My Washington DC Internship

By Nicole LeBlanc of Self Advocates Becoming Empowered

During the summer of 2012, I was awarded the wonderful opportunity to intern at the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD) as part of The Washington Center (TWC) Internships and Academic Seminars Program. This was the best summer ever because I got to meet a lot of big shots in the federal government along with the non-profit sector and experience what it is like to live like the 1%.

My DC experience was not without challenges. I found that navigating airport security is easier than a Metro System. During my first week, I got lost a bunch of times when I didn’t have fellow intern by my side to guide me through the chaos of the DC Metro system. There were times during the evening when I would call co-workers and ask for assistance getting home and it would make them nervous about me. Izzy, a co-worker at AIDD, suggested I get training from DC Metro that is geared toward people with Autism/DD.  After that, I finally began to feel more comfortable on the metro system, less anxious and less lost.

During my internship at AIDD, I learned a variety of things. I learned how to synthesize detailed written documents into shorter, concise pieces to use for data analysis.  I also got the opportunity to learn how to do information and referral and experience what it is like to respond to a family in crisis who needs a Medicaid waiver in a state with a long wait list. Other things I did were to conduct webinars on the ADA. I also gave a PowerPoint presentation to the staff at AIDD on my experience in DC.

The Hubert Humphrey building has the best cafeteria in the world. It’s way better than any school cafeteria that I have ever eaten in. The best thing about interning at AIDD was coming into an office where everyone makes you feel at home and being in a place where I can fit in. There were times while living in the TWC Residential and Academic Facility that I felt lonely and found it difficult to fit in with the crowd.

The academic course that I took was called Federal Budget: Putting Discipline into Federal Spending or A Political Tool? During this class, I learned a lot about the budget process and also got to experience what it is like to be in the shoes of a politician fighting to protect your “sacred cow or turf”. I was the only Liberal Democrat in class while everyone else was conservative. I also learned that if the government ever shuts down in the near future that Social Security and all mandatory spending will still go out. There is no need for us in the disability community to panic or ration resources when legislators threaten a government shutdown over the fiscal crisis.

The assignments that I had to complete as part of the Political Leadership Program included doing a Personal Development Plan, Resume, Cover Letter, Information Interview, Editorial on a topic of Interest and Civic Engagement reflection. In addition to having these assignments I also had homework as part of my Federal Budget class. One of the big differences and challenges between my summer semester in DC and taking classes at home at the University of Vermont was adjusting to a bigger workload and not having tutors nearby to edit my papers, study for exams and assist in getting homework done.

During my last week, my family came down and we went to all the free museums, took a bus tour, went on a cruise and did some shopping. Another event I got to attend was a forum held by the National Association of State Directors on Developmental Disabilities called NASDDD-Partnerships on Employment Grant Meeting. I learned a lot about transition to adulthood in the area of employment and how as a services system we need to “Get Out of the Box” and stop “babying” people with disabilities. IEP goals should change with age and this means having goals at work, home and beyond the school setting. Another event I attended was the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. I learned that the new DSM-5 is more about catching people early by recognizing symptoms related to dealing with social demands. In the area of Autism and Epilepsy, I learned that people who have both autism and epilepsy are more likely to have poorer outcomes in the areas of adaptive, social and behavioral functioning. Intellectual disability is also more common in this population. This is especially more common in girls. Another thing I discovered is that epilepsy and autism is also linked to sleep disturbance.

In addition, I am so thankful for the $5,000 Disability scholarship from the HSC Foundation. Without this generous scholarship I would probably not have been able to afford this wonderful summer adventure at the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities through the Washington Center. The HSC Foundation is an organization that is committed to improving access to services to people who face barriers in access to healthcare services. One of their initiatives as a foundation is to grow public service internship opportunities for people with disabilities.

When you attend the Washington Center, they will emphasize the importance of networking and punctuality. They will use phrases like “To be Early is To Be on Time”, Excellence is Not an Act but a Habit, You are what your Public Policy is.” The environment is very business-like. I also learned that Capitol Hill is like graduate school or college because of how complex it is. When it comes to advocating, you always need to understand both sides of the story. That is one of the keys to successful advocating.

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