Where did the year go? Don’t we wish that time took as long as it did when we used to sit in grammar school and watch the clock slowly tick away?

Looking back on the events of the past twelve months, I can say with certainty that the autism community has faced some of the most significant public policy challenges in recent memory. From ongoing efforts to alter healthcare coverage for millions nationwide to combating efforts to strip Medicaid funding, disability advocates came together and tackled these and many other issues head-on in 2017. Our advocacy has never been as important as it is today. Given current trends, we know 2018 will require more work. However, together, we can continue to make an impact. I am proud to be part of the response from the disability community that continues to assure the voices of those most vulnerable to cuts to services and programs are heard.

In 2017, change spread so rapidly that as Thomas Friedman (in his book “Thank you for Being Late”) rightfully suggests, by the time you catch up, newer changes occur. For example, this year I witnessed technology-driven culture and erosion of human interactions contribute to our ability to empathize with one another. Millions now rely on digital silos composed of people with similar views while opposing opinions devalued without attempts to find common ground. Real, live interpersonal communication is sorely lacking. I worry that the real contact we need to understand one another better is fading. Without those much-needed connections, who will provide reassurance to the anxious, autistic young adult starting their first day of work, or comfort adult parents worried about who will care for adult autistic son or daughter when they’re gone, or simply lend a helping hand. Let’s leverage our digital spaces to help bridge the human divide. We all share commonalities that bind us together. If we stopped and listened to one another, we could be an unstoppable force.

As I reflect on the incredible milestones of 2017, I can’t help but appreciate the amazing individuals who made a difference. Thank you to those of you living with autism who taught me and so many others about life and the importance of value, respect, opportunity, and the role of self-advocacy. A very special thank you also goes out to the families who continue to help create opportunities and who love, respect, value, and want nothing but the best for their autistic loved one. Lastly, my heartfelt appreciation to the volunteers, affiliates, staff, professionals, partners, and donors who make life’s opportunities occur.

Best wishes to each of you for a wonderful and joyful time during this holiday season. Happy New Year and may 2018 be a year where we continue to be the proud collective voices of reason and opportunity for all impacted by autism.