog stories in this new year!

“BEST SUPPORT STAFF 2020-2021”

Interview with Albert Jersey on Employment, Netflix show “Love on the Spectrum”, and friendships

Albert Jersey is an Autism self-advocate who works as a project coordinator for Charles River laboratories. Albert graduated from Worcester State University majoring in business administration. When not working, his hobbies are gardening, hiking, learning a new language, reading, journaling, poetry, meditating, working out, and playing sports. To see the interview I did with Albert, check it out here:

Interview with Sue Abramowski about self-advocacy and Human Services field

Sue Abramowski is an autistic self advocate who works in the human services field. She currently holds three positions: She assists others who are autistic, who have developmental disabilities, or who have mental health diagnoses. She truly is a hardworking woman! In her free time, Sue is a gamer and enjoys tinkering with her Android devices. Come check out this interview with Sue here:

You can follow Sue Abramowski’s blog here: https://thepiecesfit83.wordpress.com/

If you want to read Sue Abramowski’s story in the book, “This Is Autism”, you can purchase the book on Amazon through this link: https://www.amazon.com/This-Autism-Jessica-Leichtweisz/dp/B08FP4W6Z2

Interview with Chou Hallegra on Mental Health Advocacy and Mental Health business

Mrs. Chou Hallegra is a mental health advocate. She has her own mental health consulting business called, “Grace and Hope Consulting”. She is an author of several books, a keynote speaker, and a certified life coach! To learn more about Mrs. Chou Hallegra, check out the interview with her here:

Here is Mrs. Chou Hallegra’s “Grace and Hope Consulting” website: https://www.graceandhopeconsulting.com/

If you want to read Mrs. Chou Hallegra’s books, you can purchase them here through Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Chou-Hallegra/e/B07JGL38GW

Interview with Rachel Barcellona about Disability Advocacy, Board Member of several disability organizations, and Beauty Pageants

Rachel Barcellona is a well-known, Autistic advocate who advocates for people with disabilities. She has a project called, “Ability Beyond Disability” and the mission of the project is to help individuals living with disabilities see themselves beyond their diagnosed disability/disabilities and to encourage them about accomplishing anything. She is a model and has competed in beauty pageants ever since she was a little girl; She’s the first contestant to compete in Miss Florida with autism, and the first for Miss America. Currently, Rachel serves as a board member for the following organizations: C.A.R.D. USF, Unicorn Children’s Foundation, Els for Autism Center of Excellence, Dyspraxia Foundation USA, and works with The Global Autism Project, Doug Flutie Jr Foundation for Autism and Victoria’s Voice Foundation, all of which have impacted the lives of families every where. To learn more about Rachel, check out the interview I did with Rachel here:

Here is Rachel’s website to check out: https://rachelbarcellona.com/

If you want to read Rachel’s story in “This Is Autism”, you can purchase the book on Amazon through this link: https://www.amazon.com/This-Autism-Jessica-Leichtweisz/dp/B08FP4W6Z2

Interview with Mary Nixonhahn about parenting children with Autism, an Author, and employment

Mrs. Mary Nixonhahn is a parent who lives with Autism and all three of her children live with Autism. She advocates not just for herself, but for all three of her children and for individuals living with disabilities too. To learn more about Mary, check out the interview here:

If you listened in to the interview, Mary is an author of a couple of books. Here are Mary’s books to purchase:

https://payhip.com/b/MtTn

Also, here is Mary’s website, “Ausome Angels Awareness and Inclusion”: https://includingeveryone.org/

Interview with Nicole Endersby about Special Needs Photography business and “A Special Life” Podcast

Mrs. Nicole Endersby is a mom of three boys. Two of her boys have Autism and one has ADHD. She resides living in Texas where she and her husband have a media company called Endersby Productions. A big part of their company is giving back to the disability community through a program they call their #EndersbysHeroes. They transform children with disabilities and their siblings into superheroes for a photoshoot experience. These are free sessions and are done through events. They enjoy putting together events for the disability community, advocating and sharing their experiences through their podcast “A Special Life,” social media and now YouTube channel. She enjoys helping others and is about to finish writing her first book “A Special Life: Our Journey Through Autism.” The self-published title will be released during the Holiday season through Amazon, Audible and Kindle. Scott and Nicole hope to be able to one day employ adults with disabilities in their media company, that is a big goal of theirs. Check out the interview I did with Mrs. Nicole Endersby here:

To learn more about Endersby Productions and maybe want to get your own family photos done through this amazing family, here is their website: https://www.endersbyproductions.com/

Follow and check out Mrs. Nicole Endersby’s “A Special Life” podcast on her YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCicCIRw_-vPB_cHUaJk3kPQ/about

Lastly, check out some articles and magazines that the Endersby family were featured in:

  1. https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/family/story/kids-autism-transformed-superheroes-inspiring-photoshoot-63529687
  2. https://www.facebook.com/neurobrilliantmagazine/
  3. https://cdn.flipsnack.com/widget/v2/flipsnackwidget.html?hash=fxc52kjh6&t=&fullscreen=1

Interview with Taylor Duncan about Alternative Baseball Organization

Taylor Duncan is the CEO of Alternative Baseball, and he lives with Autism. Because of Taylor’s special interest in Baseball, Alternative Baseball Organization was created and provides individuals with disabilities the opportunity to play Baseball. To learn more about Taylor and his Alternative Baseball Organization, check out the interview here:

To learn more about Alternative Baseball Organization, you can also check out the website here: http://www.alternativebaseball.org

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