From Radio to “A Presence on your Journey” Podcast”

Written by Dennis Polselli, Publicity Coordinator for Community Autism Resources

One of the things I have always been interested in is radio.  I am interested in News and politics. A lot of my information, before accessible technology came along and enabled me to read newspapers and magazines like everyone else, came from radio.  I especially loved local talk shows.  One show I listened to while growing up was on radio station WALE 140 in Fall River.  The show was called Party Line and in those days, there were no two way phones on these shows, therefore the moderator had to repeat everything the caller said on the other end of the phone.  I used to get my sisters’ toy phone and play that I was the moderator taking phone-calls and repeating what each caller said in the area of national and local politics.

When I grew up, I got involved in radio as a student at Stonehill College, I hosted shows dealing with Student and campus issues and politics and yes, I took phone-calls from listeners.  The excitement came when the student radio station decided to do Election night coverage in 1977, a presidential year.  To prepare, we did interviews with the Political Science department and state and local candidates running that year.  Some of them gave their victory statements and concession statements on our airwaves.  The coverage went all night and went well.  In 1984, my first year working at Framingham State University, we did similar election night coverage with my anchoring the coverage and students working as engineers, producers etc.  Later on in my employment at Framingham State University, when I became Disability Services Coordinator, I started and ran for 15 years a Radio Reading Service program for the Blind and individuals with print disabilities.  The Radio reading Service is headquartered in Marshfield, Massachusetts and my affiliate was The MetroWest Radio Reading Service.  There were forty volunteers that read area newspapers, magazines and books over the radio, recorded from their homes and aired on a tape deck I had in my office.  Among the volunteers was Donna Polselli who read the Supermarket Fliers and gave health tips throughout the program.  Because we were housed at a College, we broadcast on tape delay, arts and Humanities lectures and Graduation Exercises.

When I retired in 2009, that was the part of my job I missed the most.  Then Barbara Domingue asked if I would do podcasts for CAR.  Think of podcasts as sort of internet radio, which happens to be springing up all over the place.  Perkins School for the Blind operates an internet radio station, “Radio Perkins.”  For our podcast we came up with the title, “A Presence on your Journey” the second half of our motto:  “A place to Start:  A presence on your Journey.”  We’ve covered many topics from a family learning about Autism during a sleep over, to a podcast at Wigglekids in Swansea.  I really enjoy these podcasts, I learn so much and I’m hoping the readers of this Blog are learning as much as I am.   You can listen to past podcasts by going to: and if you have iTunes, go to iTunes, and search for or under bookstore, under Autism “A presence on your Journey.”

As I say at the end of each podcast, “A Presence on your Journey” is produced and edited by Nicholas Domingue and my name is Dennis Polselli.


Dealing with Ought-ism

The work that I do is rewarding, challenging, and much like Autism itself, ever changing.  I spend most of my days researching information so that I can stay up to date on the latest Autism research as well as what services are currently being offered for the ASD population.  I try to stay up to date with what’s going on in the State House regarding the budget and Autism.  I do this so that I can be best prepared to tell parents and individuals what they ought to do when they call requesting information.  I do my best to make sure that I have provided people with the best information possible so that they can do what is best for their family and their situation.  After all, people are trusting me with their families wants and needs.  The least that I can do is fully listen to them and offer any advice I can give…. Right?

You’d think, or at least I’d think, that this would be the way it works in all aspects of life.  If I have a question, there’s someone that I can call to get advice from.  That person can be a family member, a friend, or an agency that has expertise in the area in question.  The easier the issue the more resources I would have when looking for an answer.  It wasn’t until very recently, that I realized how willing everyone is to tell me what I ought to do.

This past year has been a whirlwind to say the least.  My husband and I bought our first house.  Shortly thereafter we found out that we were expecting our first baby girl.  We lost my mother who couldn’t win her 19-year battle with cancer.  And on March 18, my sweet baby girl came into the world.  With so many highs and lows I have never felt more out of control.

There have been a number of times that I found myself seeking out professional advice.  With my house it was:  Is the wall we want to knock down a weight bearing wall?  Why isn’t the radiator in the bedroom working?  During my pregnancy, every decision I made now wasn’t just a decision for me and my health, but the life I was growing.  So that brought on a whole new topic of questions:  Is it safe to eat _____?  Can I still ride my horse?  When my mom’s health was worsening, I was asking questions about her:  Is this the end?  Is she comfortable?  Can she hear me?

And then, when our baby was born there was a plethora of new questions I had.  The difference with this situation is that I didn’t/don’t have to reach out to a professional.  It seems like everyone has so much advice, even on questions I didn’t even know I had! I have never heard the phrase “you ought to” more so than in the past four months.  I know that the people giving me this unsolicited advice don’t mean any harm by it, but all of these “ought-isms” definitely leave me questioning everything.  You could ask 5 people the same question and get 5 very different answers.  I’ve been told that I ought to leave her sleeping in our room until she’s 6 months.  Then I’ve been told that I ought to get her used to sleeping in her own crib in her own room as soon as possible.  I’ve been told that I ought to start her on fruits and vegetables at 4 months, but I’ve also been told that I ought to wait until she’s 6-9 months.  I’ve been told that I ought to put on sunscreen when we go outside, but I’ve been told I ought to wait until she’s at least 6 months to use it.  I could go on and on with the different things I’ve been told that I ought to try or do.  I was even told by a nurse in the hospital that I “ought to shorten the spelling of her name.  It has too many letters.”  (My babies name is Ellianna.  The nurse that said this was Rosemary.  THEY BOTH HAVE 8 LETTERS!!!).

For The most part, I appreciate the advice that I’ve been given.  It’s usually from moms that have lived and breathed motherhood already and the advice they are giving truly comes from a good place.  But this has definitely taught me a new skill that I didn’t even know I needed in every aspect of life be it parenting, my professional work, or even just being a friend.  I need to listen more and wait for the person to ask for advice.  Sometimes when someone calls to talk, they just want that person on the other end of the line to listen and to reassure them that they are doing a fine job.  They don’t want or need any ought-isms.  I need to remember that.  Going forward, in conversations I’m going to do my best in giving the assurance that people need and the advice that they want, when they want it.

Self-Awareness and Self-Determination at the Gottschall Access Program

What are Life Skills? For many, the idea of a Life Skills curriculum conjures up thoughts about functional life skills including cooking, laundry, hygiene and cleaning. For some it might mean vocational skills such as following directions, computer skills or alphabetizing.  Others may think of lessons about accessing the community: safety signs, social skills and transportation.  While many of these skills are important and necessary for young adults transitioning to adulthood life and responsibilities, I think we sometimes overlook an important process on this journey.  What do you WANT to do?

Moving on to adult life can be a daunting experience for all of us who have made that transition. I think many of us have reached that point in our life when we wonder if we work to live or live to work. I know in my case it is certainly both! Fortunately, my work is rewarding, dynamic and plays to my skill set.  My first job at Papa Gino’s however, (while I did love the employee discount) was a job of necessity.  It is vital to offer everyone the opportunity to find employment that fits well with their skills, interests and motivations while matching their need for support and fulfillment.

Through the Gottschall Access Program, our first year of Life Skills Curriculum aims to provide the base for this opportunity.  Our first two semesters concentrate on the principles of Self-Awareness and Self-Determination.  We feel that these 2 tenets are crucial to the process of figuring out “what do I want to be when I grow up?”

“Creating Happiness is done in many steps.  Only with self-awareness can we see where our steps are taking us.” – Pathway to Happiness

Self-Awareness is defined as “The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a ‘growth mindset.’” – Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning

Through our self-awareness curriculum we support students’ exploration of their strengths, interests, skills and talents.  So many students come to us well aware of their challenges and the things they cannot do well, but they often have a difficult time identifying the things that they are good at.  Through assessments, guided activities and self-exploration we encourage the students to realize their skills and interests.  It is also necessary through this process to discover our challenges and areas in which we require support or accommodations. This can be an empowering process for students to realize that while they do have limitations, as we all do, it’s ok! It’s vital to know ourselves before we can move onto knowing what we can provide others in work, school or community environments.  Once students have identified what they are good at and what areas they need improvement in, we can move onto self-determination.

“When you know yourself, you are empowered. When you accept yourself, you are invincible.” – Tina Lifford

Self-Determination is defined as the process by which a person controls their own life.  Once the students are comfortable with their self-awareness and have a good handle on not only what they are able to do, but what they would like to do, we can move on to how make that happen.  Through our self-determination curriculum we explore and practice how to be effective communicators, how to identify and request needed accommodations and how to set achievable goals.  A very important component of self-determination is motivation. For some students entering adult life, their decisions and advocacy has been done for them by their support system.  Students need to be self-motivated to want to achieve their goals. Without this, goals become the property of someone else rather than the student’s own. Motivation will provide perseverance when things don’t go as expected and a desire for self-advocacy to make changes when needed. It is important for us to teach students how to formulate goals, make plans and advocate for themselves or request support when needed.

It is our hope, at The Gottschall Access Program, that our students will emerge with a confident idea of who they are and a plan to live their best lives.


Both Sides Now

By Jan Randall

“Try taking a stand on just one leg. You have to see both sides.” Joss Whedon

I’ve always been by nature the kind of person who wants everyone to get along. I loathe conflict and divisiveness. So the widening gap in the Autism community, that I have seen growing over the last few years has me feeling disheartened.

As the Autism world evolves we are hearing more people express the feeling that Autism is just another way of being. Some say Autism has always been around, others describe it as just the next step in evolution. Still others bristle at the thought of a cure. All expect that those with Autism should be accepted and respected for who they are.

On the flip side of Autism we have those of us (me included) who have sons, daughters, or loved ones who are challenged in the most serious of ways. The vast majority of our children have challenges with communication, sensory processing, and with their understanding of the world. They will need care, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the rest of their lives. We too want acceptance and respect but we are also the ones who hope, wish and pray for answers that will bring truly effective treatments, as well as a cure for Autism.

So can these two sides stand side by side and both be right?

I think they can. There was recently in interesting article by Simon Barron Cohen in Scientific American titled “Is It Time to Give Up on a Single Diagnostic Label for Autism?” In it he says: “Most everybody now agrees that the terms high- versus low-functioning were stigmatizing and therefore should be avoided, but the clear contrast between AS (Asperger Syndrome) and classic autism might have had value and perhaps should have been retained and likely could have been distinguished with high reliability…. A widely held view is that medicine makes more progress by identifying subgroups, and AS versus classic autism were two very useful subgroups, because they are quite different in terms of likely levels of independence and educational and occupational attainment.”

Although there has long been a gap in opinions on Autism, I believe the merging of the Aspergers and Autism diagnosis into Autism Spectrum Disorder was the beginning of the gap widening. I’d like to see the DSM revisit the diagnosis and how it can be differentiated. But while we wait, my hope is that people can see that every person with Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder (or Aspergers if they prefer), should be accepted and respected. At the same time we must not lose the importance of awareness. Without awareness we lose sight of the severity of challenges that all too many individuals grapple with every single day.

I think this quote from Safe Minds sums it up perfectly, We envision a world where people with autism are safe, healthy, and full participants in life, and the development of moderate to severe autism can be prevented.”


It’s almost graduation time…now what?

My experience with my sons transitioning from graduating this August to entering the adult service world has been one filled so far with some mixed feelings. I think many of us on this journey can’t help but think of what we need to do to help our kids through this process verses someone without a child on the spectrum. I have come to the realization that my sons are blessings even in the more challenging times, though when you go through challenging phases, it can be hard to feel that. As our kids get older, it can get harder in different ways as there are things they may not get to experience. Examples of this may be driving, dating or heading off to college. At times like this, when they are heading to a milestone like graduating high school, I will think about potentially what they would be doing if they did not have their challenges of being on the spectrum. I think it is important to recognize and acknowledge these feelings, but also to realize that we are on this path for a reason and our kids contribute so much to our lives and other people’s lives in their own individual ways. People comment to me how much my sons smiles brighten any room they are in and how they both have such a great sense of humor and express that in so many different and unexpected ways. Several years ago, one of my sons kept changing the voice on his brother’s iPad to a female voice and would really laugh when his brother would use his iPad and try to change it back. In sibling rivalry fashion, I also recall his twin chasing him around the house with a ladybug sensory toy which his twin was terrified of so that he could get the preferred spot on the couch.

I have now visited all the proposed, potential day habs and have decided with my husband on the best option for our sons now. Similar to my experience through their younger school years, no perfect program exists really. I know we all dream of hitting the mega millions and creating more diversified programs to address everyone’s needs. I am hopeful that more and more programs and opportunities will be available to our kids to maximize their talents and abilities and realize that they are lifetime learners like we all are. It has always been a pet peeve of mine when parents are told that if a child doesn’t reach a milestone by a certain age, the likelihood is low that they will. I personally do not believe this at all. This attitude really limits our kids. I am amazed at how much my sons continue to learn and they have surprised me quite a bit at times with skills I had little awareness of.

The GAP program (GOTTSCHALL ACCESS PROGRAM) at BCC is an example of offering a different option to individuals on the autism spectrum. Of course, I am a little biased as it is a college based program of CAR. It gives individuals on the spectrum an opportunity to further explore and learn in a more specialized college -like setting. I hope our kids will continue to have more choices like this for learning enrichment programs they can participate in. I intend to explore this option in the future for my sons. At this time, I feel given this huge transition, I would see how they would do in the current adult service model. I have chosen to do Agency with Choice which offers more flexibility in options to individuals. I felt this was best for our family. I am planning on my sons attending the day hab several days a week and the other days providing them with a home based/community program. We are planning on using the same agency for both services to hopefully make this as seamless as possible. Of course, DDS funding has to occur for this happen. We hope to have that budget info soon.

True to my organized nature (I feel a necessary by-product of having twins on the spectrum), prior to visiting these programs, I created a checklist of what I felt was important in order for my sons to be successful. For them, I needed a program proficient in assistive tech, a bright and open space with no fluorescent lights, a small group dynamic that also had an established sensory program and practiced PBS (Positive Behavioral Supports). I also wanted a program that had them being active as much as possible, involved in the community through volunteering and have the ability for them to be in different rooms. While they share a brotherly bond, they also enjoy being apart sometimes wanting to be far away from their twin. For my piece of mind as well, I wanted a program that had windows on the doors to see into the rooms. I was surprised to see that some of these programs didn’t have this. I felt it was an added safety measure to at the very least, be able to see what was happening in the rooms. I also wanted a program that seemed open to my input as well.

Once we visited all the programs, my husband and I went through all the programs’ pros and cons and through a process of elimination we decided on one. I acknowledge that Massachusetts offers adult service programs and some states may not, I am grateful for that. Part of me was somewhat relieved once a program was chosen, but also felt like more options should be available to our kids. My next step is to meet with all the relevant people from their current school program, the adult day program and DDS to come up with a transition plan. As most of us, attest to once we have gone through this process or are going through the process like myself, it is filled with some hesitation, but also hopefulness for our children’s future. I was fortunate enough to have the ability to discuss and get valuable insight as several friends who have gone through this transition with their own children. It helped me realize this is just another step on our journey. Still, wish me luck! I wish anyone luck as well who is heading to a milestone with their child and going through a new experience as I feel being hopeful and having an action plan really does make a difference.

Learning to let go.

The hardest part of being a parent is learning to let go!  Your child starts out as this perfect little being that is 100% dependent on you.  You love him more than yourself.  He grew in your womb and  drank from your breast.  For his first year of life he was still a part of you.  Then slowly you have got to share him with the world.  You let people babysit him, you send him to preschool.  But you are still the constant in his life!  You are His Mum.  He loves you and still needs you.  Then “real” school starts and he has teachers, bus drivers, and friends.  You are no longer the only one who is teaching your child.  There are outside forces that are molding him into the man that you are raising.  You hope he remembers to be kind, to help others in need and to be strong.  You get through elementary school, junior high and high school.  Your baby is now a grown man!  He is making his own choices and living his own life.  Then he decideds to drop out of school and work for a living.  What?  That is not my plan for him!  You know this decision that he is making is going to make his life harder.  You try to share your opinion but he does not want to hear it.  So, you yell it louder, so he can hear you better!  But that does not work because you both are now yelling and screaming saying things you do not mean.  You try to get him to see this from your point of view because you know you are right! He needs to stay in school so he can be the person that you envisioned him to be.  So, you continue to yell and scream,  beg and cry.  So what happens next?  He moves out!  You are devastated! What?  You are still a child!  My child!  You are not ready to be on your own.  You cry the first night he is not home.  Your world is changing and you are not ready and then it hits you! You are not ready, it has nothing to do with him, it is you! I am being selfish.  I am trying to hold him back.  This is his life.  I taught him to be independent and to follow his dreams.  To be brave and to stick up for himself when he wants to do something that people might not agree with.  Here I am his cheerleader all throughout his childhood trying my hardest to hold him back for myself.  Oh my goodness!  I have to stop! and let him go.  Am I pleased that he droped out of school?  Hell no! but I am glad that he is following his dreams.  I tell him and myself that he can always go back to school.  You are never too old to learn new things.  He is still on his own and I miss seeing him every night.  I do get to see him a few times a week when he comes over for dinner and does his laundry and we sit and chit chat.  Our relationship has changed.  It is no longer a relationship of me telling him what to do but one that ebbs and flows.  I love him with all my heart and I want the best for him.  But I had to accept that my job has changed from care giver to that of a confidant and maybe even a friend.

Cassie Ricco

Falling In the GAP

We have all heard the phrase falling between the cracks. Sometimes people with different and specific needs cannot find the right fit for them or there is just nothing geared towards those with such criteria. Sadly, it is understood that not everyone gets the care and attention they need because there is no way to tailor programs to so many different needs. That’s a very pessimistic outlook, isn’t it? I fell into one of these cracks or as they should be called, GAPs. What if we saw these GAPs as an opportunity for a niche market?
Through my own personal experiences and growth in life I have learned that I want to help people. My first experience with this was in the fourth grade. My teacher asked me to help one of my fellow classmates who had been left behind. Little did I know; my teacher had been struggling for months to break through to her. Once she saw that I was able to, I was asked to be her “tutor” for the remainder of that schoolyear. As a young student I obliged and thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until the end of the year that my parents were informed of what I had been doing and they had praised me for it. This set a ball in motion for me that I have never wanted to stop.
Fast forward to me turning 18 and just having graduated high school. I attended community college and worked on the weekends. I had two best friends that I would hang out with daily. I always knew that one of them was different. He struggled in school and with developing the social skills needed to grant him success with others. He was my best friend though and we always had each other’s backs. His mother saw that I had been successful with him and asked me to join her agency to help youth struggling with SED’s (Serious Emotional Disease). At 21 years of age, I had finally gotten an understanding of those with special needs and how to better assist them. It wasn’t until then that I had realized my best friend had been diagnosed with SED’s/ASD. How could I have never known this after being friends with him close to seven years? It’s because it didn’t matter. He was my friend and I had his back regardless.
At this point I wanted to do more! I wanted to have his back in ways that I never did before. I wanted to move up in my agency and acquire the skills to give my best friend the best chance to succeed. Unfortunately, my lack of education prevented me from advancing in the company and my new-found awareness of my best friend’s needs caused him to notice that I was behaving differently. He began to distance himself from me. This was a tough time. I felt like I lost my way.
This was not going to stop me though. I began volunteering with Special Olympics and began educating myself on mental health and a variety of different disabilities. I wanted to advance in this field but it was difficult. I felt like had fallen between the cracks. Little did I know, I had fallen into the G.A.P.
Life takes us weird places sometimes but there will always be a net to catch us. Sometimes we fall for a bit longer than we would like not knowing where we’re going to land but it is our duty to help provide a net in those cracks so that no one is left behind. The Gottschall Access Program did that for me and for so many of our students. I hope more GAPs can be created so no one should feel like they’ve fallen between the cracks.

Thanks for listening,
Antonio Vitorino