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Autism Speaks Conference: Behind the Curtain

This is a post by Dr. Peter Faustino, a school psychologist, state delegate to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and member of the Autism Speaks Family Services Committee. Dr. Faustino attended the Autism Speaks Volunteer Conference this past weekend in Miami, FL.

I have been affiliated with and served on several professional associations over my tenure as a school psychologist.  And while many groups gather for various purposes, there are times when you are meeting just to meet or there is a purpose that gets lost in the noise.  I can simply that was NOT my experience with Autism Speaks.

What I saw was the side of Autism Speaks that rarely gets shown.  Behind the media campaigns, the blinding blue lights in April, and the goal to be a single voice for those with autism was a band of truly passionate professionals.

I say professionals because the term is usually reserved for someone who has dedicated their life to a profession…it often means they have studied a problem, advanced their education, have tremendous experience and are on course of helping others.  I can think of no better word to use for the parents, grandparents, volunteers, staff, and executives of Autism Speaks.

I spent an information packed weekend learning about the various initiatives from the past, present and future of the organization.  I witnessed the power of a collective voice as panelists (made of various persons who are action-oriented in the field) presented to the attendees representing all corners of the country.  The questions posed after each presentation were not  merely clarifying but a dialogue to think about and expand what was already being done into new ways of helping anyone connected to the spectrum.

At various times during the conference, I was reminded of the word resilience (although it was not mentioned).  Resilience is the power to overcome challenges or obstacles.  The messages that we heard had an undercurrent of resilience.  That is to say that when you learn that you are capable and focus on what is possible, communicate and realize that you have some control over a situation, and connect with others with a shared mission and purpose THEN you are building some of the key pillars of resilience.

Anyone who has ever donated their time or money to Autism Speaks ought to know how hard they are working.  More importantly, anyone who has not donated ought to know that there is an effort afoot to help change the world for the better.  And for the few who see just one piece of the larger organization and make assumptions, they ought to know that they are addressing an army of people who love them.  Because behind that curtain was nothing but love.  The stories, the challenges, the hopes, the tears, the wishes, the successes, and the laughter was all about the love of 2 grandparents for their daughter who loved a child with autism whose hearts were big enough to want to help others and set off a ripple effect of love and hope.  I can’t imagine where we would be without Autism Speaks and realize that they are not slowing down one iota.

So as someone who works with children every day and strives to teach and educate, I would like to model good behavior by simply saying thank you.  Thank you for all you do and for allowing me to be a volunteer.  I think that while I was at the conference, several people asked what my role was and I was quick to say, “I am just a volunteer.”  But after this conference I learned that this statement is incorrect.  I should be loud and proud to say, “I volunteer!”  You see I have learned to like the action part of the verb volunteer much better than suggesting to others that I simply give some of my time to be around great people who believe that together we can do great things.

When are you going to volunteer for Autism Speaks?  I do!

Also during the 2014 Autism Speaks Volunteer Conference, college basketball coach Tom Herrion gave a rousing motivational speech to employees and volunteers about his personal connection to autism and why he began a campaign with fellow coach Pat Skerry to start autism awareness day in college basketball!

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.