Nicole LeBlanc: My Story On Growing Up As A Kid With Autism
By Nicole LeBlanc
Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered
Growing up as a child I have had to overcome many obstacles to get to where I am today. There were some teachers who thought because of my social skills and academic challenges that I couldn’t succeed in the regular high school curriculum. Every day I wake up I always feel that I have to earn my keep and prove everyone else in my community wrong. There are times I feel I have to be perfect at everything and that there is no room for error. It’s like living in a world where typical people can make mistakes but people with disabilities can’t. I still face the challenge of “low expectation syndrome” today.
In 2005 I went to Job Corps, and in 2007 I got my Medicaid waiver. I had to deal with being told “No,” when I wanted to try something new. People would say, “I am afraid you’ll take two steps backwards”, and “You’re not ready for this”. This can be very difficult to hear when you know that you are capable of living independently just like everyone else without a disability. It is especially hard when you work with people in the disability rights movement who see you as more capable of living independently than your developmental service agency does.
Finding More Pride
The day that I joined the self-advocacy movement was the day that I began to have more pride in myself as a person with a developmental disability. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Before I got involved in the movement I was always hanging out with adults during my elementary and high school years. The only friends that I had were my teachers because they never made fun of me unlike the other students who picked on me because of my skin disorder and social skill difficulties. I never thought the day would come when I have friends my own age who would include me and accept me for who I am. It was such a wonderful feeling to see all the stuff that I have missed out on growing up. The self-advocacy movement has taught me how to stand up for myself and fight oppression. I no longer say things like, “I wish I was normal.”
The last four years have made me want to strive even higher and become a lobbyist and work on a federal level in Washington D.C.
The things that make me feel empowered are the people that I work with on a weekly basis at Green Mountain Self Advocates, Self Advocates Becoming Empowered and Autism Now. Every day that I work I feel positive energy and a sense that I am being held to high standards. Its fun being in an environment that is free from oppression! Of all the jobs that I have had in my lifetime this is the most success I have had. It gives me confidence to know that I am making a difference in the lives of people with developmental disabilities. My favorite part about the Autism Now project that we did this past summer was traveling around the country and meeting other families, self-advocates, and hearing the center director Tonia Ferguson conclude the day by saying “YOU EMPOWERED.”
The last four years have made me want to strive even higher and become a lobbyist and work on a federal level in Washington D.C. All of my past experiences as an advocate and as a person with a developmental disability have inspired me to become a bigger change agent at a national level and do what we need to do to make the United States a fully inclusive, free and accessible society for all people with disabilities.
Over the past year I have moved into a section 8 apartment as part of my transition to the SUCCEED Program. This was a huge leap for me given that I lived in a developmental home for three and half years. During the transition from Montpelier to Burlington there were people who didn’t want me to move into section 8 because they didn’t think I was ready. They wanted me transition to a group living situation and then to section 8. As a result I had to do some advocating in the beginning with my old provider to get to where I am today. Self-advocacy and self-determination are the keys to making major transitions for people with disabilities.
Since 2004, I have had to deal with many negative responses from government and provider agencies when I screw up because of the fact that I have a developmental disability. The medical and moral models of disability need to end. We need to adopt a social justice model where we focus on dignity of risk! It’s the belief that people deserve an equal chance to fail just as they do to succeed. People can learn from failure by not having their life controlled by a provider agency.
Some of the challenges that I have encountered are having a case manager take a debit card away because I got into debt which is something they are not allowed to do according to state policy. I have dealt with people threatening to force financial guardianship on me. Another barrier was teachers telling me, “If you take the mainstream high school curriculum your spirit will be harmed by setting expectations beyond her ability.”
Now I am taking college courses at the University of Vermont. I have been able to finally achieve my dream of going to college. The first UVM course I took was public speaking and I got a B/85 in it. It felt so wonderful to finally be able to prove to everyone else that I can succeed at a collegiate level!
Nichole LeBlanc is a self-advocate and active in the self-advocate community with the organization, Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered.