This guest Q&A is with The Kids & Dreams Foundation founder Aaron Bly. Aaron is the proud father of five incredible children including his middle son, Trae, who has autism. The foundation was created to help provide support to children & their parents that are experiencing autism & bullying. The goal is to provide resources & options to families to help give them hope & build self-confidence in their child.
Hi Aaron! How did the idea for the Kids & Dreams Foundation first come about?
About seven years ago, I started feeling led to start a foundation to help children & families experiencing autism & bullying. As a dad with a son who has autism, I knew that we had learned so many things and come across a lot of resources & options I wanted to let others know about. In November 2013, that dream became a reality as I signed paperwork to start the Kids & Dreams Foundation (that was a few years ahead of schedule as my wife wanted all our kids in school before we started this adventure, but an attorney & web designer volunteered to get our paperwork and website started free of charge. 🙂
How is Trae doing today?
Trae is doing great! He just finished 6th grade and is getting ready to head to junior high. His mom & dad are a little nervous about that, but he says he is ready! He has come so far. Trae didn’t walk or talk until he was two and a half. At three, he was diagnosed with autism. He is pretty much independent now in his classes with the other students. Trae loves bowling, riding his bike, playing any kind of keyboard and playing Mario Kart on the Wii. He has a great sense of humor and is such a tender hearted young man. Trae sees the world from a different angle and it is so refreshing! His motto and something that has helped get him through some tough times is “Battle On!”
One of the talks we give most often in the schools today is focused on bullying prevention. What have been some steps your team have done to help those with autism who may have been victims of bullying themselves?
The foundation has brought in motivational/ anti-bullying speakers to speak to children with autism, their classmates, other students and teachers. Our goal is to let these children know that they aren’t alone and provide hope to them. The main goal is to spread awareness and more importantly, understanding and acceptance for all the others in attendance to learn more about autism. If we can have them understand that individuals are different, but not less, then we will see more and more students become leaders and make a difference for kids on the spectrum in their schools & communities.
We were very excited to hear about your Kids & Dreams Autism Conference! What a great idea! Can you tell us a little bit more about how that came together?
In Nebraska, the state does an awesome Autism Conference for educators each year. My wife and I have attended it several times as parents are encouraged to attend as well. We just felt that it was more geared toward teachers and other educators. Our goal with the Kids & Dreams Autism Conference is to add to that by offering more resources & options for parents and family members. We hope to give them another opportunity to interact with other parents. The main focus is for parents as we hope to fill that need in Nebraska and the surrounding areas.
What are some of your hopes and goals for Trae in the future?
Our hope is that Trae continues to find areas he is passionate about and that he makes progress and develops socially over the next few years. A goal for Trae is that he becomes independent enough and is socially able to attend college if he wants in about five years. He is so intelligent and we truly believe great things are ahead for him. Trae is going to touch so many lives and make a difference in this world. He already has!
What’s a misconception out there in the autism community that you’d like to see debunked?
I don’t think this would be considered a misconception, but I would love to see parents of children with autism being built up and given hope. We run a camp for kids ages 7-12 with autism called Operation Shine Camp each summer. We have seen first-hand how beaten down some parents are and they feel all alone without any hope. At the end of camp, we have a sendoff for the campers that includes showing the parents a 15 minute video of all the activities and things their kids got to do AND were able to do. It has been a HUGE eye opener for them and has showed them that their incredible son or daughter is capable of doing amazing things. Not only does it give the kids self-esteem & confidence, but it allows the parents to have HOPE! I truly believe that progress is possible no matter the situation. Our goal is to continue to spread awareness about autism so that there is more acceptance and understanding from the general public so that they can come along side these families instead of telling them to give up and that there is no hope.
How could our readers learn more about you and the terrific work you are doing out there in the community?
Any final message you’d like to share?
I am truly grateful to share about the Kids & Dreams Foundation and our mission. This has been such a humbling experience and we are so excited for what’s ahead. Again, our goal is to help provide support to children and their parents that are experiencing autism, bullying or other challenges faced by today’s youth. We know first-hand that raising a child with autism can be difficult and sometimes you feel like you have nowhere to turn. Please know that our organization will do everything we can to help and support you. We may not have the answers, but we will do our best to help find them for you. In closing, we hope that you will approach each day like our son, Trae, and BATTLE ON! There are two mottos that we live by at the Kids & Dreams Foundation. The first one is that “Together WE WILL make a difference” and the second one is to “DREAM BIG”! We want to build a team that will help families do just that!