WashPost: Autistic student who graduated top of class shares valedictory speech

Unable to communicate at the age of 3, Montel Medley was diagnosed with autism.

With support from his mother, Roberta, and his teachers in Prince George’s County, Montel went on to earn a 4.0 grade point average at Surrattsville High School, graduated at the top of his class and gained acceptance to Towson University.

“Having a disability doesn’t mean you have a disadvantage,” Montel said during his valedictory speech. “Sometimes it can be an advantage.”

Here is the full speech Montel gave as valedictorian of Surrattsville High:

Good Morning distinguished guests, faculty, staff, family, friends and most importantly, CLASS OF 2014!! I am Montel Medley and I am proud to be your valedictorian. My fellow classmates, we finally made it, so give yourself a round of applause.

We had a lot of distractions, but we managed to deal with them. As we graduate from high school, we know it is a new chapter because we get to step into the world, no more living inside a vacuum with our parents. We must leave our comfort zone and step into the light!

Going to high school was a serious transition for me. But each year, I became more mature and disciplined. In my freshman year, I was a bit nervous. You see, in middle school, I didn’t make a lot of friends because I had autism. Autism made it hard for me to interact with others, so I isolated myself.

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Smithsonian Folklife Festival Accessible to Visitors with Disabilities

The Smithsonian Institution is committed to making the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival accessible and enjoyable for visitors with disabilities. The 2014 Festival features “China: Tradition and the Art of Living” and “Kenya: Mambo Poa.”

The Festival will be held Wednesday, June 25, through Sunday, June 29, and Wednesday, July 2, through Sunday, July 6, outdoors on the National Mall between Seventh and 14th streets. Admission is free. Festival hours are from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day, with special evening events beginning at 6 p.m. The Festival is co-sponsored by the National Park Service.

Visitors with disabilities who need assistance are advised to report to the Information booths located at various points around the Festival site or to the Volunteer tent located in the Festival Services area near the Smithsonian Metrorail station’s Mall exit. A large-print version of the Festival’s daily schedule and food concession menus will be available. The Festival schedule is also available in audio format. A limited number of wheelchairs will be available at the Volunteer tent for loan.

American Sign Language interpreters will be on site daily to interpret selected performances and presentations. An additional ASL interpreter is on site each day and can be reached via the Volunteer tent for visitors with requests beyond the scheduled events. Real-time captioning (CART) will be provided for selected performances and presentations. Refer to the online Festival schedule for the complete times and dates of ASL and CART services, or pick up an updated schedule of interpreted events from the Volunteer tent or Information booths.

Verbal-description and tactile tours are scheduled for Saturday, June 28, at 1 p.m. and Thursday, July 3, at 3 p.m. for visitors who are blind or have low vision. The Festival will open at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 28, to host “Morning at the Mall” with pre-visit materials for families with children with cognitive and sensory processing disabilities. Visitors interested should RSVP for both events by calling (202) 633-2921 or emailing access@si.edu.

All performance stages and narrative stages, the Flavors of Kenya stage and the Five Spice Kitchen are equipped with induction loops; receivers are available in each tent from a volunteer or Festival staff member. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival welcomes all service animals.

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NYT: Dr. Lorna Wing, Who Broadened Views of Autism, Dies at 85

Dr. Lorna Wing, a British psychiatrist who was instrumental in identifying autism as a mental disorder of many gradations, affecting people across the spectrum of intelligence — and who gave autism in its mildest form the name Asperger’s syndrome — died on June 6 in Kent, England. She was 85.

Her death, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, was announced by the National Autistic Society, an advocacy and service organization she helped found in Britain in 1962, in part to fill a void she and her husband encountered while seeking help for their own autistic daughter.

Dr. Wing helped redraw the map of a behavioral terrain that was virtually unheard-of until the mid-20th century and that now, partly as a result of her insights, is said to affect the lives of roughly one out of every 70 people in the world. She is widely credited with recognizing autism as a spectrum of related problems, rather than as a single condition.

She is best known for rediscovering the work of Hans Asperger, an Austrian psychiatrist who first described a form of autism in a group of intelligent, verbally adroit boys who were indifferent to their schoolwork but intensely interested in one or two subjects, like trains, dinosaurs or royal genealogy. The “little professors,” as he called them, shared many of the usual problems common to autism: inability to make friends, repetitive behaviors, distress at any break in routine.

Dr. Asperger’s paper challenged the commonly held belief of the day that all autistic children were cognitively disabled or schizophrenic. But his findings, published in Switzerland in 1944, went almost completely unnoticed during World War II.

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Design for Life Tax Incentive Program

“Design for Life Montgomery” legislation — Bill 5-13 – Property Tax Credits–Accessibility – goes into effect July 1. The new Maryland law provides tax credits to builders and homeowners for including features in new and existing residential housing that improve accessibility for persons of all ages, including seniors and those with disabilities. With this new law, the entire stock of more accessible single-family homes, apartments and condominiums in the County will increase, creating a more inclusive community.

The bill will provide for a property tax credit for an accessibility feature installed on an existing residence; provide for a property tax credit for meeting a Level I or Level II accessibility standard on a new single family residence; provide for an impact tax credit against the Development Impact Tax for Public School Improvements for meeting a Level I accessibility standard; and generally amend the County law regarding property tax credits. This bill will provide tax credits to builders and homeowners for including Level I visit-ability (up to $3,000) and Level II live-ability (up to $10,000) accessibility features in new and existing single family attached and detached homes. The impact tax credits for builders will be for new construction in single family attached and detached homes.

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NPR: National Data Confirm Cases Of Restraint And Seclusion In Public Schools

The practice of secluding or restraining children when they get agitated has long been a controversial practice in public schools. Now, new data show that it’s more common than previously understood, happening at least 267,000 times in a recent school year.

NPR worked with reporters from the investigative journalism group ProPublica, who compiled data from the U.S. Department of Education to come up with one of the clearest looks at the practice of seclusion and restraint.

In most cases, the practice is used with students with disabilities — usually with those who have autism or are labeled emotionally disturbed. Sometimes the students will get upset; they might even get violent. To calm or control them, teachers and aides might isolate them in a separate room, which is a practice known as seclusion. Or they might restrain them by holding or hugging them, or pinning them to the ground, or by using mechanical restraints, such as a belt or even handcuffs.

An analysis by ProPublica and NPR of data for the 2011-2012 school year of school discipline practices from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection shows:

  • Restraint and seclusion were used at least 267,000 times nationwide. That includes 163,000 instances in which students were restrained. Mechanical restraints were used 7,600 of those times.
  • Schools reported that they placed children in seclusion rooms about 104,000 times.
  • In 75 percent of the cases, it was kids with disabilities who were restrained or secluded.

This was the first time that federal officials required schools to report their use of seclusion and restraint. But the true numbers are almost certainly higher: Many of the nation’s largest school districts reported no use of seclusion or restraint. Federal officials say it’s unclear whether those districts don’t use either technique or if they simply didn’t report cases.

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The Sibling Support Project

The Sibling Support Project is a national effort dedicated to the life-long concerns of brothers and sisters of people who have special health, developmental, or mental health concerns:

“We believe that disabilities, illness, and mental health issues affect the lives of all family members. Consequently, we want to increase the peer support and information opportunities for brothers and sisters of people with special needs and to increase parents’ and providers’ understanding of sibling issues.

Our mission is accomplished by training local service providers on how to create community-based peer support programs for young siblings; hosting workshops, listservs, and websites for young and adult siblings; and increasing parents’ and providers’ awareness of siblings’ unique, lifelong, and ever-changing concerns through workshops, websites, and written materials.”

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Time: 16-Year-Old With Quadriplegia Goes to Prom

In October 2003, six-year-old Gena Buza and her younger sister, Sophie, were riding in a car, their grandmother at the wheel, when the grandmother lost control of the vehicle and it smashed into a tree. Gena was thrown from her seat and suffered a bruised spinal cord that left her paralyzed from the chest down. She is considered quadriplegic. 

One might expect that this is the beginning of a tale that ends in broken dreams and heartache. But the heartache wore off, the dreams have evolved and Gena is today a remarkable 16-year-old with a story to tell. I have been photographing “Gena, In Constant Motion” since 2012. Below, Gena shares a poem recounting a day that changed everything and about how she has rebuilt her life. – Taylor Baucom

Read more: “Raising My Head High”: 16-Year-Old With Quadriplegia Goes to Prom – LightBox http://lightbox.time.com/2014/06/17/raising-my-head-high-a-16-year-old-with-quadriplegia-goes-to-her-prom/#ixzz356cUPKXL

Access Community Lecture Series

Access Ministry is the “disability ministry” of McLean Bible Church. While the word “disability” is used, we prefer to think of Access as a ministry of “possibilities” not defined by what can’t be done but rather by what all individuals regardless of ability level can achieve in God’s house. We believe in Access to God for all His people and celebrate our uniqueness and differences. It is our hope to develop all people into fully-devoted followers of Christ, integrated into the church.

Each school year, beginning in September, Access sponsors monthly lectures focusing on disability issues by experts from the Washington, DC, area. These workshops are designed for parents, families, individuals and professionals in the disability community and are open to the public free of charge. RSVP is requested, but not required. Access encourages you to invite a friend that may also want to hear these incredible speakers.

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ArtStream OnStage, “The Super and The Mundane and Hotel Times”

ArtStream OnStage, is proud to present the 2014 Silver Spring Inclusive Theatre Companies in The Super and The Mundane and Hotel Times, June 19-22, 2014 at Round House Silver Spring in Silver Spring, MD.

Check-in, unwind, and ENJOY!

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Inclusive Theatre Companies are directed by trained theatre professionals and feature actors who have intellectual disabilities or learning disabilities, or are on the Autism Spectrum. An original script is developed during the rehearsal process through improvisation techniques. A play is scripted and then blocked, memorized by the actors, and performed for the public. The final production is designed to showcase each actor’s unique talents.

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