In 2006 I was accepted into "The Ct. Autism Pilot Program." (Which I shall refer to as 'the program' henceforth.) I was appointed an advocate named Barb and surprisingly we became friends over time. We went to places together, like museums and on job interviews. Through her connections I got two paying jobs painting murals. She brought me to social skills meetings for over a year. At one meeting it was suggested I 'join something.' I took them up on it, joining and visiting my local historical society. I made an acquaintance within the social skills group with whom I shared many phone conversations (outside of the program) and we attended events together too, as friends. Without "the program," I would not have acquired another friend: Keri Bowers. (An author, filmmaker, mother ... who made the film ARTS, of which I was a small part.) I never even dreamed of selling my paintings, and now as of this writing, I have work with other artists showing in the Lee Good Purpose Gallery in Massachusetts. I owe it all to Alison, who asked me on day one, "Do you have any special skills?" I told her I'd been published in many small journals since 1999 and that I dabbled in painting. When she saw the dusty canvases I pulled out of my closet, her eyes got big and she had the brilliant idea I should pursue arts. At first I thought, "What's all the hubbub?" But I went along with their ideas and have been showing my work ever since.
Barb supported me as I ghostwrote a book for a burn survivor in California. She even did my taxes that year! Barb gets credit for putting me in touch with one of the most interesting people I've ever known, Zsolt Megai. For three years the program paid for me to be mentored in woodcarving skills with this man who told stories to me as I learned new skills like soldering pieces of antique glass together into a mosaic around a frame I'd carved myself into the shape of two crows. I even cut the glass myself! I carved many a piece of wood in his garage, and have memories that are dear to last a lifetime. I cried when Barb left the program, but I was appointed many other mentors along the way. One who stands out is Mandy, who always listened when I had something to say and whose support was very crucial to me in surviving the process of acquiring an agent and publishing my book "Under The Banana Moon."
The program arranged a CNA course in New Haven for me too, even paid for transportation. It was through them (and BRS) that I learned about free medical transportation and how to use the bus. The program taught me to branch out with my God-given skills: writing and art, while keeping avenues open to make money in other ways. At the age of almost 49, I can now say that the years I've spent in the program have been some of the most rewarding. When people like me 'age out,’ what happens to us? All I can say is, thank goodness for the program. Every state should look at Ct as a model for their autism programs.
Mandy encouraged me to seek volunteer work. I did that and have worked at a library which was great fun, making up library cards, shelving returns and cutting up and preparing crafts for the children's hour. Believe me I never would have gone through with volunteering if it wasn't for Mandy's support. For a year I volunteered in 'medical filing' at my local hospital and I also work for pay part time as a caregiver now, twelve hours a week.
It was because of Yvonne, a fellow comrade and participant in the program, that I was inspired to pursue driving. The program made a driving simulator available to me and found a way for me to get there too! I've learned so much about my strengths and weaknesses as a result of the simulator. Some of it was surprising. Overall, the program and everyone in it have always treated me with respect, dignity, and a listening ear and advice when I sorely need(ed) it. I've been to The Bronx Zoo and to a concert as a result of the program (as well as many other places) but one thing stands out, and that's one day that I was riding with (my then mentor )Claude. A bus whizzed by with a big splashy advertisement for an upcoming art show coming up at a museum in New Haven. Some of Van Gogh's works were on loan there for a short time. "Sure would love to see those," I said. Claude arranged to bring me and he was more than patient when I sat on the viewing couch at the museum; for fifteen minutes or more, wordlessly taking in "Starry Night." An amazing day!
Right now, I'm working closely with Judy Rosenfield of King's Speech Learning Center on a children's book called "Is Your Filter Off Kilter?" She is my former speech pathologist and also my friend. I have lifelong selective mutism in addition to Aspergers. Judy actually changed the name of her center (which treats children with developmental differences like mine) to King's Speech after hearing how moved I was by the movie "The King's Speech." Did the Ct autism program give me 'confidence' to work with people like Judy? I can't say with certainty. But- maybe. I completed the book without the help from the program it was also completely on my own that I sought out and found art shows and an agent and publishers. It's important to me that I did that all by myself.
However it was support of the program that enabled me many times to do Thomson my own. Support is crucial.
Kimberly Gerry Tucker
p.s. Barb owes me a Christmas card. I think that's only proper ettiquette.