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."
“Autism is glue.” My new South Korean friend, Victoria Nam, made this statement during my recent visit to her country . . . and it resonated. Victoria is an awesome autism mom, and it was amazing how quickly and easily we bonded while talking about our sons with autism.
I had the pleasure of spending a few days with Victoria and some other great folks surrounding my keynote speech at the 2014 SENDEX conference in Kintex, South Korea. SENDEX is an annual exhibition focusing on people with disabilities and seniors. It drew attendees and presenters from all over Asia and beyond, and it was a thrill to talk about “Autism and Politics in America.”
Equally thrilling was the opportunity to tour Seoul and surrounding areas with Victoria, her son Daniel, and Stanley Park. Victoria and Stanley are movers and shakers in the Korean autism community. Both have young adult sons with autism, and both are active with the Autism Society of Korea. They fetched me at the crowded Seoul airport, and we found each other instantly through our blue puzzle-piece pins.
One highlight of my visit was a tour of the Bear Better company. Bear Better is a non-profit started only two years ago that employs 80 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The employees operate a printing company, a book-binding operation, a bakery, a coffee roasting shop, and more. On the day I visited, they had just delivered breakfast to the local eBay employees. The entire operation was extraordinary.
Another highlight was a tour of the NewDream group home for young men with autism. Stanley’s son lives at this home with 23 other young men, and the love and warmth amongst the residents and staff was apparent from the moment we walked in the door. Many of the young men have full-time jobs, and others are working toward employment. The group home has a room with gym equipment, a room with musical instruments, and more. The walls were lined with posters and pictures of their annual international trip.
A big thanks to Dr. Theresa Yunhee Shin of Daegu University and to all of the conference organizers for the invitation to speak and learn so much about autism halfway around the world!