Lorri Unumb, vice president of state government affairs for Autism Speaks, travels the country advocating for families and individuals facing the challenges of autism. This is her ongoing series "On The Road For Autism Reform".
I have spent the last 5 years getting to know autism families around the United States, but I’ve never had the chance to visit with autism families internationally – until last week. Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, invited me to speak at their annual autism conference (QUART), and it was a great experience to hear stories from autism families from Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom.
The morning began with a private meet-and-greet with the Minister of Health for Northern Ireland, Edwin Poots. Northern Ireland families are very interested in lobbying their public officials, like Minister Poots, for better access to autism treatments. Many of them were quite familiar with the advocacy campaigns American families have engaged in to obtain coverage for autism treatments through our state legislatures, and they enjoyed hearing the stories behind our efforts. Even though our healthcare system differs from that in the UK, the advocacy strategies seemed universal.
My presentation was called “Let Me Hear YOUR Voice: Autism and Politics.” Two members of the Northern Ireland Assembly listened to the presentation and told me afterwards that they could identify with many of the political stories.
Dinners before and after the conference were shared with an international delegation comprising the STAMPPP II team. STAMPPP -- “Science and the Treatment of Autism: A Multimedia Package for Parents and Professionals” – is a project funded by the European Commission, and I got to know its members from Iceland, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK. This dynamic group of autism professionals has put together an online program called Simple Steps, which is a terrific tool for parents and teachers who are learning principles of Applied Behavior Analysis to work with individuals with autism. I’m looking forward to learning more about Simple Steps.
Many thanks to Professor Karola Dillenburger and Queen’s University Belfast for the invitation to speak. Autism truly knows no borders, and I’m now eager to help the families in Northern Ireland obtain access to treatment for their loved ones.