TSC Talks! Points of Light~Part One~Leigh Anne Bianchi, Founder of Good Citizenship Project, Activating Good Citizens

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Leigh Anne Bianchi, Founder of Good Citizenship Project recently on TSC Talks. She was joined by her business manager Carla Bell. We had a free ranging discussion covering many topics but all regarding the benefits of the sort of unconventional programming Leigh Anne has developed through GCP and how this meets many of the huge gaping unmet needs for those individuals diagnosed with autism and other special needs that our systems of care have become too siloed and disconnected to address. “Developing a sense of meaning and purpose, social-emotional skills, work ethic, and peer relationships by volunteering, distributing donations, and supporting local farms."
In my opinion, what she shares are gems of vital importance. AS someone who carries a diagnosis of Autism AND has worked within our siloed and disconnected systems of care, she gets it on a whole new level. What is missing, what is needed. One of her most important assets is her ability to ask why and watch, observe what is going on without judgment or preconceived notions based on dogmatic teachings not relevant to real life. Leigh Anne IS real life. She knows how what and why to reach and engage kids who have often had no one their entire lives really see them. The energetics of the interactions are often the most important part and the very part of our offspring’s with special needs education that is rarely observed or explored. To do so freely requires unconventional programming and thinking and IS what will give these individuals deep embedded experience to carry forward and integrate into every aspect of their lives. Priceless.
So that being said, this is one of the most important discussions I’ve had to date on TSC Talks personally as my son Jack has benefitted immensely from participating in this sort of immersive, apprenticeship experience gaining valuable skills, both tangible and energetic. Here’s a recent description of gains made: “There's A LOT going on there when we're together. Not just the obvious, like physical fitness, and employment-based objectives, but Distress Tolerance, Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, time management, generalizing skills, problem-solving.... learning how and when NOT to answer back to an authority figure. (Instead of saying, "I know," or "I was going to do that," when he clearly wasn't, just saying "OK.") We address that OFTEN. Staying on topic, being able to complete a task WHILE socializing...
Another example is planning. Looking at the task at hand (like cleaning a pen or stall) and being able to decide which tools you're going to need (the pen might require a garden rake and a metal pitchfork, vs. an aluminum shovel and a plastic pitchfork for the stall), and how to efficiently complete the task. Right now, he tends to be on autopilot at Jesse's, because he's done it before, and knows what tools to use. But if we go to a different barn/farm, he will sometimes just walk into the stall without any tools or automatically grab the tools that he'd use as Jesse's. But Jesse has brand-new rubber stall mats under the shavings, whereas other barns might have hard, packed-down dirt that is uneven, old, warped stall mats, or even slab cement under the shavings, which impacts the tools needed for the job. Additionally, the concept of 'using your head to save your feet and planning out the technique or way you're going to do something....like cleaning the stall of the older horse first so that you can put him in there to eat first since it takes him so long. Or, turning on the hose as you walk by it upon arrival, so you don't have to go all the way back out to the spigot when you're ready to fill waters” You get the idea.
For more information on Good Citizenship Project, FB page: https://www.facebook.com/GoodCitizenshipProject/ phone: (508) 868-0293 email: leighanne.bianchi143@gmail.com
0-4:22 Introduction/opening comments
4:22 Formative years, Grandpa Frank, early signs of autism, overlooked in educational settings, temper, frustrations, family-supportive
6:42 Principal’s office, using a paddle, siblings with similarities
8:27 People on the spectrum are empathetic! Animals get it
9:52 Meeting Johnny-“he chose me”, a sucker for the underdog, …both dogs rescues, cats and house chicken!
12:12 Leigh Anne’s challenges-struggled through school, awareness of being different
12:47 Post grad programs-infuriating and necessary-started with good intentions but people not honest with students about reality
14:57 4 years in post grad almost wasted, doing worksheets, Leigh Anne shares story of a girl she worked with having to do preschool puzzles
17:02 Toileting-EIP avoided b/c it was assumed she was not going to ever use toilet but Leigh Anne noticed underdeveloped musculature~ “It’s amazing what you can figure out if you just pay attention a little bit” BCBA determines course of her future…. on a different track if cannot use toilet!
17:10 we need more people like you who presume competence!
19:57 Leigh Anne can see birds eye view on why the life skills programs are the way they are..too many kids, squeaky wheel/most intense needs, profound symptoms get attention and people with milder, more subtle issues fly under the radar
22:22 stop and look at why? Leigh Anne gives example with woman from Belchertown-only thing she could control was her bowels so used incontinence …give options and let her choose and always ask WHY is this happening?
26:02 So many things were out of young lady’s control, diagnosis can be a tool and a knife that cuts both ways
27:32 having a diagnosis can be helpful if you can handle it…
28:37 Rose colored glasses, person first language and pendulum swung other way for those turning 22. Leigh Anne thinks there should be required classes for parents, so they know what to expect when turning 22 and transitioning to adult services, etc.
32:29 Leigh Anne is UNCONVENTIONAL!! Case loads at DDS extreme, high turnover, problems with adequate staffing in group homes
33:16 GCP (good citizenship project) Started when she was working as a program coordinator at Seven Hills, minimal consequences for behavior with not realistic environment. Folks turning 22 smart, capable wonderful kids with potential and no self-awareness skills, minimal options
37:32 Nonprofit/volunteering issues, for profit volunteer issues, liability issues, not a lot of places for GCP so L.A. developed plan that you could not join GCP unless you had good attendance, no aggression, pitched to Phil Philbin (former head of Aspire) and GCP was started at Seven Hills
41:40 First event was a chili cook off, building community relations, thank firefighters, get constructive feedback, also hosted Friendsgiving, kids did all the work
43:44 GCP-you do nice things for other people without expectation of anything in return” You feel good when you do good things, and it will come back to you
46:32 Info on finding GCP, see above, no requirements for joining, Leigh Anne’s rules0deal with circumstances, weather, not for faint of heart, hard work
49:26 Jack’s response to GCP amazing. “A taste of success” from Better Off Dead 😊 get instant rewards with animals and practice. Very empowering
55:07 Emu Jersey is goofy, no boundaries, will nibble on jacket, kids will allow b/c it’s not a person so a way to practice
58:09 Leigh Anne was a Case manager, and she would never read up on clients b/c you form judgments
59:26 If you have a diagnosis and an IEP you’ve been taught how to judge first and think later
59:51 Leigh Anne wants members of GCP to have a sense of meaning and purpose, know how to speak up for themselves in an effective way
1:00:39 Jack, example fear of failing, etc
1:02:14 Unintended goals, squelching learned helplessness, parents often tired and will not give time for child to learn on their own
1:05:02Farm a great template, you need to keep yourself safe, level of self-responsibility required but they can find it!
1:07:09 Blend in to neurotypical, Leigh Anne wants to give tools, so life is not so difficult. Examples shared
1:08:37 Restaurant example-this population is not used to choosing, having discussions at a restaurant, taking pressure off
Stay tuned for Part 2!

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