Nothing prepared me for hearing the words, “Your son has autism.” I felt so incredibly sad...alone…devastated.
I heard those words when our precious 3-year-old son, Adam, was diagnosed almost 18 years ago—in January 2000. He seemingly met the developmental milestones through age 2, but after that I felt him “slipping away” mentally and physically. He rarely made eye contact. He pushed away when I tried to cuddle him. He would run and hide from people and loud noises. He had no “make believe” play...and worst of all, he had no functional language. Zero. He was unable to ask or answer questions...unable to express his needs...and incapable of calling for his mommy or daddy.
If the organization Autism Speaks had existed back then, I would have known where to turn. The non-profit started in 2005, and in the past decade has become the world’s leading science, advocacy and awareness organization.
Today, parents whose children are diagnosed with autism are referred to Autism Speaks to obtain the “100 Day Kit” and to register for the monthly Tele-Learning program, “Navigating the Diagnosis.” They learn that the Autism Response Team stands ready to answer their questions, listen to their concerns, and connect people with autism, their families and caregivers to information, tools, and resources. More than 40 toolkits are offered free of charge.
When Adam was diagnosed, I was told the prevalence was 1 in 5000. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that 1 in 68 children is on the spectrum, and it occurs in 1 in 42 boys. Autism spectrum disorder refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. It effects the whole body, as many on the autism spectrum experience seizures, disturbed sleep, painful gastrointestinal disorders and various mental health conditions.
One year ago, I became the Executive Director of the Autism Speaks chapter serving Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. I have met hundreds of parents and family members who are so grateful that Autism Speaks exists to provide hope through cutting-edge research with real-world benefits; to champion legislation that promotes well-being, financial security and equal opportunity; to empower people with autism and their families with resources and information; and to promote worldwide understanding and acceptance of people with autism.
As we enter the traditional season of giving, I ask you to consider a gift to Autism Speaks. Your gift will fuel these critical programs that enhance lives today and accelerate a spectrum of solutions for tomorrow.
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