THE BLOG
08/12/2014 03:11 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2014

New Report by AbilityPath Helps Families With Transition to Adulthood for Individuals With Special Needs

I'm a sister. I'm a daughter. I'm a sophomore in college. In 2012, I was Miss Montana. And I have autism. My name is Alexis Wineman, and autism doesn't define me, but it used to.

When I was little, I knew I was different. I had trouble making friends, frequently forgot my homework assignments, and couldn't always pronounce words correctly. To make matters worse, I had a neurotypical twin sister, Amanda, so I was constantly reminded of our differences. I became angry that I had to struggle and thought that Amanda was ashamed of me. Our mother tried to help ease the tensions and pain I was feeling, but it still hurt.

When I was 11, I was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, an autism spectrum disorder. Despite this diagnosis, I felt it came too late. Even though I now had a name to put on what was going on, it didn't change what I was feeling. What made matters worse was living in a small city, removed from the best resources and specialists that could've helped me prepare for the big world ahead.

Fortunately, my family was supportive. They pushed me to be the best that I could be, encouraging me to join cheerleading. During my junior year, I cheered with Amanda and learned through a speech she gave in competition that she was proud of me. Because of the support and encouragement from my family, I was able to graduate high school and also gain the confidence to compete in both the Miss Montana and Miss America pageants.

While I am thankful my family and I were able to successfully navigate the transition into adulthood after high school graduation, it wasn't without its challenges. For example, my parents and I didn't know how to take advantage of the planning sessions with our school counselor, and what questions to ask. When I turned 18, I became a self-advocate and my parents could no longer make decisions for me. This is a major change we are all still struggling to adjust to. I know I am not alone. There millions of families, like ours, who will be going through this transition and trying to decide what path to take after high school. There will be significant changes to support services, medical benefits, and legal rights. It would have been beneficial for me and my family to have a guide to lay out resources that would help me properly prepare for life after high school. That is why I am proud to speak as an ambassador for AbilityPath.org. This week I team up with AbilityPath, Special Olympics and Best Buddies to announce the release of a comprehensive resource guide and report entitled "The Journey to Life After High School: A Road Map for Parents of Children with Special Needs."

This is an amazing resource for every family that has a child or young adult with special needs. It clearly explains the laws and services that protect someone with special needs, creates a guideline for the individualized education program, and lays out the various paths an individual can take after high school. The report culminates in the first ever national directory of state agencies that helps families everywhere find the support services they need.

Autism no longer defines me; I define autism. This isn't the case for every individual with special needs, though. This new guide from AbilityPath.org gives the power back to the individual and their families, allowing them to define their own paths and find the life that's been waiting for them.

The "The Journey to Life After High School" is available for FREE download at www.AbilityPath.org on August 12th

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