Late last year The Mighty sent a call out for submissions on things about our life that we are thankful for. For me, one of those things had always been Autism Speaks. They gave me my first full-time job out of college and have been a complete delight to work with since I started volunteering with them in 2007. In honor of Autism Speaks turning 10-years-old today I wanted to share why I will forever be grateful for this amazing group of individuals…
The first time I ever heard of Autism Speaks was their Walk Now for Autism Speaks events. I needed 10 hours of community service, and I had just become an autism advocate and wanted to get involved. This was one of the first times I learned about how wide our autism community actually is.
When I was growing up, I always wished I had a role model to look up to who was on the autism spectrum. Because of my advocacy work and blogs I’ve written at Autism Speaks I’ve had so many families reach out to me asking for me to help their loved ones on the spectrum. For example, from 2010 to 2012, I had over 1,000 families reach out to me when I was a bi-weekly blog contributor. My experiences helping so many of these families have been beyond words.
As an advocate, I often get asked many questions that I don’t necessarily know the answer.. Thanks to Autism Speaks Autism Response Team, I always have a place to send individuals to when there is a question that may be out of my reach. They helped over 4,700 people alone last year. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love technology and know how it can help an individual with autism today progress. In 2014, Autism Speaks gave out over 1,200 iPads, and it means the world to me to see people in my local communities receiving these iPad grants.
This Christmas season I had one of the best days of my life when I got to be an autism-friendly Santa for over 70 families of individuals impacted by autism at Santa’s Elf Factory in New Jersey. Thanks to Autism Speaks partnership with Simon Mall we were able to find a similar blue print to make this a possibility.
When I was in college, one of the first keynote speeches, I ever gave was in the Jersey City municipal council chambers to spread awareness of World Autism Awareness Day and Light It Up Blue where I shared my story of living with autism. It was recorded by a local TV station that aired it for all my friends and families and later let me post the clip on YouTube. My parents would later send that video to the National Speakers Association which after watching it decided to give me a partial scholarship for graduate school to become a national motivational speaker.
Without the LIUB imitative that started through Autism Speaks six years ago this video may never have existed, and my life may be completely different because of it.
When I was growing up, my parents paid out of pocket for my services. With Autism Speaks Autism Votes initiative, we are making sure our families are kept in the conversation from a global and political level. Hopefully this leads to insurance reform in their individual states.
Currently in our community, around 50% of individuals with autism wander from a safe environment. In my home state of New Jersey, we currently have the highest prevalence of autism in the country with 1 in 45 being diagnosed with autism. This, in essence, could mean that our state could have a very high probability of wandering cases. In my local community, we’ve had several wandering related incidents alone in the past few years and because of groups like Autism Speaks we are able to get the word out on a national scale to our community to spread the word of mouth to these individuals and making sure they are found as soon as possible.
Over my past eight years as a volunteer and an employee, I’ve met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the chance to be associated with. From my NJ Walk family to my co-workers, each one of them, much like any individual with autism you meet have had their own unique story that by listening to those stories has made me a better advocate.
Finally, I’m grateful to Autism Speaks because they helped me find my voice in our autism community. When I first came out about having autism, I was scared because I didn’t know how my peers were going to react. I’ve come a long way since that nervous public speaking speech eight-years-ago, and it’s because of the work and knowledge I’ve been able to gain from this incredible organization. They’ve given me the best from both worlds: working in a field that I went to school for AND helping thousands of families of those who have autism.
I’ll always be grateful for them, and I’m excited to see what is in store for Autism Speaks while they continue to cause a change for the over 70 million individuals and counting across the world who had autism and their families.