This guest post is by Kerry Magro, Social Marketing Coordinator at Autism Speaks.
I’ve always been a very quiet person. So when I first came out about having autism in my freshman year of college it was just to a few people. And I never thought that I would be able to have my opinions heard by politicians. Then three years ago I had the opportunity to meet New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. I was a junior in college and wanted to make an impact within the autism community. I decided to work for Autism Speaks as an intern. One of the blog posts I wrote during my time there was called “Reflection on Autism,” which discusses some best practices for our community based on my experiences on the autism spectrum.
Something amazing happened a few days later when I saw some of the feedback from the comments. “Comment #11” was a message from Senator Bob Menendez, in which thanked me for writing the blog and told me to keep up the great work. A few days later, Senator Menendez’s team reached out to me. They wanted me to stay in touch with him for future opportunities down the road to spread awareness for autism.
This led to some amazing moments I will never forget in my entire life. I was able to go to Washington DC to discuss the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act with him and work closely with him there. And earlier this year I was with him when the AGE-IN Bill was first being introduced.
Another moment changed the dialogue entirely when I was asked by Autism Speaks to introduce the Senator during our Autism Speaks to Washington Summit. In my speech today, I mentioned several key times I met with Senator Menendez but that wasn’t what I wanted to be the main focus of the conversation. What I wanted to get across was that Senator Menendez has made an impact on me not only as an advocate but also as an individual. His passion for helping the entire spectrum and making sure no one is left out of the conversation has been awe-inspiring.
I see the Senator today as many things. He is one of our biggest advocates for helping our community and because of this he has been given the title of “autism champion." But I simply call him my friend. A friend who is making sure that no one will be left out of the conversation. I can’t thank him enough for that. And thank you also to Autism Speaks for the opportunity to let my voice be heard.
Having his support has given me the opportunity to believe more in my voice. It has, among many things, helped me become more confident. I hope I can do the same for other self-advocates and help them find their voice as well. It's the least I can do after the generous support I have received from Senator Menendez.