Connecting Families to the Information They Need: Meet Jay O’Brien of Exceptional Lives

Recently Jason’s Connection’s founder, Jason Harris, spoke with Jay O’Brien, co-founder and executive director of Exceptional Lives, an organization whose mission is to connect families of children with disabilities to information and resources they need to navigate life.

In this interview, O’Brien talks about the founding of the organization, and its mission and purpose. Exceptional Lives helps families navigate complex processes and issues, like IEPs, SSI Disability, special education, guardianship, and more.


For more information on Exceptional Lives, please visit:


For a downloadable podcast of this interview, please visit:

“Beautiful Scars”: Meet Kilee Brookbank, Burn Survivor and Author

Kilee Brookbank at her prom

Kilee Brookbank at her prom

Recently Jason’s Connection’s Content Director, Ericka McIntyre, spoke with Kilee Brookbank, student and author of a memoir with her mother, Lori Highlander, called Beautiful Scars. In 2014, Kilee was severely burned in a house explosion. The book tells the story of Kilee’s and Lori’s experiences and their family’s journey from crisis to healing.

In this inspiring interview, Kilee tells her story, and talks about the importance of family, acceptance, and the power of storytelling to help us heal.

Lori, Cameron, and Kilee

Lori, Cameron, and Kilee


13043744_1732536770292178_4998386531063531023_nTold together by Kilee and Lori, Beautiful Scars is a story of recovery, healing, and hope, reminding us all that we’re never powerless, never alone, and that each challenge we face helps make us the people we are meant to be. It’s what you do with each moment that defines you. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children.

For more information on Kilee’s story and the book, please visit:

For a downloadable podcast of this interview, please visit:



The Autism Housing Network: Turning Parents into Project Starters

Urban AHN Slider
From time to time, we like to invite guests to share their perspectives here in our magazine. Today’s guest blog is written by team members from the Autism Housing Network–Ed.

Madison House Autism Foundation is excited to unveil a project that has been in the works for over a year now: the new and improved Autism Housing Network (AHN).

“The AHN is the first interactive online housing community for adults with special needs and their families,” says Desiree Kameka, national housing expert at MHAF. “It serves as a hub of ideas and resources to help project starters create new housing options for thousands of adults with autism and related disabilities across the nation.” JaLynn Prince, President of MHAF, explains, “The AHN is an answer carefully planned and implemented with a delicate sensitivity for adults, young and old, on the autism spectrum.”

AHN Team

The Autism Housing Network project team

The AHN offers various features that can make navigating and understanding the housing landscape much easier. For example, the AHN Housing Directory gives users the ability to explore emerging and existing housing models through an interactive map and a user-friendly catalog.

If you create an account on the site, you can save your favorite housing ideas to your Favorites page to refer back to when you’re ready. You can also submit your own projects to be added to the directory and map for other users to see and share.

The AHN Resource Directory is a collection information, videos, presentations, and other media to educate parents, self-advocates, and project starters on the best practices in creating housing for adults with autism and related disabilities. Users can also submit their favorite resources to share with others.

AHN Housing Map

The Housing Directory Map

Do you have a specific question or comment about your housing project? The Discussions Board is a great place to connect with others. The AHN community would love to help you find the answers you need to make your project a success.

We welcome and invite you to join this exciting new network that aims to make housing a reality for adults with autism and other disabilities around the country.

Visit to sign up.

AHN Logo

Celebrating Different Ways of Being: Meet Kim Wagaman of Epic Revolution



An Epic Revolution outing

Recently our founder, Jason Harris, spoke with Kim Wagaman, co-founder of EPIC Revolution, an organization that seeks to help neurodiverse teens and young adults find friendship, support, and solidarity. The ever-evolving group is community oriented and sustained by friendships created through shared experience. Kim has specialized in coping, regulation, and social relationships with the neurodiverse community since 1995. She also teaches yoga. Epic Revolution’s unique developmental approach to therapy is youth-centered and based in trust and acceptance.



EPIC is a social club that offers a chance for neurodiverse* teens and young adults to connect with compatible peers and adult mentors in a positive and safe environment. EPIC is structured as a non-religious youth group founded on a doctrine of respect for self and for others. Their weekly evening meetups are memorable and fun and offer both physically active and quieter pursuits which foster social communication, increased self-awareness, and self-confidence. Their skilled professional adult mentors are wonderfully attuned to each club member and offer encouragement and support as well as space for personal exploration. EPIC is proud of its Leadership Team, established members who provide outreach to new, younger, and less-involved participants and plan and host games and activities.

(*Neurodiverse is defined here as including, but not limited to, persons who identify with High Functioning Autism, ADHD or other language or sensory processing differences. EPIC asserts that neurological variations are authentic forms of human diversity, self-expression and being.)


Kaary Ogard & Kim Wagaman founded EPIC in 2011 as a creative response to the need for friendship, support, and solidarity among neurodiverse teens and young adults. The ever-evolving group is community oriented and sustained by friendships created through shared experience.

Kaary is a speech pathologist specializing in autism and neurodiversity since 1998.

Kim has specialized in coping, regulation, and social relationships with the neurodiverse community since 1995. She also teaches yoga.Their unique developmental approach to therapy is youth-centered and based in trust and acceptance.


For more information on Epic Revolution, please visit:

For a downloadable podcast of this interview please visit:

Disability identity: A “Crippled” Narrative

Jasmine Leiser, photographed by Ace Perez

Jasmine Leiser, photographed by Ace Perez

From time to time, we like to invite guests to share their perspectives here in our magazine. Today’s guest blog is written by Jasmine Leiser, journalist, student, and artist at the University of California Berkeley.–Ed.
I have cerebral palsy, hyperhidrosis, asthma, and bipolar disorder. I have a morbid sense of humor and, for as long as I can remember, life’s been a bit of a joke that I’ve held at a distance.

I’ve always had a “manic” personality. I like making other people laugh; the life of the party, the butt of the joke. I was the chubby little kid in the grocery store who asked strangers in line what they were making for dinner — and whether they wanted to be my friend.

I’m 21 now and my life has been centered around the medical model of disability. The medical model treats disability as a series of symptoms to be addressed. The objective is mobility, autonomy, and independence.

The medical model treats disability as a series of symptoms to be addressed.

As a child I practiced walking up stairs, doing leg raises, and touching my toes. I played board games with my parents to develop the dexterity in my hands and fingers — delicate, little child hands with soft pink nails that learned how to play the guitar in preschool and gently turn the pages of hardback books.

When I was quite young, I remember lying on an padded blue therapy table that looked out over a large grassy lawn. I laid on my side, and lifted my left leg against the resistance of my therapist’s warm palm. This exercise was intended to strengthen my hip abductors. In physical therapy, the progress is gradual, see only after hundreds of daily repetitions. Physical therapy taught me patience. In therapy, I moved slowly and deliberately; practicing muscle control as I walked, strapped in and secure, on the treadmill and stepped up and down from a bench. Physical therapy taught me how to stretch and how to work with my body, not against it.

My parents have kind eyes and warm hearts; they are the best kind of advocate for a young woman with disabilities in the public school system. We set up a 504 and then IEP (Individual Education Plan). I did physical therapy during recess, and took extra time on tests as my sweaty hands ripped through sheets of lined paper. In kindergarten I wore leg braces, and twister straps that clipped onto my tennis shoes, over colorfully patterned leggings. I had round Harry Potter glasses, before they were cool, circa 2000. My parents were instrumental in making sure the school had accessible field trips. I didn’t understand that I was disabled. I wasn’t sure why I needed to wear some extra hardware.

Too often, physical disability is conflated with a lack of academic potential; challenging myself academically, from a young age, instilled confidence, and a strong sense of self.

When I was in 3rd grade, my mother asked for me to be evaluated for the Gifted And Talented Education program. The principal resisted. My mother insisted. I tested into the program. Too often, physical disability is conflated with a lack of academic potential; challenging myself academically, from a young age, instilled confidence, and a strong sense of self.

I read vicariously and I wrote my own stories in lined composition books, illustrated with magic marker. I never drew my braces. Instead, in all of my stories, I just pretended that I could fly. At 12, I was highly creative. I built myself an imaginary world and retreated into it for most of 6th grade.

In 7th grade, my Life Science teacher came to class with an anxiety hamster. It’s name was Philmore and it sat perched on her shoulder. I distinctly remember that she favored yellow Hawaiian T-shirts and that her classroom smelled like sulfur. She encouraged me, and my wheelchair-using friend, to leave the classroom during the segment on sexual education. Physically crippled bodies are often thought of as non-sexual.

When I was 17, I dated a straight boy who said that he liked my disabled body because he liked to hold my hand. This struck me in my gut, and I began to really question the caregiver, care receiver relationship in my partnership with an able-bodied adolescent.  

It wasn’t until I came to Berkeley in the summer of 2013 that I realized that disability identity existed outside of the doctor’s office.

It wasn’t until I came to Berkeley in the summer of 2013 that I realized that disability identity existed outside of the doctor’s office. At 18, I became aware of the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement. At 19, after a depressive downswing, I wrote a column on disability for my college newspaper. The intent was to demystify and breakdown the stigma.

At 19.5 years old, a stranger on the street tapped my shoulder from behind. It was rainy in Berkeley. I was listening to headphones and minding my own business. I was startled and turned around. She was older, maybe 45 or so. When I said “Can I help you?” she started crying and said that she was just so proud of me for getting out of the house. This stranger called me “her inspiration” because I, quite literally, walked outside. It was comically ridiculous.  

At Cal, I study British history. Which essentially means that I navigate libraries with ease, and I always buy used copies of my books because I tattoo them with highlighter to the point where they just can’t be resold.

I am an historian, and historians like facts. I really detest guesswork; which, if we’re being honest here, is a lot of what psychiatry, psychology and mental health care is.

In the disability community, folks are often hung up on labels: what’s the next diagnosis, the next treatment option, the newest therapy. These labels come with stigma. This past February, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I immediately became afraid of the bipolar social trope. I was afraid that without a linear counter argument the stereotypes that I was socialized to believe about bipolar disorder would become inevitably become true.

Disability identity is about reclamation…. My crippled narrative is a story of resilience.

Disability identity is about reclamation. For me, this reclamation is appreciating my holistic self. Confronting my new disability diagnosis has been about letting go.

It’s about recognizing my internalized ableism. It’s about acknowledging the validity of my own, non-visible, disability identity. My crippled narrative is a story of resilience.

I’m ready for the next chapter.


Jasmine Leiser and Ace Perez are journalists, students, and artists at the University of California Berkeley. Jasmine and Ace are coffee-drinking, co-directors of the rad org Art for Consciousness. Contact Jasmine, and Ace at


4 Exercise Tips for People with Disabilities


Photo via Pixabay

From time to time, we like to invite guests to share their perspectives here in our magazine. Today’s guest blog is written by Jennifer McGregor, co-creator of .–Ed.

Exercising for people with disabilities doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. With the right program, tools, and mindset, exercising can be just as fulfilling and effective for a person with disabilities as it can be for anyone else.

1. Plan and Measure

Before you get started, commit yourself to a plan made just for you. Whether you use plans from around the web to build your exercise regimen or enlist the help of a personal trainer, a plan that’s mindful of your range of abilities will keep you motivated and challenge you in all the right ways. Go at your own pace and record your progress along the way. Seeing your improvement on paper will encourage you to stick to your regular exercise routine.

2. Use Proper Equipment

From Therabands to arm cycles, the range of exercise equipment for people with disabilities is wide and varied. You might even be able to find some of this equipment in a gym nearby.

Therabands are elastic bands that use slow, controlled motion and tension as a strength workout. There’s plenty of other equipment out there for strength training for people with disabilities, including dumbbells and medicine balls.

But don’t forget the cardio! Arm cycles sit atop a table and are like bicycle pedals for your arms. Just this simple upper-body workout alone can get your heart rate pumping in no time.

3. Try Swimming

Swimming is famous for its therapeutic effects. The lessened effect of gravity while in the water allows for a greater range of mobility, which is great for practicing movements that are difficult to do on land.

If playing in the pool and getting a little bit of exercise in at the same time sounds like a fun time to you, consider hiring a specialist in aquatic therapy. Whether you hire a trainer or go at it alone, make sure you’re swimming with other people around so you can ask them for help if you need it.

4. Keep an Open Mind

Don’t give up if you can’t run, swim, or lift weights. There are other fun exercises out there; all it takes to get active is an open mind and a willingness to try new things.

Perhaps you could check out the sports groups for people with disabilities nearby and join a sports team. Or if you’d rather exercise alone, you can perform regular stretches and seated exercises and still get all the benefits from group exercise.

Though people with disabilities may face an extra obstacle when it comes to exercising regularly, the vast amounts of exercise plans and equipment available to disabled people makes finding the perfect workout regimen a little bit easier. All it takes is an open mind, an exploratory attitude, and a determined spirit.


Jennifer McGregor has dreamed of being a doctor since she was little and is excited to be pursuing that dream as a pre-med student. She and a friend created as part of a class project with the goal of providing access to trustworthy health and medical resources. When she isn’t working on the site, you might find Jennifer studying at the campus library or enjoying some downtime with her dog at a local park.


Overcoming Challenges, Working for Inclusion: Meet Melissa Milinovich, Activist and Mom

Melissa and her daughter

Melissa Milinovich and her daughter

Recently our founder, Jason Harris, spoke with Melissa Milinovich, who was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of 2. She is a career woman and a mom. She also serves on the National Board of Directors for Cure SMA, speaks at many events to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, and is the board chairman of the Accommodations Committee for the 2017 ReelAbilities Film Festival.

In this insightful interview, Ms. Milinovich discusses how she has overcome challenges, and the importance of inclusion.


Melissa Milinovich is from Amelia, Ohio and was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of 2 (strong type I / weak type II) after several misdiagnoses; however, she has never let that stop her.  She graduated with honors from Wright State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business in 2000 and graduated this year from University of Phoenix with Master’s of Information Systems.  From being a career woman with Hewlett Packard Enterprises as an Asset Manager in the USPS Division to a single mother of her daughter, Claudia, Melissa strives to reach the high goals she has set for herself. She never allows anyone to tell her she “can’t” do something; she figures out how to achieve it.  Despite using a wheelchair for full-time for mobility, she lives a very fulfilling life and encourages others to do the same.  In her free time, she serves on the National Board of Directors for Cure SMA, assists her daughter’s school with administrative and fundraising tasks, assists her MDA office with Summer Camp, speaks at many events to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, and is the board chairman of the Accommodations Committee for the 2017 ReelAbilities Film Festival.

For more information on SMA, please visit:

For more information on the ReelAbilities Film Festival, please visit:

For a downloadable podcast of this interview, please visit:

Belonging: Building Inclusive Communities in Our Own Backyards


From time to time, we like to invite guests to share their perspectives here in our magazine. Today’s guest blog is written by Kathleen Cail, Managing Director of LivABLE Cincinnati, and past Chair of the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival .–Ed.

Today, there is extensive research which supports the idea that human relationships are the key to living a healthy and happy life. Those who are marginalized are often the most lonely and invisible people in a community. Whether you are marginalized by race, ability, age, etc., it feels the same. You feel left out–that you don’t belong.

Marginalizing begins early. Sometimes it is good intentions gone awry, like students who require “special education.” In most schools, students with disabilities spend their day in a classroom, which doesn’t seem to exist to those who aren’t in it. I spoke with a high school student and she said, “I see ‘those’ kids get off the bus, but I don’t know where they go.”

Sometimes marginalization occurs because we are focused on the best and the brightest. Achievement seems so narrowly defined and this in itself marginalizes. Aren’t we all capable of growing and learning? I heard an interview with an educational researcher who concluded that Japanese schools see students as having potential, while the American education system views students as “being smart or not.” Sports teams, theater groups, etc. are other examples of those areas where students are expected to come already gifted. How will students have the chance to learn, practice and improve if within their own school communities, they are “cut”?

I spoke with a high school student and she said, “I see ‘those’ kids get off the bus, but I don’t know where they go.”

Then there is social marginalization based on difference. Beginning in middle school, all the way through college, students are worried about fitting in and belonging. Those who don’t are ignored or bullied. Often this behavior is excused by adults as “developmental.” Yes, it is, but are there not teaching moments here? Think of all the things kids wouldn’t learn if we just said “Oh. That’s developmental” and left it at that. We think that our children will grow out of this and learn to be welcoming and inclusive adults. However, look at the adults in their lives thus far. Adults are the parents, teachers, directors, and coaches who marginalize, without realizing it. How are students going to learn to become welcoming adults? How will they become community members who bring individuals on the fringes into the center? How will they become employers who recognize the gifts of all abilities?

Perhaps the focus on “community service” could change to “community building” right in our own backyards and playgrounds.

Perhaps learning to build community can begin earlier and in our families and schools. Perhaps the discussions around bullying could be discussions about how much better and healthier it is to include everyone. Perhaps the discussion could be about each individual’s responsibility it is to include. Perhaps it is around the numerous opportunities we all have to build a community that meaningfully includes everyone. Perhaps the focus on “community service” could change to “community building” right in our own backyards and playgrounds.

DSC_2579Kathleen Cail is a mother, consultant, and advocate who spent years in the for-profit arena, working for Nielsen and Kraft Foods. After having a daughter, born with a neuromuscular diagnosis, Kathleen began working to create meaningful inclusion that would foster community based social opportunities for people who experience developmental disabilities. In 2011, Kathleen worked with Cincinnati Museum Center, Children’s Hospital, and Starfire to bring the Positive Exposure, The Spirit of Difference exhibition to Cincinnati. securing lectures at Children’s Hospital Grand Rounds, Dept. of Human Genetics, and the Dept. of OT/PT/RT, U.C. Medical School, Dayton Children’s Hospital, and Museum Center; as well as The Ohio State University Nisonger Center and COSI in Columbus. Kathleen is on the boards of Starfire and Jason’s Connection.



Jason’s Connection Is Going to the Big Apple!

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Jason P. Harris, founder and spokesperson of Jason’s Connection will be traveling next week to New York City for several speaking engagements.

On April 6, 2016, during the Positive Exposure Pop-Up Exhibition, Jason will present a lunchtimeChange-1008x1024 lecture at 12:30 PM, and will also speak on Family Advocate Day on April 9th. His presentations focus on hidden and invisible disabilities and societal attitudes towards those with differing abilities. The Exhibition will take place April 5 – 11, 2016 at the Art Directors Club, 106 West 29th Street, New York City. The event is free and open to the public. The sole purpose of the Positive Exposure Pop-Up Center is to network and be inspired by the amazing programs and advocacy efforts happening all around us. Positive Exposure was founded in 1998 by award winning fashion photographer, Rick Guidotti. For more information about Positive Exposure and the multi-media exhibition, visit

While in New York, Jason will also speak to the employees of The Nielson Company, an information and measurement company. The company provides media and marketing information, analytics, and manufacturer and retailer expertise about what and where consumers buy, read, watch and listen. Mr. Harris’s presentation will focus on inclusion of the diverse abilities community in consumer studies. This is a private event.

Jason Rick GJason P. Harris is the Founder of Jason’s Connection – an online resource for those with unique needs, disabilities, and mental illness. He regularly contributes to the online magazine in his own series called Jason’s View and travels the country speaking about Hidden Disabilities.


A First-Person Look at Asperger’s Syndrome: Meet Filmmaker Alyssa Huber


Recently Jason’s Connection’s founder, Jason Harris, talked with Alyssa Huber, a film student and documentary filmmaker who has Asperger’s Syndrome.

In this eye-opening interview, Ms. Huber talks about her experiences making films about what life is like for those on the autism spectrum.


Alyssa Huber is a freelancing filmmaker, writer, and creative dreamer. She’s also a college student 12573187_10153423921548481_5450185160912530554_nmajoring in Media Creation and Production at Judson University. Her aspiration to become a filmmaker started at a young age, when she was about 10 years old. While she was in college, she decided to produce a documentary on Asperger’s Syndrome. It initially began as a simple trailer for a short film project in one of her media classes. She eventually pursued it as a longer documentary film titled Through Our Eyes: Living with Asperger’s. She wants to spread awareness and understanding of Asperger’s.

For more information about Alyssa Huber and her films:

For a downloadable podcast of this interview, please visit: