Category Archives: The IC Blog

“Just Like Everyone Else” – Life on the Autism Spectrum

Autism Ribbon

by Deborah V


Autism RibbonA world of color, sound and social interactions surround us. However, what happens when your environment and your daily activities are strained due to the perceived normality’s in the world.

Every day, a person with Autism wakes up and copes with the world.

The Autism Spectrum is diverse. Nonetheless, we all share commonalities.

Yes, I used the word “we”. I am an adult on the Autism Spectrum.

In my experience, when a person finds out I have Autism. Their first inclination is to ask stereotypical questions.

How can you be Autistic when you speak? Or You seem so smart, how can you be Autistic?

The stereotypical concept that is etched in the public’s mind is: If you have Autism, you must not be able to function “normally.”

Just like everyone else I go to school, work and enjoy various hobbies.

Are there challenges and obstacles in life? Yes, but every person has obstacles to overcome.

Humanity adapts and evolves.

When you are individual with Autism you spend your life adapting.

For example, everyone loves a soft cuddling blanket in winter. But what would you do if touching that soft blanket caused you physical pain? What about going to a concert? What if the sounds produced by the crowd and the band caused you to feel sheer terror?

How do I cope? I can’t cuddle in the winter with a soft blanket, but a smooth blanket does just fine. I use noise cancelling headphones to drown out excessive noise.

There is always a different way to accomplish the same goal. The key to my life with Autism is: I am just like you. I am a person. I feel. I smile. I cry. I learn different than you, but I learn. I work just like you, but I to adapt my surroundings. I CAN do anything.

At the end of the day I have Autism, but I am Just Like Everyone Else.

Live More Independently with Smart Home Technologies

Smart Home Technology and Adaptive Technology

by Beth Casey


Smart Home Technology and Adaptive TechnologyLiving with a disability or caring for someone with a disability is not without its challenges. Individuals with disabilities have the right to live as independently as possible, but some aspects of homes can make that difficult. Light switches, ceiling fans, door locks and other switches and controls are out of reach for some. For others, having voice-activated assistance devices can make a world of a difference between living at home and living in a care facility. That’s where smart home technology comes in.


Smart home technologies, while still new, are gaining ground and helping people with disabilities live more independently. According to the CDC’s most recent report, there are over 56 million Americans living with disabilities. Pew Research reports that more than half of American adults with disabilities have a computer or smartphone. Considering this, smart home technological advances and the rise of IoT should be considered as an option to empower those living with disabilities to live more independently. So, what are some of these smart home technologies? We’re glad you asked.


At the touch of a button…

Where would smart home technology be without the aid of smartphone apps? Today, we rely on our smartphones more than ever before. There’s an app for nearly everything. Now, smart home technology is included among those choices. Some smartphone apps allow you to turn on or off your lights, check the contents of your refrigerator, turn on or off a fan, lock your doors, and more. Yet, smartphones aren’t the only things that can empower a more independent life.


My voice is my password…

 Smart home assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo are now the rave. They allow you to voice your questions or commands to discover the weather, temperature, schedule appointments, order online, play music, and more. The best part about this technology is that there are no specific commands to memorize. Simply talk to your smart home assistant like you would a person and it will respond in a similar manner.

Connecting your smart home assistant to Samsung’s SmartThings Hub makes your home more accessible by allowing you to adjust the lights, the thermostat, lock the doors, receive problem alerts, and more – all with your voice.


The land of the robot…

 With robotics, you can do everything from cleaning the floors to having a surrogate for many of your daily tasks. There are other types of robots available today to help people with a myriad of disabilities. Some, like the Roomba vacuum or the iRobot Braava Jet mop, are more task-specific, but they are far from the only ones.

The DEKA arm, now approved by the FDA, is a robotic arm that’s making waves among amputees. Through an inspiration to serve the human spirit, inventor, Dean Kamen created the DEKA arm with 10-degrees of freedom. This allows it to pick up things as small as a raisin or a grape without damaging them and can assist you with carrying heavier loads of up to 20 lbs, like a bag of groceries.

The PR2 was created by Willows Garage, The Healthcare and Robotics Lab at Georgia Tech, and The Man and Machines Group at Oregon State. It serves as a personal surrogate and allows accessibility of many daily tasks like shaving, picking things up, and much more. The PR2 empowers people with disabilities like Henry Evans, a person who is nonverbal and lives with quadriplegia.

Although there is a cost disadvantage for some, there are organizations willing to help if you meet their criteria. Organizations like Tunnel to Towers Foundation help veterans with severe service-connected disabilities. Meanwhile, Living Resources helped build a smart home for six individuals. If you’ve been considering smart home technologies, take a closer look. They may be just the answer needed to empower you to live  a more independent life.


Beth Casey is a researcher and a regular contributor to TrustRadius where she shares her knowledge on the latest business trends and B2B news and technologies.

Overcoming Challenges with Assistive Technology

Tim Ashley with Tony Wilkins

Tim Ashley with Tony Wilkins

Tim Ashley with Tony Wilkins at the 2017 ADA Celebration Luncheon

The following is the text from an impassioned speech that The IC’s Tim Ashley gave last year at The Independence Center’s Annual ADA Celebration Luncheon about one of the consumers he works with.

“My name is Tim Ashley, and I‘m an Independent Living Coordinator with Peer Support Emphasis here at The Independence Center. There are so many great stories we see and hear about every day at The IC, and I’m going to tell you about an amazing young man who found the help he was looking for in living a more independent life.

When Tony Wilkins first came to The IC, he was having a very hard time. During a trip to the beach some years back, a diving accident resulted in paralysis, and he was no longer able to use his arms or legs. As a person with quadriplegia, Tony’s life was forever changed. An avid fisherman and outdoor enthusiast, he loved spending time in nature, and he also enjoyed working on his computer. His loss of mobility and the inability to use his hands led to being disconnected from the activities he once participated in, along with many of the people he once socialized with. This isolation led Tony into a deep depression that weighed on him heavily.

When he first came to The IC, Tony joined the Spinal Cord Injury, or SCI group, which was intended to provide individuals newly living with a spinal cord injury the opportunity to attend support groups and activities, and to receive equipment necessary to help them live a more independent life. Tony was the first person to sign up for the Spinal Cord Injury Group, and the meetings gave him a reason to get out of the house, reengage, and start living again. In the groups, he met other individuals who had spinal cord injuries. He was able to share stories, find information and resources, and communicate with others who had already been through what he was experiencing. The impact on his life was huge. While in the peer support group, Tony and other members of the group went fishing, to an Air Force football game, and to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra performance. The communication and socialization aspect of these trips allowed Tony to reconnect, and helped lift his spirits, and Tony’s still active with the SCI group. In fact, he went on a fishing trip called “Fishing has no Boundaries” with our group last month. Next month, he will go fishing and camping for 2 days and 3 nights at “Wilderness on Wheels”. 

In addition to rebuilding a social network, Tony really wanted to go to college. I worked with Tony in hope of getting him set up to attend a local college. Up until this point, Tony wasn’t sure how to proceed with his goal of enrolling in college. When we began working together, Tony hit his stride and started advocating for himself. As time went on and Tony began to see the obstacles that sat between him and completion of a degree, doubt set in. Since Tony was unable to use his hands, he felt he wouldn’t be able to type on a keyboard or use a computer mouse, which most certainly would be a requirement of college. After considering the logistics, he decided that his disability would likely be too much of a hindrance on his ability to complete college. This was disappointing and frustrating, but the negative feelings didn’t last long.

Tony heard about a piece of assistive technology equipment that he thought showed promise in helping him to better use a computer for attending online classes. The purpose of the Jouse system is to make computers accessible to people who have lost the ability to use their hands, and to control a standard mouse or trackball. When Tony approached me about the Jouse system, I worked with our IT Specialist, AJ, and within the week, we began researching where to buy it. After a whopping $1,550, the Jouse system was on its way, Tony began using a computer again and he made the decision to go to college. He enrolled in a local community college and today can navigate his online classes and communicate with his classmates. He’s also been able to reconnect with the world, through the internet and in person, with the click of his Jouse 3 joystick and the Spinal Cord Injury support group.”

To learn more about the support groups, visit our support group webpage.

Who is on your Health Care Team?

Contributing writer: Pam Burgoa, Individual Advocacy Specialist at The Independence Center


Happy senior patient with friendly female nurse

Navigating the medical world can be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t familiar with the roles of everyone on your healthcare team. We’ve created a cheat sheet to help you keep everyone’s titles and roles straight, from your MD or NP to your RN, or LPN. This also includes people you’ll get to know on your home health care team, like CNAs, PCAs, and HHAs.

Medical Professional What They Do


Doctor of Medicine or M.D. MD’s practice allopathic or “Western Medicine”, the classical form of medicine, focused on the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine or D.O. D.O.’s are trained to have a more holistic approach to medicine and follow a medical philosophy called osteopathic medicine. DO’s are trained to consider a patient’s environment, nutrition, and body system as a whole when diagnosing and treating medical conditions.


Nurse Practitioner or NP Nurse practitioners are trained in accordance with the nursing and patient-centered treatment model. They frequently practice autonomously without direct physician oversight even when under a collaborative agreement with an MD. In a growing number of states they are permitted to practice and prescribe completely independently without any kind of physician collaboration required.


Physician Assistant or PA Physician assistants attend programs that are more in-line with the medical and disease-centered treatment model. Physician assistants practice routinely without any direct supervision from an MD.  They perform services within the scope of their training and legal authority that might otherwise be performed by a physician, which often includes prescribing medication.


Registered Nurse or RN RNs are licensed nurses that work under any of the previously mentioned roles. The range of work they do is large. RNs work hands-on with patients, in supervisory roles, and in-patient education. RNs are generally responsible for administering medications to patients in addition to creating a treatment plan in order to promote and restore a patient’s health.


Licensed Practical Nurse or LPN:


LPNs are licensed nurses that work under the supervision of an RN or a physician. They are responsible for providing basic nursing care. LPNs can routinely carry out the jobs like taking vital signs, doing patient assessments, and administering certain treatments and prescribed medication usually in a skilled facility.  They can delegate certain tasks to CNA’s and Aide’s.


Certified Nursing Assistant or CNA CNA’s are certified (by their designated state of practice; not licensed) professionals that focus more on the everyday basic needs of a patient and their ADL’s (bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, mobility, transferring). They can take vital signs and report anything unusual in their routine care to a nurse to assess.


Personal Care Aide (PCA) or Home Health Aide (HHA):


These are unlicensed workers that have less training typically than a CNA and usually provide non-medical services such as companionship and homemaker services. Depending on agency hiring and the state they work, they may also perform basic self-care tasks for patients.



How to check on a specific health professional

From time to time, we all need to be able to check on our medical professionals’ credentials and their history. Every state has a database(s) that can be accessed to check on if a particular health professional’s status. In Colorado, utilizing DORA’s (Department of Regulatory Affairs) database, you can check if a health professional has an active license, inactive, suspensions, revocations, disciplinary actions, restrictions, criminal convictions, and malpractice insurance settlements. Visit

The Independence Center offers Home Health Care and CNA Training

The Independence Center offers In-Home Health Care to people with disabilities. Call us at 719-471-8181 to find out if you qualify.

Are you interested in training to be a CNA? Learn more about our CNA Training program.

How Trauma Changes the Brain      

Brain Trauma

by Carrie Baatz


Brain Trauma

Many of us experience trauma at some point in our lives. Traumas are deeply distressing events that threaten our life, safety and well-being. They can be terrible events like natural disasters, shootings, rape, accidents, combat, or the loss of a loved one. They can also be ongoing, like the experience of abuse, extreme poverty or homelessness.

The impact is profound. Trauma elicits a sense of helplessness that may stay with a person for a long time. Some people carry a weight of shame or guilt from their experience and suffer from an eroded self-worth. Some survivors say that they have experienced what feels like emotional or spiritual death. Chronic health problems can occur as a result of extreme stress on the body.

Traumas can cause physical or psychological disabilities. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disability. It develops in people who experience symptoms with extreme intensity over a long time. Symptoms usually include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the trauma.

Everyone responds to trauma differently. Having support in the aftermath of trauma is one of the most important factors in determining the impact trauma will have on a person. A lack of support after trauma is often more damaging than the trauma itself.


How the Brain Adapts in Response to Trauma

Human beings are master adapters. Our biological systems are designed to change in response to whatever life throws at us.

Research in neuroscience shows that if we witness or experience trauma, our brains can actually take on a different structure. For people who develop PTSD, trauma causes a psychological injury. Certain areas of the brain become hyperactive, while others are less active, creating an imbalance.


Parts of the brain that are impacted by trauma:


The Amygdala enlarges, stimulating “fight or flight mode.”

Our emotional center in the brain, the amygdala “sounds the alarm” to the rest of the body when a threat is detected. When the amygdala is hyperactive, people may have a lower tolerance for stress and harder time controlling their emotions.


The Hippocampus, responsible for short-term memories, shrinks.

The Hippocampus helps us distinguish between past and present memories. People with PTSD can lose the ability to discriminate between past and present experience, which can result in flashbacks (re-living traumatic events). This can also cause short-term memory loss.


The Pre-frontal Cortex shrinks, making it harder to regulate thoughts and emotions.

Years after experiencing a trauma, a survivor may continue to feel frightened and highly alert, no matter what they are doing. They might have difficulty expressing what they are thinking and feeling, or get stuck in negative thinking patterns. They might carry extreme amounts of stress. This happens because the activity in their pre-frontal cortex has been disrupted.1

The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for emotional regulation, rational thought, language and conscious awareness. When impacted by trauma, this part of the brain is not able to regulate fear and other negative emotions as well, which causes fear, anxiety and stress responses when anything happens resembling their original trauma.

Because of the way our bodies adapt to trauma, the brain learns to perceive threats everywhere. For a survivor, this can mean that the world seems like a perpetually dangerous and frightening place. It can also damage a person’s ability to trust others and themselves.


Creating the Wellness we Want

Everyday interactions and tasks can be difficult to impossible for a person living with post-traumatic stress. The good news is that while the impact of trauma is destructive, recovery is possible. We can use our adaptability to change our brains in a positive direction in the aftermath of trauma.

Thankfully, there are tools that can help. Mindfulness, including practices like yoga, writing and meditation, is a tool you can use to train yourself to get unstuck from certain patterns of thinking. Two therapeutic tools known to effectively treat the impact of trauma are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).2

Amazingly, trauma survivors, over time, are able to heal the damaged psychological faculties and create new, positive pathways. Healing from trauma is a journey, one that cannot happen outside of a safe and secure environment. Supportive, accepting relationships are also essential.

At The Independence Center, we want to support you if you are a trauma survivor. We offer free peer support. We are excited to announce that we are launching a new Health Advocacy and Wellness training that is free and open to anyone who wants to take greater control over their health and wellness. If you are interested, contact us at 719-471-8181 to learn more.




2The Science of Trauma, Mindfulness and PTSD by Jennifer Wolkin


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