This blog post is by Alison Dyer, the Assistant Director of Grassroots Development
On Tuesday night, I attended the Autism Speaks Town Hall on Adult Services held in New Jersey. First off, I love being at events, meeting people and hearing their story. This event really represented a cross-section of the autism community: self-advocates, parents, siblings, developers, legislative policy makers, doctors and more were in attendance. It is not every day you can get that type of grouping together.
"Supportive Housing" was a main theme of discussion. Individuals affected by autism should have the same access as anyone to safe and affordable housing that will enable them to live full and productive lives. Unfortunately, the current capacity does not meet demand, and that is where advocacy comes in!
We are still putting pressure on President Obama and Congress to develop and implement a comprehensive national plan to address autism, garnering signatures at our various Walks and events across the country. Autism Speaks Champions is an initiative that empowers individuals to connect with Congress like never before. Every voice matters and with this tool we can use our combined voices to affect progress.
At the state level, we as an organization (and nation) are forging into uncharted territory tackling adult services. The approach will vary from state to state, but it is important that everyone knows they have the POWER to advocate!
The panel was excellent. Maria McGinley, who served as moderator, is the Advocacy Chair for the Autism Speaks New Jersey Chapter and an associate at Mayerson & Associates. Jamie Douglas, the Managing Director for Adult Services at Eden Autism Services, spoke of the need to hear from self-advocates in order to get a better understanding of what the community is looking for. Gail Levinson, the Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey, shared that there are lots of opportunities out there, and by working together we can achieve more. Tom Toronto, the President of Bergen County’s United Way, showed some cutting-edge construction and housing sites that have been developed for individuals with special needs. It is incredible to see what is out there and the various customizations being done.
It was also very powerful to hear from the mother-daughter duo Christine and Samantha Ranaghan. Christine recently shifted careers and found her calling when her daughter was diagnosed with autism at 34. Her goal, like any parent, is to have her daughter live a full and independent life. Samantha ‘always felt different,’ but doctors and clinicians could never exactly put their finger on what the real ‘diagnosis’ of her challenges were. Once they told her that she had a form of autism is was almost a relief. She has the ability to live on her own; she just needs support, like with her bills and balancing money. That sentiment sounds awfully familiar to me!
After the Q&A portion, it become even more clear to me that we need to work together to find a way to accommodate this growing population of adults. So please register here with Autism Votes so we can keep you in the loop and empower you to "Take 5 to Advocate" because our 1 in 68 really cannot wait.