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Mom Hails Young Researchers ‘Breaking Through’ for Autism

Lady Marion Weatherstone (far left) read the following letter from her daughter at today’s welcoming luncheon for the 2013 class of Autism Speaks Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellows. This fellowship program – named in honor of the late Sir Dennis Weatherstone – is made possible by a generous donation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. (Read the event recap here. You can also watch Lady Marion Weatherstone reading the letter below.)

Let me begin by thanking you all for attending this very special event. When I was asked to address you, I felt truly honored. If you look at the daily life of a parent who has a child with autism, writing a short speech is a cakewalk!

This address will not be overly formal, and I won’t be quoting any statistics. You already know them, and so do I. So relax and listen as I simply want to talk to you from the heart. Quite simply this is my story, and I want to connect with you from the perspective of a mom who is determined to win this fight.

My name is Cheryl Weatherstone-Vance, and the late Sir Dennis Weatherstone was my father. It is through him and the Niarchos Foundation that these scholarships came to be. I am a mom, and I am a fighter in every sense of the word. I am fighting for my son to recover, and I also fight in the ring in martial arts. I am a 4th degree black belt in taekwondo under the American Taekwondo Association. In my letter to last year’s class, I told the story of how my passion for martial arts and my passion to find the answers to the mysteries of autism became intertwined.

Now it is time for Chapter 2, and my story is going to a whole new level. I certainly cannot even pretend to understand the complexities of your research. But I can kick and punch. So, this year I joined the fight in a different way.

During my journey, I found many great people who are equally passionate about the cause. My Dad always said there are people out there who would find their way to the same cause because they are fighters and share that same spirit.

The American Taekwondo Association has partnered with Autism Speaks to raise funds for research, and I have been so humbled by the generosity of everyone involved in the martial arts community. This effort is spreading quickly and it is exciting to see another set of people on the team. Taekwondo schools across the nation have taken up the cause and are doing demonstrations, washing cars, having bake-sales, etc. to raise money. Many taekwondo schools will do what’s called a “Board-Break-A-Thon.” Students will break boards with kicks, hand techniques, gymnastics flips, complete multiple breaks and even blindfolded breaks! I have even seen someone jump across a car and break a board with a side kick! It is pretty cool! 

It is inspiring to see people come out of nowhere to say how they love to see us smash through wood boards for the cause. I feel a great sense of pride when I see these boards break. It is probably very similar to the pride you all take when you have broken through another seemingly impossible problem in your research. It is that sort of “eureka moment” when you see the puzzle pieces falling into place and you are up late at night in front of your computer thinking, “Yes! Yes! We are so close! We just found another answer!” 

I am thinking the same thing to myself when I see hear that satisfying “Bam!” of another board breaking, splinters flying and my hope to find answers reaching an even higher level. Every time I read about the progress from the Weatherstone Scholars I think to myself, my Dad was right! 

He knew it could be done. He knew you were fighters, too!  So, I have one thing to say to autism…..”Sorry, but you are going down in flames!  I have an elite team of the brightest minds on the planet on my side here at Autism Speaks!” My dad would have been so proud of you, and as his daughter I am so proud of you, too.

I humbly thank you and am giving you a bow of my respect as I am typing. Through your efforts and continued research autism is going to get a knockout punch! 

And yes……this was only Chapter 2 of the story. I can’t wait to see Chapter 3!