Hey Jennifer! When did you become an advocate for the special needs community?
It wasn’t immediately after my son was diagnosed. There was a lot that I needed to educate myself on first. I’d say about 3 years after my son Drew’s diagnosis. During that period of time when I started to settle with better understanding of his hurdles and what our family composition would look like I started to become an advocate. I shifted to this based on seeing my son get older and wanting to help others like him. Our personal experiences made me realize this importance.
How are your kids doing today?
Drew unfortunately has been having a lot more challenges. He’s still nonverbal and that frustrates him. We had him go through the admission process at the Anderson Center for Autism in their residential program where he was accepted. They are giving him amazing support and structure. It’s been an interesting time and a very difficult time as well. My older son Dean has been very protective of him. We continue to cherish our moments as a family.
How did it feel to become part of Autism Speaks Board of Directors?
I’m so honored because I feel privileged to be around people who have done so much for the cause. I’m with people who have been with the organization for a long time as well as newcomers. It’s a really terrific mix of people all so dedicated to improving lives. I feel so fortunate to be around people like that who are trying to enhance the lives of others.
It’s been great to see Autism Speaks focus on words such as ‘enhancing lives.’
Absolutely. It’s such a diverse diagnosis and focusing on the uniqueness and specific supports to that individual is important.
In our community we often say if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. What is one misconception you see out there in the nonverbal autism community that you’d like to see debunked?
It’s funny we often say Drew has a super power or a sixth sense. People with autism are exceptional and multi-faceted much like individuals who are neurotypical. So many comparisons are similar. Their personalities go deep. There are so many more parallels. We need more acceptance of those with autism.
What are some hopes and goals for Drew in the future?
You have expectations for your children. These expectations are usually what we dream of. Seeing them reach certain milestones. Taking their first steps and getting older and what college they’ll go too or who they’ll marry. When I look at Drew – I rejoice in things that people take for granted. I look at the milestones he’s done today like potty training and he amazes me. I’ll continue to appreciate every milestone he achieves in the future.
What’s next for you?
I actually participated in one of my first walks at the Autism Speaks Westchester/Fairfield Walk. We were the 2nd highest fundraisers in our region. Looking forward to doing that again next year. I’ll also be speaking at an All Staff meeting for Autism Speaks about my perspective as a mom of a child with autism.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers as a champion for our autism community?
I just want people in general to appreciate life. We all have routines and responsibilities. Most people do it with a smile on their face. What I’ve learned from my journey though is that you never know what people are handling in their lives when they are not with you. One of the things that has touched me is listening to stories from the community. We need more transparency. We need to talk about our stories and share that to support others.
Editor’s note: I first met Jennifer at her office in New York a few years ago while I was still working at Autism Speaks before deciding to switch career paths to focus on professional speaking full-time. I have to tell you all – her kindness is something that I wish more people had. Her advocacy is inspiring and if you are in the tri-state area I hope you will join her by walking for Autism Speaks in the future. – Kerry Magro