Disability Awareness Reading List

This week, we thought we’d share our reading list – a compilation of both fiction and non-fiction books that discuss many different disability issues that individuals and families face. Enjoy!

  1. Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison – A heartfelt memoir about growing up on the autism spectrum in the 1960s, the author shares his struggle to fit in as a child and an adolescent. His upbringing was complicated by his abusive father and his mentally ill mother, yet he managed to harness his talent working with electronics into an interesting career. It wasn’t until age 40, when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, that everything came into focus. For more information, check out the book review by Kirkus and a feature article from the New York Times.
  2. Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon – A true story about Beth, a young woman with intellectual disabilities who has become somewhat disconnected from her sister, Rachel. Beth has the somewhat unusual habit of riding the city buses every day, where she has made friends with the drivers and passengers. In an attempt to rekindle a relationship with her sister, Beth invites Rachel to join her on the bus a few times a week for a year, which creates a strong bond between the women and offers many lessons about friendship, love, and community integration as a person with developmental disabilities. For more information, check out the book review by Publisher’s Weekly. Also recommended is her New York Times bestselling fiction work, The Story of a Beautiful Girl.
  3. Still Alice by Lisa Genova – This New York Times bestseller chronicles the story of a successful psychology professor at an Ivy League university who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. At first, Alice suspects that she is becoming forgetful due to menopause, but when she gets lost jogging in her own neighborhood, she recognizes the gravity of the situation. Although heartbreaking, the story poignantly describes the effects of Alzheimer’s on the individual and family. For more information, check out the book review by AARP.
  4. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards – A novel about a doctor in the 1960s who, forced to deliver his twin babies in a snowstorm, discovers one of his children has Down syndrome. He makes the quick decision to have the nurse bring the baby to an institution and tell his wife that one of the babies didn’t survive. Instead, the nurse can’t bring herself to drop off the girl and decides to move away and raise the baby as her own. This story delves into the father’s guilt over his decision, a mother’s sadness over the loss of a daughter she didn’t know what alive, and raising a disabled child in a time when many were sent away. For more information, check out the book review from Publisher’s Weekly.
  5. Thicker Than Water by Don Meyer – A collection of essays written by adult siblings of people with developmental disabilities, this anthology captures the individual experiences of nearly forty people of all ages and backgrounds. The author is the director of the Sibling Support Project and the creator of Sibshops, a program for siblings of children with special needs.
  6. Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon – This nonfiction book is based upon a decade of research and hundreds of interviews with families who are facing diverse challenges in the upbringing of their children, including disability, mental illness, gender identity, criminal behavior, and more. This book eloquently captures the challenges of acceptance, parenting, family relationships, and raising children who are different from their parents. For more information, check out the book review by the New York Times and this article from The Washington Post.
  7. Asanas for Autism and Special Needs by Shawnee Thornton Hardy – This book brings the benefits of yoga to the disability community as a valuable instruction tool for teaching self-regulation, coping strategies, physical wellness, and calming techniques to individuals with autism and developmental disabilities. Clear instructions and photographs make this book accessible for all. For more information about yoga and people with special needs, check out this article from The Huffington Post.
  8. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon – This fiction work describes the life of a 15-year-old boy with autism who begins investigating the death of a pet dog in his neighborhood and the quest that ensues. Part humor, part murder mystery, this story weaves both the positive and negative aspects of living with autism into an incredible adventure. For more information, check out the New York Times book review.


MassDevelopment Bond

MassDevelopment has issued a $2.3 million tax-exempt bond on behalf of Venture Community Services, Inc., a Sturbridge-based social services organization.  Venture is using bond proceeds to buy and renovate 670 Douglas Street in Uxbridge.  When finished, the property will be used as a day habilitation program for individuals with development disabilities as well as to provide clinical services to families living with autism in the Blackstone Valley Region.  The organization is also using bond proceeds to build a five-bedroom group residence for people with disabilities in Rutland.  Finally, the bond is financing furniture, fixtures, and equipment, along with refinancing previous debt.


“Providing resources for those with developmental disabilities is imperative for promoting a higher quality of life,” said MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones.  “MassDevelopment is pleased to help Venture Community Services, a dedicated social services organization, serve individuals and families across the Commonwealth and reach that goal.”


“Venture is grateful for the long standing partnership with MassDevelopment.” said Mike Hyland, Venture President and CEO.  “We appreciate its support as we continue to grow and meet the needs of the communities we support throughout Massachusetts.”


Venture Community Services is committed to providing individuals with disabilities and other challenges, their families and caregivers access to the opportunities they deserve.   What began as an organization with two small group homes has grown into one of the largest human service providers in Massachusetts, and with almost 700 employees, one of the largest employers in the Worcester County area. Venture encourages independence through a continuum of support which includes community residential services, day programs, supported employment, transportation, autism supports, adult foster care, and shared living.


MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency, works with businesses, nonprofits, financial institutions, and communities to stimulate economic growth across the Commonwealth. During FY2015, MassDevelopment financed or managed 294 projects generating investment of more than $2.5 billion in the Massachusetts economy. These projects are projected to create about 6,100 jobs and build or rehabilitate about 2,000 residential units.


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Advancing Autism Services

Venture was proud join Bridgewell as a sponsor of their annual autism conference in Framingham yesterday.  The focus of this year’s event, Conquering the Cliff: Autism’s Journey into Adulthood, provided a great opportunity for us to prepare for our new autism outreach center in Uxbridge.  At Venture, we believe it is our responsibility to address the needs of the disability community in a meaningful way and this conference provided a helpful step in our process of building innovative programs and services for children with autism and their families.  We were able to talk to parents who are working to prepare their children for a bright future.  Many wonder how their kids will receive job training, or where they might live.  Many parents worry about who will advocate for their adult children when they are no longer able to do so.  Some are concerned about the lack of social and recreational opportunities in a safe and understanding environment.  The keynote speaker, Susan Senator, touched on some of these subjects.  She has three sons, the oldest of whom has autism.  She is an author, blogger, and frequent guest speaker on autism parenthood.  Visit her web site for articles, resources, blog, and more.

Our visit to the conference has further inspired us to reach out the autism community all around us.  Please check back soon for news about our upcoming open house and forum, when we hope to hear from families of children and young adults with autism in the Blackstone Valley region and in Worcester County.  Our center will offer in-home Applied Behavior Analysis, center-based social skills programs, family outreach, pre-vocational training and more.  We want to provide the best possible support – which means we want to hear from you!  For more information, please contact Kevin Hughes, Vice President of Day Services, at khughes@venturecs.org.  Also, don’t forget to check out our Pinterest board with lots of useful autism information and resources.