For nearly fifty years, April has been recognized as Autism Awareness Month. Some have argued for autism acceptance and even appreciation as the theme for this special month. I have another A that I think is as important as awareness, and not just every April but every day of the year: Advocacy. Yes, of course we need people outside of our tight knit autism community to be aware of challenges, accept differences, and appreciate unique contributions. But it needs to go further than that. What happens once we raise awareness, acceptance, and appreciation? Our loved ones with autism still face many distinct disadvantages in today’s world, and we need to advocate for them (or better yet, help them become advocates for themselves).
As a non-profit serving the autism community, the Flutie Foundation knows firsthand the importance of providing grants to get access to services, lead more active lifestyles, and grow toward adult independence. However, the barriers that many with autism face are not limited to financial ones. So many obstacles need legal solutions rather than monetary ones.
Every April for fifteen years and counting, Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts (AFAM) has organized our annual Autism Awareness and Acceptance Day at the Massachusetts State House. This year, we’ll be convening our supporters on Beacon Hill to communicate our message for 2018: Planning for the Future is Now. We’ll be advocating for our budgetary priorities, which include funding for graduating students transitioning into adult services, for the Autism Children’s Waiver, and transportation. Our legislative asks cover a wide range of topics: housing, law enforcement, medical provider training, higher education, and certification of school interpreters.
We have a proud history of legislative successes: the Act Relative to Insurance Coverage for Autism (ARICA) in 2010 and the Autism Omnibus Law in 2014 which addressed many issues faced by the autism community including MassHealth coverage, Department of Developmental Services eligibility, tax-free ABLE accounts, and much more. We hope 2018 will be another significant year in legislation here in Massachusetts!
Beyond the month of April, we fight for rights and then work closely with local support centers throughout the state and the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism to make sure families and individuals know their rights and how to navigate the systems and structures in place to support those with autism. If you’ll be around Boston on Thursday April 12, please join us at the Massachusetts State House. If you’re not in Massachusetts, please get in contact with your local chapters of The Arc or other support centers to find advocacy resources in your area. In fact, I urge everyone, everywhere to try to organize politically within your own states like we have in Massachusetts. I am so proud of the work AFAM has been able to accomplish, showing what we can achieve when families work together.
Michael J. Borr