Five years ago last month I started my journey as president and chief executive officer of the nation’s oldest grassroots autism organization. I recently spent some time reflecting on the Autism Society’s extraordinary legacy and the role people with autism, parents, professionals, and community leaders play in advancing the well-being of each and every individual on the spectrum.
Since our inception, the Autism Society has worked to create a world where each person with autism is treated with the highest level of dignity, provided maximum opportunities for achieving the best quality of life possible. Today, we continue to abide by our founders’ belief that people with autism have a right to access services and supports as determined by their needs and desires. We greatly respect the importance and role of individual with autism to identify their service needs and will do all we can to help that person achieve excellent outcomes.
In 1965, when the Autism Society was founded, the voices of those living with autism were not as prevalent as they are now. Today, people with autism are advocating for themselves more than ever before. I am proud of the Autism Society’s efforts to be a highly inclusive organization comprised of individuals on the spectrum on our governing board, staff, and advisory panels. As important, while we might not always have agreement on every issue, I strongly applaud each group and value the input, advice, and counsel I often seek from the leadership of the self-advocacy movement. We are all in this together.
As I reflect on the progress of the autism community, I am reminded of my personal connection and family journey. You see, my son Evan has autism. He allows me to talk about him. On May 7, 2016, Evan will do something not many thought was remotely possible — he will graduate from Marshall University in West Virginia. Seven years ago, a service provider and a representative of state government advised Evan to forgo college and obtain employment in a sheltered workshop. Evan said no, as did we. Well, this Saturday, Evan will prove them all wrong when he walks across that stage. Evan has taught me more about life, about autism and about what it means to be a human being. He overcame countless obstacles and conquered every road block placed on his journey to success. But despite it all, he has succeeded and done so because of a caring community, a loving family, and his resolve. I honor not only the wonderful accomplishments of my son but the successes of every individual living with an autism diagnosis.
Like you, I am fueled by the desire to see my son and all living with autism to always succeed in life and to be appreciated for the unique abilities and gifts they have to offer the world. Evan is representative of the millions of people nationwide who want to be granted an opportunity to accomplish their goals and dreams and want to be treated with the highest dignity and respect. As I look toward my next five years with the Autism Society, I know we have never been as positioned to continue our mission of improving the lives of all impacted by autism. Thank you for the privilege and honor of leading this organization.