Houston, We  Have A Problem

Houston, We Have A Problem

In this world, creeps, jerks, and butt heads are everywhere, and in the world of individuals with disabilities, idiots are plentiful. It is a fact that persons with disabilities, children and the elderly are more likely to be abused, neglected and exploited. We live in an age where parents are fearful to send their “precious cargo” to school for fear someone will hurt them, and if you are a parent with a child who is non-verbal this fear multiplies. I know parents who do head to toe body checks on their kids before and after a trip to daycare. Obsessive?  Depends on who you ask. The fact that abuse and neglect can happen to their children is a paralyzing fear that settles over parents and caregivers of children with special needs.

For those parents who have made a choice to put their kids in a group home or a residential facility may feel somewhat relieved due to the amount staff a home or facility may have in these places. The fact that the Abuse Hotline phone number is located in multiple locations within the home does nothing for clients if staff cannot articulate to the clients what abuse and neglect are. To them, the Abuse Hotline number might as just be a picture on the wall.

sad kid

What is abuse? According to Webster Dictionary, Abuse is defined by a corrupt practice or custom the buying of votes and other election abuses
2:  improper or excessive use or treatment:  misuse drug abuse
3:  language that condemns or usually vilifies unjustly, intemperately, and angrily verbal abuse a term of abuse
4:  physical maltreatment child abuse sexual abuse
Abuse includes:
Financial (not paying clients’ bills when supposed to, using the money for things that have nothing to do with the client); also sexual, physical, and emotional.


People with disabilities are at risk because: 

abused child

They depend on others for basic needs
They are taught to cooperate with ” people in charge” like staff members.
They often live in group settings and cannot choose their roommates or caregivers.

People with disabilities may not report abuse because:
They feel guilty
Do not want to get their abuser in trouble
Do not know they are being abused

Signs of Abuse:
*Bruises, cuts, burns, grip marks
*Any injury that is unusual, unexplained or the explanation does not make sense
*Genital pain, or itching or sexually transmitted diseases.
*Not having enough money in the bank for bills, after monthly deposits, items may be disconnected such as water or power, after they were supposed to be paid, (this applies to individuals who live on their own  and have a Supported Living Coach who helps them pay bills)
*Not enough food in the refrigerator or pantry (this generally for individuals who live on their own and have a Supported Living Coach who helps them pay bills) or clients buying staff items with their own money e.g. groceries, fast-food or giving their money to staff.

As a Social Worker who works for this vulnerable population exclusively, I see clients on a monthly basis. I continue to educate clients on what abuse looks like in ways they can understand asking, ” Who would you tell If I hit you?” I always ask them if I can have some money, and most of the time, they say, “No” In the event in which one of my clients forget, I then re- educate them on the importance of not giving their money to people. I follow-up with a phone call to their circle of supports and explain my finding and re-educate the circle of supports on other ways we as a collective can educate the people we serve. It is important to me as advocate, dedicated educator and supporter of the Special Needs community; our clients are aware and educated on Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation.

For more information about this topic please go tohttp://flfcic.fmhi.usf.edu/

Havercamp, S.M. & Veguilla, M. ( 2009). Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation: How to Protect  Yourself

Spring Break is gone,but Summer is around the Corner.

Spring Break is gone,but Summer is around the Corner.

  What did you do for Spring Break? Nothing fun, fresh or exciting well, I can honestly say, my spring break was better than yours and let me tell you why.  I volunteered at Autism Spectrum The camp hosted by The South Pinellas Autism Project. The Day camp location is at a local YMCA in the city of Saint Petersburg, Florida. While other kids are attending the YMCA children, who are on the Spectrum as well as have other neuro-developmental challenges as well. It is a camp within a camp.


As a social worker who works with Intellectually Disabled and Autistic children, one of my many challenges is finding resources for parents especially when it comes to activities for their children during break time like for example, is the camp equipped to handle my child and all of his needs?  Other concerns for example, what if my kid has a maladaptive episode?  Can my child bring his IPAD?

Matt Wiseman is Executive Director for the South Pinellas Autism Project, which launched in April 2016. Matt is a father of three boys, the youngest of whom is on the Autism Spectrum.

The camp accepts kids from as young as five years old up until the age of 13 years old.  At the camp, kids have the ability to join Spring Break with staff who understands their unique needs. At the camp, the children have the ability to be in quiet areas with the electronic devices as well as be social with other kids. The camp comes equipped with staff that is specifically trained to handle maladaptive behaviors. According to one of the South Pinellas Autism Project Chairperson, Rob Capuano, reports, “Our goal is to have a safe and fun camp, that accommodates kids who have challenging behavior and development issues,” says SPAP Chair Rob Capuano. “At the same time, we want to encourage them to build on positive behaviors and academic strengths.” A camp is a safe place for children who are on the Spectrum.

kids playing tug-a -war

The children have the ability to play with their own electronics. The children stay busy with a detailed scheduled created by staff. Activities include playing the Xbox with games named Fruit Ninja and Just Dance. The children have an opportunity play outside in the play ground twice a day. Children have snack time as well as lunch. These meals are not included and must be provided by parent/ guardians.

The South Pinellas Autism Project past camps have been in Winter Camp in 2016 and they will also create a Summer Camp as well in summer of 2017. The camp is located on the Greater St. Pete YMCA’s Central Campus, which is just off I-275 and easily accessible from all of South Pinellas and Eastern parts of Clearwater and Safety Harbor. Central Campus is at 5175 45th St N in St Petersburg, FL 33714. Hours are weekdays 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. The cost is $150 a week, and there is tuition assistance available. The first day of camp is May 30th, and it will run about 10 weeks until early August. 

kid on swing

If one is interested in volunteering or gaining more information about The South Pinellas Autism project can be found https://www.facebook.com/SouthPinellasAutism/

Are You Afraid of Your Child  Becoming An Adult?

Are You Afraid of Your Child Becoming An Adult?


“So what happens when my child turns 18?” “Can you explain guardianship?” As a Social Worker who works primarily with the Intellectual Disabled and Autistic population, I get asked this question on a daily basis.
Here is the dilemma, when an individual who is Intellectual Disabled reaches the age of 18, in the eyes of the law, they are considered an adult.  The word “adult” is a very scary word for parents who have children with Special Needs. Fear settles, and panic rears its ugly head because now parents realize their child can make legal decisions regarding their life. As a result, the role of natural guardians who are usually the parents, could be lost if legal steps are not taken ahead of the 18th birthday.
Why so much planning? Because the parent must realize that in order to assist their adult child with most of the decision making, which include but is not limited to medical, educational, as well financial matters, the law must determine how this will be achieved.
Whether your child has a diagnosis of Profound and Severe to High Functioning Autism, there is always the question of  “What if?”

I will not get tired of saying it over and over, if a parent is considering guardianship, it is best to start early and get educated as much as possible.

In the Tampa Bay area, there is an impressive advocacy group. This group meets periodically. Under the banner of Just Autism No Panic Right, Yadira Calderon has created a forum, a safe place where parents, as well as professionals, come together to discuss pressing issues regarding their Special Need Children. Most importantly, it is a great opportunity to network.

On March 29, the topic discussed was Guardianship and related legal matters. Some  questions asked were, ” Guardianship, do I need it and why?” Who can be a guardian and what is the cost? These, as well as other perplexing questions, were addressed at this forum.  The panelists were parents who have been through the guardianship process as well Attorneys who specialize in guardianship law.
Here is the information in a nutshell.
In the book Planning Ahead, the diagnosis of a disability does not automatically mean that a person needs formal decision-making assistance. Supporting an individual with disabilities and encouraging them to make their own decisions is always encouraged.There are levels to this. What are my options?Guardianship according to the law is defined as being legally responsible for the care of someone who is unable to manage their affairs.Full Guardianship removes all rights relating to both person and property and requires that first be an adjudication of the individual as utterly incapable of handling any personal decisions, money or property.  This act of guardianship takes away the person’s rights.   Full  Guardianship dictates where they can live, to marry, to be employed  This process is can be very expensive, may be considered as a last option as this is the most restrictive and can take a significant amount of time.

Guardian Advocacy
For those individuals who demonstrate they can perform some decision- making tasks then Guardian Advocate maybe a better option. The Guardian advocate is a process for families to obtain guardianship without deeming the individual incompetent. Guardian Advocate is a least restrictive alternative and less expensive as well.There are other legal options such as Power of Attorney, and Representative Payee which are even less restrictive, however, all decisions should be looked at from all angles and should have a person- centered approach.If you are a parent or a professional and need more information regarding guardianship, I have provided links and resources to help. Please ask questions, get educated regarding legal matters and your child.

How To Make Friends

 I have always wanted to teach social skills. I often imagine children using manners, saying, “Please, and Thank You,” and showing them to be friends. To have a friend; you must be a  friend first. As I continue working with the  Intellectually Disabled and Autistic population, I realize social skills are so necessary to learn, but how can they be taught? How do parents teach their children not only how to be friendly but how to be a friend?
What is a friend? According to Webster dictionary, “one attached to another by affection.” Friendship, real friendship needs compromise. Friendship is about listening and hearing. Friendship is about being vulnerable.  Friendship is about communication. These skills inherently are the type of competencies, Autistic individuals, as well as Intellectual Disabled population, naturally, lack.  Friendship is a gift that requires work,
Here are few tips to teach Social Skills
Start with a social story.
Enlist the help of others in the class or social space, and model or act out the appropriate behavior and expectations you want to see. Repetition is the mother of success, so this behavior model needs to be consistent.http://www.boardmakeronline.com/
Encourage Eye Contact
Have a Staring Contest.  Eye contact shows you are interested in what people have to say. It also shows one is listening.
 Playing games which require turn taking
 Games which have instructional cards such as Monopoly,  and Sequence are excellent games to play also old school card games such as UNO, Goldfish and OldMaid are games which require following a direction sequence as well encourages communication.https://.pexels.com/photo/information-sign-on-shelf-253360/

Acting and Storytelling.

Children have the best imaginations. It is amazing what an empty laundry basket and an empty cardboard have the ability to become. When presented with these options, kids are allowed to express themselves tell their friends. In some of my classrooms, empty cardboard boxes have become spaceships, rockets, trains, and cars. As children use their imagination, they are encouraged to tell their friend what they have created

Care for the caregiver

Care for the caregiver



Being a caregiver is hard. The scheduling of medical, dental, school and after school activities. Let us not forget meal prep and clean up followed by the constant cleaning after little people who leave toys, and food everywhere. Yes, being a caregiver is difficult, and it is not easy when one is the caregiver of a child with Special Needs such as Intellectually Disabilities or Autism.   Is there care for the caregiver and if so how what does that include? Here are some helpful tips to help caregivers

1. Create a To- Do List
To – do list allows one to prioritize their schedule.  This plan may include scheduling doctor and dental appointments along with other appointments such as Physical, Occupational Therapies.

On the To- Do- should be carved out time for the caregiver to do something for themselves this can be to schedule respite for the child, getting a massage or just finishing the last chapter in a book they were reading. The caregiver needs are critical. Taking the time to write out a to-do list and placing one needs on it will help avoid burnout. http://www.thecompletecaregiver.com/visual_vacations

Ask for Help
As a caregiver, one can quickly put their wants and needs aside to attend to their family member, however, acknowledge where you are. Do you need help with the small tasks, such having a family member get the child off the bus, or setting up a schedule for other medical specialties Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor?  How does the family unit work and what system has the family unit created to help the caregiver? Help may include incorporating grandparents and siblings.http://www.grandparents.com/family-and-relationships/caring-for-children/special-needs-three-a-different-kind,https://siblingsupport.org/


Creating Balance

Every caregiver needs balance. For them to be effective and efficient creating balance includes reaching out to support groups in one’s place of worship.  Or finding support groups online  Getting educated on the child’s diagnosis is very empowering as well.   The International  Board of  Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards has a plethora of resources https://ibcces.org/resources/

Social Work and Autism

Social Work and Autism

I am a Social Work professional whose expertise is working with the Intellectually Disabled and Autistic Population. I love my job. My sole job is to provide resources, education, and advocacy for this steady growing population. Autism affects one in 68 births(CDC, 2014).


Working with the Autistic Populations has taught me:

It is not about me

What I want for my clients is very different from what they want for themselves. Many times in the field, professionals who work with clients look at the result versus looking at the hear and now. I have learned to listen what is said and sometimes what is not said.

Making Choices

Providing opportunities. It is important to exercise the ability to choose. Providing options are the best way for people to find out what they like and do not like and it also helps create more conversation about many other things.Choice making is a skill I feel is not exercised enough with this population. http://www.pinterest.com/autismclassroom/visual-supports-for-an-autism-classroom/

Are proper supports in Place

What is needed for this Autistic individual to maintain a ” normal” life is the question asked and how do we as a professionally supportive community help create this world for this person? Will the individual need Vocational Rehabilitation because their goal is to earn competitive wages? Whether the person’s goal is to live alone, will this person need the assistance of a Supported Living Coach? Will this need appropriate guidance for activities of daily living such as medication management, making the doctor appointment, meal preparation, and grocery shopping? What about socialization and community-based outings? Will the individual need someone to help integrate them into the community?


I help coordinate and maintain services for the individual, who likes making the lives of Autistic Individuals a little better.