Healing Through Creativity


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Art by Amy

Recently Jason Harris, founder of Jason’s Connection spoke with Amy Oestreicher PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for The Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, award-winning actress, and playwright. As a survivor and “thriver” of nearly 30 surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse, organ failure, and a decade of medical trauma, Amy has been challenged with moments of extreme difficulty.

“When I was 15, I was really admired by my voice teacher who became by mentor. A few years later when I was 17, he all of a sudden started molesting me. I was shocked and I just froze. I completely left my body and don’t know anything that happened. I just remember I had been always been very in touch with myself, a very intuitive person, spiritual, and I used to love nature walks. All of a sudden, I couldn’t really focus on the trees anymore. I could only focus on the sound of my feet moving. Everything became very mechanical at the point where I didn’t even recognize myself anymore.

One day I was at the bookstore I picked up a book that was about healing from sexual abuse, I laughed and put the book back. But I ended up picking it back up again and I flipped open the page of symptoms and I looked down at the list and I felt numb. I felt out of my body. I felt there’s something wrong with me. It was really a revelation for me, that I was sexually abused by my voice teacher. So from then I really felt like I was carrying this anxious, dark secret that I had no idea what to do with. I kept this secret inside for months. April of my senior year when I turned 18, I finally told my mom, I couldn’t take it anymore. We were going to get therapy and everything but then a couple weeks later, my stomach was really hurting and we ended us going to the ER. We then found out that I became septic. When they did surgery, both of my lungs collapsed, my stomach hit the ceiling and I went into cardiac arrest. I was in a coma for months. When I woke the doctor’s informed me that I no longer had a stomach. What helped me survive is that I didn’t really know how to act like a “patient” My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t make a mark in the world anymore. I always identified as a performer, which was my way of connecting.

Creatively connecting with my passion really got me through.

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Amy and her art

I am a visual artist now. I was never a visual artist. I actually discovered art by accident. My mom, when I was in the hospital would bring me art supplies to give me something to do. For the longest time, I refused. Then one day, I think when I reached my lowest point I reached for a canvas and thinking to myself ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ but I was feeling a lot right then and I needed to do something where I don’t have to use words. I remember painting the first picture and it was such a physical experience where I just was feeling everything. Then I realized that painting was a way to express what was too complicated or overwhelming for words. And it was a way that I could deal with the sadness and uncomfortable emotions, but also a safe way that didn’t overwhelm me.

It’s so easy to say and sound inspirational but it’s hard as hell to trust.

I ended up writing a one-woman show about my life; I’ve been touring for 5 years now with Gutless and Grateful. This inspired me to take what was once just a little musical and turn it into a whole mental health and sexual assault prevention program. I became very involved with PTSD and trauma and understanding what it does to an individual. It also made me feel not so crazy when I realized all the psychological aftermath. Now I’m touring a show, not only a musical. I’m taking it to colleges and organizations. I am really excited to see what I did instinctively to heal is really legit. To heal through creativity, through expressing, through sharing.

My motto is I Love My Detour

It’s all about what happens to us but also the strength in being able to love what happens to us by knowing we’re not alone and knowing that there are other people going through detours.

 

Amy-Oestreicher-BW-2006Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for The Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, award-winning actress, and playwright. As a survivor and “thriver” of nearly 30 surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse, organ failure, and a decade of medical trauma, Amy has been challenged with moments of extreme difficulty.  But, as an artistactresscollege student, and overall lover of life, Amy eagerly shares the lessons learned from trauma and has brought out the stories that unite us all through her writingmixed media artperformance and inspirational speaking.

 

For the full interview please listen below or to download it please click here.

 

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Jason 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.

 

Small Home Repairs Make a Big Difference for Children With Special Needs


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Photo via Pixabay by Olichel Adamovich

Taking care of a child is one of the most challenging tasks a parent can face. When your child has special needs, it adds a whole new set of complications. Suddenly, a seemingly mundane and simple trip to the grocery store becomes a long, drawn out process, or the day-to-day rituals like bathing and getting dressed require ardent and continuous attention to detail. Some home repairs can make the daily routine much easier to manage, and can give your child the closest thing to a regular lifestyle. The accommodations differ for each child depending on their needs, but here are a few ideas and resources to get you started:

 

Start Small

The changes in your home don’t have to be drastic, at least in the beginning. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Start by making little improvements in their environment. Arrange the furniture so that it is in the least obstructive position, or remove rugs that may cause your child to trip or result in injury. For an overactive child, designating a more isolated, private space in the house may be appropriate. If you have a child with hindered vision, plug in a few lamps in their favorite areas around the house. Small fixes add up.

Modifications In Common Areas

Probably one of the best modifications to make in the home is creating a more open concept. If you must keep doorways, widen them for easy passage if your child is restricted to a wheelchair. For a wheelchair to comfortably pass through, doorways should be at least 32 inches wide. Consider leveling out the shower space in your bathroom so your child can walk straight in, decreasing their chances of getting hurt. Depending on your child’s diagnosis, invest in a shower chair. Install bars in the shower and near the toilet for your child to grab for stability and balance. In the kitchen, you may need to lower countertops and install locks on the cabinet doors where there are cleaners and other chemicals.

Where To Go For Help

There are numerous organizations that want to see you and your child succeed, and they’re willing to go above and beyond to make it happen. Here are some resources for funding and more:

  • Rebuilding Together: Non-profit that offers home repair assistance for various demographic groups in need
  • Home Investment Partnership Program: Uses grants to fund housing for low income families
  • State Housing Finance Agencies: Loan programs that enable families who have a member with disabilities to pay for modifications
  • Local Government Buildings: Your local government will have access to information and other resources and who to contact for financial aid for your home repairs
  • Rebuilding Together AmeriCorps: Works with groups to provide new housing or update existing homes
  • Modest Needs: Targets families just above the poverty line that need backing through the Self-Sufficiency Grant

If you help accommodate your child’s needs, then you will feel more at ease too. The more accessible the home, the more freeing and independent your child will be, and as a result of their self-reliance, you can gain some parts of your life back.

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Paul Denikin Is the writer of this guest blog. Paul is passionate about sharing his experiences working on DIY projects to benefit people with special needs children.

Toronto, The Summer of Learning About a Method of Inclusion


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Diverse Equality Gender Innovation Management Concept (Image: 123rf.com)

This summer, I had the pleasure to attend the Toronto Summer Institute Inclusion Conference. To be honest, it blew my mind and I am still trying to figure out how to take in all I learned and what it means for me personally and the Jason’s Connection community. I was lucky enough to hear from one of the leaders in the field John McKnight in Asset Based Community Development or ABCD.

We tend to see organizations or institutions as the major way we meet people’s needs. Institutions and organizations, while able to help people can also be inflexible or singularly focused. They often expect people to fit into their model of what they are doing and are not always able to accommodate to people individuality. They also have a hierarchical structure, which is fine but does not always work in every situation. These organizations may not work as well in a person-centered approach. Organizations or institutions sometimes try to make themselves a community but it is not a natural community because of the hierarchical status and the way that they may not be able to focus on individual needs. This can sometimes drive the need for more organization and institutions because we don’t take into account enough social capital.

When we focus on needs we tend to forget the persons individuality and also their wants and assets.

In the community-based approach, we focus not just on the individual but what assets they bring. From their interests and assets, you then find ways in the community to get people involved and form relationships.

The idea is that it is through relationships, we find meaning; this can lead us to other opportunities.

In essence the focus becomes more on connection to community through assets and attributes vs. challenges and disabilities. The idea of being more focused on each other needs through community connections and relationships instead of simply institutional intervention is a very interesting concept and one that I want to understand more fully. It reminds me that in my own life, I am still trying to find these types of connections. This is also one of the purposes of Jason’s Connection. As an organization, we still have much room to grow with much to learn. I hope to continue to reflect on this and would love you to join me to help make Jason’s Connection a community that sees the assets of people beyond just their needs or challenges. In the end, institutions and organizations are not bad and they can certainly fill a need. However, they shouldn’t replace real human connections and community support. Many things can be beneficial for help and support, including each other!

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For more information on the Inclusion Network please visit http://www.inclusion.com/index.html 

 

 

3K6A9522Jason 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.

 

 

The New 529 ABLE Account


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Chip Gerhardt, a father to an 19-year-old young woman with Down’s syndrome, a lobbyist in Ohio and a former chairman to the National Down’s Syndrome Society. Gerhardt has worked to have the 529 ABLE Law enacted, a law that says Ohioans are now able to open STABLE investment accounts, which allow participants to set aside up to $14,000 a year to pay for college, housing and disability related expenses.

The basic understanding behind ABLE is that federal law, for decades, prevented people who qualified for Social Security or Medicaid, because of the disability, from having more than $2,000 worth of assets or earning more than about $680 a month or they would lose their eligibility for these two very important programs. The ABLE Act was an amendment to the 529-college savings account program that creates a first of its kind savings account instrument for people with disabilities to put money aside in their own name, which is the important distinction here, without losing eligibility for Social Security or Medicaid.

Chip and Anne at the White House for the signing of the ABLE Act

The idea of The ABLE Act was conceived at the kitchen table in Northern Virginia at the home of Steve and Catherine Beck, a couple that have a daughter with Down’s syndrome, and they were talking to some other friends one night about 12 years ago and somebody brought up the issue that you can’t have more than $2,000 or you lose your eligibility and people didn’t really know that. So, a few people started to get involved and then a few more and then the NDSS and then Autism Speaks. This literally was a grassroots effort that certainly had professional management through NDSS and Autism Speaks and others, but it was literally a grassroots effort. It’s very exciting to have been involved with that was passed 25 years ago, but it’s also sort of a statement amount disability rights and advocacy that it took 25 years since ADA to get something like this that many described as a no-brainer. They couldn’t believe that public policy has been in place for 50 years. I mean, it took us 50 years to fix this. The $2,000 asset level was put in place in 1964 and never went up a penny.

So the benefit of the ABLE account is that you can use it for a number of issues that are disability related including education but also healthcare, transportation, assistive technology, workforce development and other issues that are related to your disability. As you pointed out, it also grows tax free like a 529 education account. It’s after tax dollars that go into the account, but the money grows tax free and if you withdraw it for an eligible expense you don’t pay any taxes on the growth and the value of your account. So, for instance, kids without disabilities, if you create your 529 college account the day after your daughter was born and let it grow for 18 years, you could have increased the wealth of that account significantly and the same is true now for the ABLE account. The one difference, or actually big difference, is at some point in the beneficiary’s life, the account holder’s life, that account also can become much more like a checking account. For instance, my daughter, hopefully, will be independent of her mom and I, and she’ll be able to pay rent from this account, she’ll be able to pay for transportation to and from work, she’ll be able to pay for job training courses or for post-graduate secondary education. She can pay for an aide to help her with disability-related issues so much more like a checking account and so I could see this being utilized as a savings instrument and creating an amount of money that can help that person over the span of his or her life but also an account that is used much more often than withdrawing money once a semester to pay for college for four years.

This is really about economic self-sufficiency and self-determination and providing an opportunity for people who not only want to work but can work, the opportunity to actually work and accept a paycheck and get raises and pay taxes and be – contribute back through paying taxes.

This allows my family, my wife and me and our daughter, to put her in a position so that we take care of her so that you don’t have to because if we can’t do that, you will absolutely have to do that because it’s unlikely that she will ever be able to earn enough money to adequately take care of herself in an meaningful manner without significant public support.

Again, there are many organizations that participated in this effort. The two organizations that really led the charge for these 10 years is Autism Speaks and the National Down Syndrome Society. So, reaching out to one of those two organizations, whether you’re affiliated with another type of organization or not, they can help direct you if you want to be involved in on-going efforts.

We’re not going to stop. I mean, we’ve gained a lot of goodwill. As I said, we’re coming back with ABLE to Work in 2017 and ’18. I’m confident that we’re going to get that passed to further incentivize people to not only work but incentivize employers to find opportunities for people with disabilities to work as well. Another way to learn more about this, you can go to the respective websites of NDSS or Autism Speaks to learn more about the advocacy. If you’re interested in a STABLE account, which is an Ohio account, but again, it’s available to anybody in this country who qualifies, I would encourage them to go to check it out. It’s an easy website to navigate. It’s easy to determine eligibility and if you decide to sign up for one of these accounts, it will take you about 10 minutes. I am proud not only to have been involved in this but also my family was honored by the fact that our daughter, Anne, opened the very first ABLE account in the entire country through Ohio’s STABLE program. It’s a very exciting opportunity for us. I would encourage people to look at these accounts like a traditional 529 account that most people just decide to open up on their own. It’s important to start growing these assets as quickly as possible and do it as early as possible in the beneficiary’s life, compounded interest and all of that. It grows significantly over time.

If you would like to listen to the whole interview you can do so here or download it here.

If you would like more information on this subject please check out the links below.

STABLE Account Public Service Announcement, featuring Anne Gerhardt

529A Accounts Let Disabled Save Without Risk to Government Aid

Ohio STABLE investment account program for people with disabilities expands.

Cincinnati Woman champions savings accounts for people with disabilities.

ABLE National Resource Center Launches Website

Recovering Addicts Share How They Help Each Other


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Image from 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 Amanda Bartow, Amanda believes there is only one greater feeling than being recognized for a job well done — the fulfillment that comes from honoring someone’s achievements!
I recently spoke to a number of recovering addicts about their journeys, and what really struck me most about our conversations was how passionate so many of them were about their desire to help others who are pursuing their own paths to recovery.

Lincoln, who reached a year of sobriety in July with help from Addiction Campuses’ Texas facility, the Treehouse, said,

“There are always people out there struggling. I feel like it’s my obligation to reach out and help people who want to make a change. You can’t do that if you’re hiding. To be able to help others, you have to be able to put yourself out there, because no one can reach out to you if you’re hiding in the shadows.”

Wendy is so passionate about this mission, she already works for an addiction recovery facility even as she approaches her first full year of sobriety.

She told me, “When I take clients back to [the facility] after meetings, they often say, ‘Wow, someone shared a story today that sounded so much like what I’ve been through. I can’t believe it!’ Everyone thinks they’re out there alone, but when you’re in recovery, you meet a lot of people who know what you’re going through. A lot of people’s stories are the same. How they got to where they are may be different, but essentially, they’re the same: they were out in the world for years doing crazy things and hiding it the best that they could.”

Helping others is a natural progression of the recovery process because so many recovering addicts were able to look to their peers for inspiration. In fact, quite a few told me that they were more inspired by their fellow addicts than even their professional counselors.

Scott, who has been sober for over eighteen months now, told me, “If you hang around enough meetings and pay attention to the right people, you’ll learn a lot.

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“We have what are called commitment groups. You’re a member of one group and you go out to other groups. A lot of the time with discussion meetings, I find people are talking about how bad their day is, and they don’t do a lot of talking about what they’re doing in their recovery. But in commitment groups, you talk about who you are, where you came from, and what you’re doing to work on your sobriety. I talk about what I did to get clean and what I’m doing to stay clean. You get a lot of inspiration from people and you learn things — you learn how to stay sober.

“You lead by example,”
Scott declared.

Zach, who reached his first year of sobriety back in June, recognized a similar kind of leadership in himself.

“I always talked about going to school,” he recalled. “I decided during treatment that I was going to go, and I wasn’t going to let anything hold me back. I knew [substance abuse counseling] is what I wanted to go to school for. I loved seeing people’s faces light up while I was helping them in treatment, and I liked being able to understand what others were going through.

“You need a group of people that are on the same mission you’re on. It takes work and it’s not going to be easy, but if you’re thinking about it, that’s already a big part of it. You’ve got to find the strength to take the next step. When you get the help you need to get out of your rut and succeed in life, you’ll see things change.”

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For so many addicts, this change manifests along with a desire to help others, proving that recovery is far more powerful than addiction.

A recent study revealed that the U.S. has seen an alarming rise in suicides. In fact, with the rate now at 13 suicides per 100,000 people, it’s at an all-time high since the mid-1980s.

How to Cope with Suicidal Thoughts and Feelings – In Yourself & Others

Anger, Depression, and Disability: Adapting to a New Reality

The Guide to Rebuilding Bridges With Your Loved Ones After Battling Addiction

Earlier Than Too Late: Stopping Stress and Suicide Among Emergency Personnel

Teens and Peer Suicide: Dangerous Potential After-Effects

After a Suicide Attempt: A Guide for Family & Friends

Left Behind After Suicide

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For more information about Amanda or Recognition Works please visit  recognitionworks.org