Gabor Degre | BDN
By Eesha Pendharkar, BDN Employees •
December 14, 2018 1:00 am
It was a routine orientation session for the Bangor Faculty Committee, with a lawyer advising the seven committee members on insurance policies and protocols.
The committee’s latest member, 36-year-old John Hiatt, was filled with questions. He requested about transparency, and he requested whether or not the protocol of speaking with the general public solely by way of the committee’s chair conflicted together with his place as each a faculty committee member and the Penobscot County treasurer.
An hour into the Dec. 6 workshop, he apologized for asking so many questions, however he didn’t cease asking them.
Hiatt wound up in a singular place after November’s election, when voters in Bangor elected him to the town’s faculty committee and Penobscot County voters additionally made him their county treasurer. However Hiatt’s place can also be distinctive as a result of he has autism.
[Bangor Republican defeats incumbent county treasurer in race he didn’t expect to win]
It’s unimaginable to know for positive how many individuals on the autism spectrum are serving in public workplace within the U.S. as a result of nobody formally tracks it. However Hiatt seems to be amongst a small group as an elected official who’s open about being on the autism spectrum.
“I really commend him for being in that position,” stated Cathy Dionne, government director of the Autism Society of Maine. “Just because he has autism doesn’t mean he can’t fulfill that position.”
Individuals with autism “have these underlying talents that we can tap into,” she stated.
Although he is high functioning, Hiatt’s autism is critical sufficient that it counts as a incapacity and qualifies him for some state help. His persistence and have to ask questions are associated to his autism.
He doesn’t all the time decide up on nuance or delicate social cues, however he stated he might inform that some across the desk on the faculty committee orientation have been uninterested in his questions.
“Being on the autism spectrum will make it — has made it — harder already on the school committee,” Hiatt stated. “I could sense that they were kind of annoyed at me asking questions.”
He isn’t getting discouraged, although.
“If you have a disability, you do not have to let that get you down,” Hiatt stated. “I know I can do the job. I know I can do it with honor.”
‘If I withdraw, they win’
Hiatt has lengthy had an curiosity in politics and, final yr, his fellow members on the Maine Republican Celebration’s State Committee inspired him to run for Penobscot County treasurer. When he came upon that two Bangor Faculty Committee members weren’t in search of reelection in November, he determined to run for a type of seats, too.
“I ran for county treasurer because I thought it was a natural fit for me, and I ran for school committee because I was also passionate about helping children,” he stated.
He knew his autism would make campaigning a problem, so he was upfront about it when he met voters.
“I mentioned that I was an odd duckling or whatever,” he stated.
He defined his platform and his motivation for operating, however needed to additionally specify the which means of his physique language.
“To give you a heads up, I have autism, so if I’m not looking at you in the eye, that’s the reason, I said.”
Nonetheless, Hiatt stated he skilled some insensitivity whereas campaigning. He remembers giving a speech and beginning to stutter and stare on the flooring. He seemed as much as see the viewers smirking at him.
“They thought I was a joke,” he stated.
Two weeks earlier than the election, he stated he was knocking on doorways in Bangor when somebody answered the door, acknowledged Hiatt and referred to as him the “special-needs candidate.” He virtually give up when he heard that however determined towards it.
“I thought, if I withdraw, they win. I’m going to put up a fight,” he stated. “I went home, crunched the numbers again, and said ‘John, you have a good chance.’”
He claimed a shock win within the county treasurer race, defeating incumbent Dan Tremble by 285 votes out of greater than 62,000 forged. However he thought he had a shot as a result of he had analyzed voting patterns from the previous decade for each city in Penobscot County and observed many rural cities had grown extra Republican.
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Whereas he serves on the Maine GOP’s State Committee representing Penobscot County, he stated he’s not a typical Republican.
“I did not vote for Donald Trump,” he stated. “I’m not a Trump Republican.”
Throughout his marketing campaign, he reached out to Rep. Barbara Cardone, a Democrat who represents a lot of Bangor’s west aspect within the Maine Home. Cardone, who was operating for re-election, was having hassle reaching residents of the Bangor Home, the Important Road condo complicated for low-income seniors and other people with disabilities the place Hiatt lives together with his mother and father.
He made preparations for Cardone and her opponent, unbiased Carrie Smith, to spend a while on the complicated so they might meet residents. Cardone and Hiatt have since turn into associates.
“Partisanship for John is an opportunity to work together and see if we can find common ground,” Cardone stated. “I’m sure there are certain things that he’s politically conservative on and I’m more liberal, but I suspect we agree on more things than we disagree.”
As county treasurer, Hiatt’s position will probably be to advise the county’s three commissioners — two Democrats and one Republican — on monetary issues. Since Penobscot County has a finance director on employees who handles most finances work and day-to-day funds, the position of treasurer is only advisory, County Fee Chairman Peter Baldacci stated.
When he is sworn in early subsequent month, Hiatt may have entry to all the county’s monetary info and can take part in finances discussions, Baldacci stated. Hiatt, nevertheless, “does not have to vote on actual budget items or decisions, but is to be a source for us to assist in recommendations.”
Hiatt’s communication challenges might develop into evident in these discussions. At county commissioner and faculty board conferences he has attended to date, he often doesn’t take part when everybody else makes jokes, and due to what he calls his “black or white perspective,” he just isn’t snug with obscure responses or others withholding info.
He’s continually conscious of being totally different from others in public workplace.
“I feel like I’m in a fish bowl. I’m looking out, and I’m not sure what’s going on,” he stated. “I don’t understand people a lot, but I have to learn how to survive with people.”
‘I kind of proved people wrong’
Hiatt takes some satisfaction in having crushed the chances in his life.
He spent a lot of his childhood shifting between foster houses and rehab amenities earlier than he was positioned at Kidspeace in Ellsworth, a residential program for younger individuals with autism the place he lived till he was 17.
“Had I not been put in a residential facility for people with autism, I would not have had a chance,” he stated. “Being away from family was hard. It was a tragic experience, but looking back it was necessary.”
At age 13, he needed to relearn the best way to learn and write after a head damage that to this day impacts his reminiscence, imaginative and prescient and listening to.
Simply earlier than he turned 18, Hiatt was moved to a gaggle residence in Bangor. He graduated from Bangor High Faculty in 2003, enrolled at Beal School in 2005 and graduated in 2009 with an affiliate’s diploma in Government Authorized Secretary Science and a minor in Human Providers.
Since then, Hiatt has pursued different skilled certifications: He’s a licensed nursing assistant, and he accomplished an emergency medical technician coaching course, despite the fact that he doesn’t have his license but. Since 2016, he has been pursuing a web-based bachelor’s diploma in well being care administration from Western Governors College, an internet college based mostly in Utah.
“I was told I would never graduate high school. I was told I would never go to college. I was told I’d never hold a job,” he stated. “So I kind of proved people wrong all my life.”
Hiatt has labored in recent times in nursing houses across the Bangor space, as a behavioral well being technician for a Brewer social providers company, as a house well being employee and extra lately instead schooling technician in public faculties in Bangor.
He needed to cease working in Bangor faculties when he was elected to the varsity committee, however he’ is now on the substitute schooling technician record for All Saints Catholic Faculty in Bangor and Indian Island Faculty.
A number of occasions every week, Hiatt goes to Downeast Horizons in Brewer to take part in a day program for adults with autism.
“I never forget where I came from,” he stated, when requested why he continues with this system. “There’s still room for improvement.”
This system helps him with cognitive expertise and offers socialization alternatives in a cushty setting. Strolling from room to room at Downeast Horizons on Monday, he appeared far more comfortable than at a county fee or faculty board assembly.
He made jokes with employees and different program individuals, and returned to the room the place he began his day, drawing squares on a bit of paper — an train that he says retains his positive motor expertise sharp.
Eesha Pendharkar | BDN
Hiatt speaks every day together with his sister Sarah and brother Joshua, and he takes care of his mother and father together with his eldest brother, Sean.
“I’m just unbelievably proud of him,” Sarah Hiatt, 41, stated, “especially considering that John has to work twice as hard as somebody not on the spectrum.”
Whereas at Beal School, Hiatt met Linda Orlando, a licensed clinician who has labored extensively with youngsters and adults with autism, when he took her pc class.
“Because I had a lot of experience with autism I could tell he was on the spectrum before he said he was,” she stated.
She acknowledged difficulties college students on the spectrum typically have — reminiscent of getting stressed by too many questions on one web page — and tailored her classes to attenuate them.
Hiatt needed to cope with totally different professors and their particular person educating practices, and Orlando was all the time there to tug him out of sophistication if vital and clarify social cues and applicable classroom conduct.
“John worked really hard to complete his degree at Beal College,” she stated. “He was really good about asking questions and trying to understand things.”
Hiatt later labored for Orlando at Conduct Well being Options for ME in Brewer for greater than a yr till she shut the company down earlier this yr. She assigned him to work with households with youngsters on the autism spectrum. Although mother and father discovered it arduous to know their youngsters’ talents due to communication difficulties, Orlando stated Hiatt might all the time inform what the youngsters understood and what they didn’t.
“He did well in school, he did well with the families and he works very hard to do everything right,” Orlando stated.
Hiatt’s political aspirations are greater than the town and county ranges. He stated he needs to steer by instance to supply youngsters with disabilities hope.
It “makes no sense” for individuals with autism to be discouraged from holding regular jobs and reside off of Social Safety, he stated.
“I want my wins to show to those with autism and families who have children with autism that if I can overcome what has happened to me in my life, and get elected to the school committee and get elected to county-wide office,” he stated, “your kids have a chance.”