Tara Hood, Oklahoma
What is a policy issue that you are passionate about and why?
Ever since my beautiful daughter, Chloe, who was 3 years old at the time, very speech delayed, and newly diagnosed with autism, was denied coverage of speech therapy by our health insurance based solely on her autism diagnosis, I have been passionate about the lack of autism insurance reform in my home state of Oklahoma. That disgraceful fact simply did not sit well with me nor did it live up to the Oklahoma Standard.
Why is being an autism advocate important to you?
Although there has been a lot of progress with autism awareness and acceptance, we still have so far to go. I feel compelled to advocate for those who do not have a voice or are unable to advocate for themselves or their loved ones.
What is your proudest moment as an autism advocate?
Oklahoma recently became the 44th state to pass
meaningful autism insurance reform! Thousands of Oklahoma families who previously did not have access to medically necessary treatments prescribed by their doctors are going to now be able to access treatments. I cannot wait to hear from fellow Oklahomans that their insurance is now covering treatments for autism and about the progress the children are making.
We recently had big day at the state Capitol where over 150 families, friends, and professionals attended. We were recognized by our primary bill authors, Rep Jason Nelson and Sen AJ Griffin, and we received standing ovations in both legislature galleries. We also had Oklahoma state cut-outs which had been decorated by children with autism, framed, and were given to each legislator that day. It's a great feeling to walk into a legislator's office and see the framed art that was decorated by our beautiful children displayed for all to see.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned during your time as an advocate?
Stay positive, patient, and persistent.
Who is an inspiring person have you met as an advocate and how did they inspire you?
The core group leading the grasrrots effort, along with their families, inspire me daily: David Bloese, Autumn Ryan, Emily Scott, and Michi Medley. The individual who has profoundly inspired and impressed me, both as a person and an advocate, is Judith Ursitti, director of state government affairs at Autism Speaks. Her intelligence, grace, kindness, selflessness, and guidance has been immeasurable.
How has becoming an advocate impacted your life?
I believe I have been put in this position at this time in my life for a reason - to be able to make a real difference - something I take very seriously. My two older children both happen to have autism and are becoming awesome self-advocates! Even our youngest, who is four, has been getting involved in advocacy. Since I knew I would be spending so much time at the State Capitol this session, I resigned from my job and made other personal sacrifices. However, being an advocate is meaningful and comes with its own rewards. I feel like I have found my calling in many regards.
Describe being an autism advocate in 3 words.
Dedication, Rewarding, Gladiator
What advice would you give to someone interested in autism advocacy?
Go for it! We are stronger when we work together. Be as involved as you want and are able. Stick to the 3 P's - positive, patient, and persistent. Being an advocate is not glamorous and is very difficult at times but it is also rewarding to know you are helping make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. If not you, then who?
What else would you like to share about being an autism advocate?
Five+ years ago, I would have never pictured myself at the Oklahoma State Capitol advocating for autism. Shortly after two of my children were diagnosed with autism, more than one therapist said to me, "I think you will be one of the parents to help change this" in regards to Oklahoma not yet having passed meaningful autism insurance reform. Those words stuck and helped motivate me.