“Hi. My name is Dan and I am a student at Chico State, and I also have Asperger's disorder. My question is, ‘What in Butte County is there for someone such as myself to have as a service here in Chico? That is to say what is available to me through scenarios to cope with any discrimination or misunderstanding?”
The State of California has a system through which people with developmental disabilities, like Asperger's, receive services. The first step is to go to your local regional center. There are 21 of them and they’re run through the state’s Department of Developmental Services. They were established to serve as a resource hub that connects you to organizations that provide services. The centers also help with payment.
Laura Larson is the Executive Director of Far Northern Regional Center, which serves an area stretching from Glenn County to the Oregon border. Larson says while discrimination counseling isn’t a service they provide, they can connect you with an aid who will help you navigate difficult situations. For example, searching for an apartment or signing up for classes.
“We serve people with Asperger's, it just depends on how that particular syndrome impacts your daily living, are you able to hold down a job, are you able to live independently, where, where are the needs that you have that you would need our support,” she said.
Before you can get help at Far Northern Regional Center, you have to qualify. Qualifying entails being interviewed by a staff member, and providing them with your medical history and other information. Whether or not you are accepted depends on if their services fit your needs. If you do qualify, it takes about two months to begin receiving services.
“But we are very unique in California and I, there’s really nowhere else to refer somebody who has a developmental disability, we’re a, we’re a one stop shop for the North State,” Larson said.
In other words, your options for services related directly to discrimination or misunderstanding are limited. However, there is a support group specifically for Northern California college students with developmental disabilities that might be helpful. It's called College Plus and it’s run through a program called Mains’l. You would still sign up through Far Northern Regional Center, which uses both state and federal funding to pay for services.
Doug Ferguson is a coordinator with College Plus. He says if you qualify, a Mains’l employee will be available to help you not only with things like homework and applying for jobs, but also just to talk through things that are on your mind. They also run a social group that goes on community outings every Friday.
“Within those fun activities there’s down time to connect and chat about how the week is going. Are there any problems that you want to talk about with your classes or with your friends, or at work if you have a coworker. I mean those things just naturally come up,” he said.
Noah Jacobson is a sophomore at Chico State studying mechanical engineering. He’s been enrolled in College Plus for two years. He said discrimination is not something he has needed to bring up with the group yet, but he does love the social aspect and academic support.
“They [the College Plus staff] kind of like, in a way, demand for excellence by providing assistance whenever needed. They basically try and be social with everyone who is involved. They talk about what’s going on. They kind of usually ask a bit of questions, like anything from basic questions like how are you going, how are you doing, or even of course, how’s your week, stuff like that,” he said.
But some say the burden of finding resources and feeling socially accepted shouldn’t fall on those who have a developmental disability. I met Ronda Dever at an informational meeting at Far Northern Regional Center’s office in Chico. Her son is 20 and was diagnosed with Autism when he was two. There are a number of things Dever would like to see change in the North State so that her son can live more independently. One of those things is how difficult it is for him to get a job. She says she hopes that employers will become more flexible when it comes to hiring those with developmental disabilities.
“And really taking the time to understand that they have the skills, it just may not be something in how you train them is traditional. It may have to be done a different way,” she said.
I asked Dever how accepting she and her son found the North State as a whole.
“So I think we've grown, but are we done? No. It’s a long process and overall I think we’re improving, but we still got to fight the good fight,” she said.
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This episode featured original music by Cooper Grosscup.