TRIO Consultants seeks to serve the uprise in hidden disabilities
Dr. Cynthia Norall returns to educate educators and employers about special needs individuals that are aging out in California
Fallbrook, California, US
“In doing research for my new book I had the opportunity to interview managers in a variety of work settings including a Tech company in Silicon Valley, a Biotech Science company in the Bay Area and a huge Utility Company in Southern California,” shares Dr. Cynthia Norall. “One interview happened to involve a friend of mine from childhood. What my friend did for the employee was amazing and what I’d want someone to do for any of my clients seeking a position in a company. My friend empowered this employee to be successful. Let me tell a little of the story…
“As my friend was putting her team together she ‘inherited’ an employee that many managers considered problematic. My friend agreed to take her on the team. Right away the woman asked my friend if she knew who Temple Grandin was. My friend did. The woman said ‘I’m like Temple, I have Asperger’s.’ From that moment she knew managing this individual would take some understanding.
“The payoff? This unconventional employee had a quality to her work that surpassed others on the team. So my friend was willing to be a buffer between her and the rest of the team because ‘it was my job as a manager’ and it benefitted the company. When others complained about the individual my friend would listen but also point out their defensiveness. She bartered a deal: they would work on not being so defensive and she would work on the employee’s [with autism] need to repeat herself to make a point. In meetings my friend came up with subtle cues for when it was time to stop making a point. In the end her team was not only one of the most productive but as my friend said, she never had to ask HR for help because she saw it as her job to make it work. The employee with Asperger’s has now retired and according to my friend no one has come along that was as qualified for the work she did; leaving a void for the team.”
The first statistics established were prior to when the staff that make up TRIO were even in preschool, much less born for their youngest partner. During the 60s and 70s in the US, reported diagnosis estimates were 2 to 4 cases per 10,000 children (Treffert, 1970 May;22(5):431-8.), i.e. Autism was a rare disorder. Following the expansion of diagnostic criteria for Autism that occurred in the 80s and 90s, Autism showed dramatic increases (Rice C. Encyclopedia of autism spectrum disorders. Volkmar F, editor. New York: Springer; 2013. pp. 3120–3125.). By 2002, estimates of the prevalence of autism in the United States were in the range of 6 to 7 per 1,000 children. The same year one of the partner’s [of TRIO] third child was born to be diagnosed by age 2 ½; all three identified with pervasive developmental disabilities. She found her way to Comprehensive Services and Education and Friends Club® for services. This is where the TRIO would meet but their combined journey wouldn’t being for another decade..
Until 2007, (local) Regional Centers did not include Asperger’s Syndrome within its Autism services; Dr. Norall and Ms. Miller learned this when one of Ms. Miller’s children [with this diagnosis] was denied any services while the sibling received 40 hours per week. Subsequently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) in 2013 was updated to eliminate “Asperger’s” as a diagnosis; now Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) includes the broad spectrum from severely impacted to mildly affected. Dr. Norall’s first book focused on, as well as her clinical practice, and dealt with the high functioning end of the spectrum, yet this end can the most challenging side society faces as they enter the workforce and move on to higher education institutions. Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act began offering applied behavior analysis (ABA) in 26 states, including California. ABA and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) are proven to be the most effective therapies to help individuals, like Mr. Wooton and Ms. Miller’s children, in overcoming challenges that likely otherwise would result in permanently disabling conditions and reliance on the mental health care system.
What America faces is a population of approximately 1 in 6 children having been diagnosed with a developmental disability (2006-2008) “ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities… and autism.” (CDC: Boyle, Boulet, Schieve, Cohen, Blumberg, Yeargin-Allsopp, Visser, Kogan; 2011 May) Leading to the question, who will further educate, employ and advocate for these now adults when insurance coverage ceases and they age out of juvenile service coverages?
TRIO was created to help those suffering in plain sight with these hidden disabilities. Coincidentally, Dr. Norall recently broke a finger (while walking her dog). A minor and temporary disability but a big inconvenience; the splint and cast makes the injury look worse than it is. The cast continuously reminds us about society’s willingness and readiness to help and accommodate, as individuals jump ahead to open doors, pump her gas, carry her things into offices. TRIO simultaneously finds itself advocating for two very bright teenagers at two different, local high schools; these teens do not look disabled. Actually they look “normal” so to speak; the type of looks that society assumes means “popular.” They in fact, are both charming, polite, vocal and good-looking and both suffer from hidden disabilities; they are diagnosed medically as disabled and assigned educationally as handicapped. The reason they are clients now, is their teachers, under the direction of administrators, are determined that these clients [of ours] learn by consequences. If they had casts on their arms, they’d get help. If they had diabetes, they’d get insulin before being asked to focus on their classwork. If they had asthma, they’d be provided an inhaler. If they were in a wheelchair with a leg cast, you get my point… Unfortunately, instructors and administrators (and often employers) do not understand that executive functioning skills do not improve by forcing more anxiety producing scenarios; aka punitive discipline, time off, sent to isolation through detentions, suspensions and expulsions but that’s what’s happening in schools and, eventually, in workplaces.
TRIO intends to enlighten and educate educators, public school administrators and employers about how to understand a viewpoint that is growing rapidly in the population. More significantly, to use a different approach, one that works, in offering a liaison service much like of a translator of a foreign language while teaching self-advocacy to these individuals who do not appear disabled.
With the US Department of Health and Human Services recent report to Congress that details the impacts expected in regards to transitioning into adulthood with Autism (August 3, 2017), the introduction of TRIO Consultants is more than timely. Dr. Norall has always advised parents and individuals with newly diagnosed hidden disabilities to “always assume intelligence.” TRIO was formed from the unique need to include within advocacy practices those who want to enter the workforce. As such, TRIO expands from working with special education in schools and ABA providers to businesses that would benefit from this approach to ensure that their clients are successful in the world of work beyond school and college; the aim to be collaborative yet comprehensive in the services, not just for those diagnosed with Autism. Their first client in Long Beach, California, in fact, was a six year old girl with a learning disability in which the school district was successfully educated to prevent proposed retention.
The first Advocacy Center of its kind, the staff includes an educational expert, an individual diagnosed on the Autism spectrum in the 80s at the age of 14 and a special needs’ parent of three with hidden disabilities. Mr. Wooton admits that it’s a difficult line to walk between empirically based treatment and “remembering the human piece of the equation.” As an individual living with a hidden disability his entire life, he brings insight to everyone with whom he has an opportunity to speak or treat; from the newly diagnosed three-year old, to the worried parents to educators at the Masters level of their education, including a recent trip down to University of San Diego: SOLES program recently.
What makes TRIO different than other advocacy firm is the combined experience from all three perspectives; the expert, the individual and the family. The collaborative idea was formed and officially incorporated in June, 2017 from I concepts developed through many years of working together as advisors, mentors, behaviorists, therapists, counselors, advocates, colleagues and friendships formed since 2005. TRIO hopes to make an impact on what they see as the new normal.