Autism Acceptance Month – Day #8: The Hiram G Andrews Center, Pennsylvania Disability and Autism Asset

In 2001 while in a Residential Treatment Facility, I learned a lot about the Hiram G Andrews Center in Johnstown Pennsylan-i-a and began exploring the possibility of attendance. It would be a long road ahead of me and many cheerleaders to advocate for the admission process to be done.

That year I was connected with the state agency that operates the school, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Plans were made for a tour that summer. I went and fell in love with the campus, 12 acres – barrier free. Only the state Farm show complex is the only larger Commonwealth facility under roof and barrier free.

Nonetheless I began the process of admission that winter with the plans to attend the school for evaluation the following summer. However, my past inappropriate behavior presented roadblocks from this occuring. With the guidance of several, including my parents – my biggest advocate ever and lots of extra time. I received a phone call in July 2004 that admission for an vocational evaluation was granted and I graciously accepted the offer and attended in October 2004.

During this process, I took a battery of tests, learned public transportation, and sampled career areas. My first preference was architectural drawing. However this was eliminated because I spent a lengthy time processing the material. The last preference was Retail. I didn’t like it because it was too menial. My choice was General Office Clerk, known today as Office Technology. I was granted admission on May 2, 2005 and graduated successful on April 28, 2006

While there I was socially akward to a degree. Having a roommate did help the process some, and a student across the hall in my dorm is on the spectrum. While I did not develop the friendships I longed for, I did run into some cool students that advocated for me including dorm officers. I did lack in areas of hygiene and cleanliness. However I did acquire the skill of expanding my usage of transportation to include Intercity passenger rail to go visit my sister.

Since 2006, services have been enhanced. While there was a cognitive skills enhancement program (CSEP), it has been enhanced by dividing it into three tiers. Access to and from campus has been controlled by a key card system. During my stay there it was discussed about installing security cameras, this has been done. The first semester I attended, smoking was permitted to occur in selected dormitories, including the one that I resided in. However this was stopped and you were free to smoke anywhere outside. This has been changed in recent years by limiting this to shelters strategically placed around campus.

Enhancements specific for individuals with autism include a group specifically for issues related to the needs of individuals on the spectrum. Fundamentals of transportation is more enhanced and is mandatory. Many of the language of the elements of the center has been changed to reflect the current norm. Dormitories are called halls, the health clinic is now called the wellness center, Recreation is now called enrichment and is more involved in the students social time.

In closing, this school is perceived to serve individuals with physical limitations z while it will continue to do so, it should not be overlooked as a place to start that post secondary journey. While I did go on some time later to Community college, which will be to tomorrow’s story, it is definitely a good start. By the way, while I do have a Associates degree, I utilize the skills I acquired at HGA on a consistent basis in my employment.

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