Encouragement speaker Derrick Hayes gives an AUTISM interview by asking six questions through each letter in the word “autism” to give readers an insightful perspective from parents, experts, entrepreneurs, and other leaders in the field.
Today’s AUTISM Interview is with Nancy Wells, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) who founded AbleTalks, a new approach to education, career development, and independent therapies for adults with autism and other intellectual disabilities. AbleTalks offers what it calls “classes for the next stage,” or independent special education for people over the age of 21.
AbleTalks uniquely and effectively eliminates the “drop off point” experienced by adults with intellectual disabilities. It encompasses independent study, career counseling, socialization, and speech therapy, and the results have been both powerful and empowering. For more information about Nancy or AbleTalks please visit https://www.facebook.com/AbleTalks/ and https://abletalks.org/
A is for Awareness – When and how did you first become aware that something was different?
My kids were the classic normally functioning children until 18 months, and then they lost all language and developed sensitivities. They began having communication and social issues to the point where they could not make it out in public, and they did not speak again until they were four or four and a half years old. With our oldest child, I was aware something was not right at about 18 months, but we did not take action until she was about three years old. With our youngest, we took action when she was two years old.
U is for Unique – How has this experience been unique for you and your child?
I see the world completely differently. I have learned so many life lessons, and I have questioned so many things about our social norms. My daughters are the strongest young women that I have ever known, and they have brought out the best and worst in me. They changed what I thought parenting was going to be, and it is so much better.
T is for Tools – What tools are there now that were not there in the beginning that could help other parents?
Right now, my children are in their twenties, and 20 years ago the tools were institutionalization and isolation. Now I work with kids at schools and I’m a licensed mental health therapist working with kids and families in very remote areas.
With AbleTalks, my focus is to work with the issues of young adults who are over the age of 21 to address their needs. At age 21, you lose all of the publically funded programs, so I started a program that is tuition-free because even if you have money, there are not a lot of choices, but if you don’t have resources, it is a wasteland.
Able Talks is unique because of its focus on the population of 21 and up, which has not received the lion’s share of attention. AbleTalks is a new tool in the toolbox, and what we are doing is not being done anywhere else. This was originally supposed to be a fun summer project, but I saw how fast my students were learning and expanding and decided that we just had to offer it to more people other than our small circle.
I is for Inspire – As a parent, when you look at your child or children, what inspires you?
I don’t know if I am answering this right, but this is where I am now— I’m inspired to change the whole planet. I’m going to be here for my child I hope forty more years, but in that time it is going to take every day to prepare her to live a life of independence, to find what her life will be, and to let her have what she chooses in her path. But also I want to change lives everywhere else, so that her efforts will be met with other efforts. I want to make our planet safe and understanding and aware, and I spend every minute of every day doing that.
S is for Support – Are there things you struggle with or have struggled with, and what types of support do you still need?
I’m widowed, and many parents of children with autism are single. That’s not easy. And then we deal with what they call the “drop off point” when school is out and therapies are no longer covered by Medicaid or private insurance. Autism is isolating, and the older you get the fewer opportunities you have. So the support I need is for more programs to meet the needs of adults with autism. As AbleTalks has grown, we’ve seen families whose children have college degrees but are still unemployed and very isolated. So we’re working with a broad spectrum of young adults who all face similar challenges that we are trying to address.
M is for Manage – What keys to success can you leave with parents so that they can better manage their day to day efforts?
If we’re talking younger, we just tried to get through the day. We would set goals to get them into kindergarten and then into third grade. Today we are talking about estate planning, location, socialization, continuing education, and what we do when we die. To manage it is really hard for me, but we have to encourage parents to think about what’s next. I speak to parents about what’s next because it is coming.
Derrick Hayes is an author, motivational speaker, and paraprofessional with students with autism in the Muscogee County School District in Columbus, Georgia. For contact or booking information visit www.derrickhayes.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (706) 615-1662.
This article was featured in Issue 68 – ASD Strategies in Action