This guest Q&A is with Wendy Fournier who is the founding board member and president of the National Autism Association. Her youngest daughter Aly, was diagnosed with autism in 2002.
Hi Wendy! Can you tell us a little bit about how the National Autism Association first came about?
Hi Kerry! NAA was founded in 2003 by a group of very motivated parents who wanted to create an organization that would provide real help and hope for families and children like our own. Our founding board members had diverse professional backgrounds, unique talents and a whole lot of heart, which made for a great team.
You’ve done so much incredible work. Has there been a highlight that has stood out to you since NAA came to fruition?
It has to be our Big Red Safety Box program to help prevent wandering and elopement deaths in the autism community. I clearly remember the day we launched the program in 2011. We had 1,000 boxes and they were completely gone in six hours. Since then, we’ve been able to provide these resources to 30,000 families.
What do you hope others out there in the nonprofit world can learn from your success?
Put people first. Funding and resources are very limited, so we always ask ourselves if we’re using ours in the best way to make a positive and impactful difference in our community.
Wandering is a subject near and dear to many of our hearts as so many in our community are prone to it. I don’t know if I ever told you this but I wandered away when I was very little too. What are some tips & strategies you’d give to families out there about this topic?
We advise caregivers need to implement a multi-layered approach to wandering prevention. From identifying triggers, safeguarding the home, teaching safety skills to providing swimming lessons – and know that despite any measures you may have in place, you can never let your guard down. We have lots of free resources that can help at nationalautism.org and awaare.org.
What’s next for you? Anything fun coming up in 2017?
We’re working on a new safety-related program that we’ll be launching soon and are gearing up for our next round of Big Red Safety Boxes. We’re also very excited to announce that Temple Grandin will be our keynote speaker at this year’s National Autism Conference in September!
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?