This is a guest post by Pat Kemp, Autism Speaks’ Executive Vice President – Awareness and Events. Pat, who is married, has three children and a stepson. One of his children is a young adult who has autism.
Twenty-five years ago when I first heard the word “autism,” there was nowhere to turn. No internet, most doctors didn’t know, psychologists had heard of it in grad school but weren’t sure what it really was. The support groups back then were primarily mothers seeking people in similar circumstances looking for that one hour of respite with other people dealing with similar situations. What was I to do? I was a father, working full-time with two other older children, searching feverishly to find any kernel of information to save my son with autism. I went to the library, frantically searching for information that would guide me through the process of saving my child who was rapidly fading away before my very eyes. After pushing and prodding, virtually panicking; I discovered that there was someone in San Diego named Bernard Rimland who started an organization called Autism Research Institute. I called and called until I spoke with him ‘live.’ He was kind, gentle, and understanding of my family’s plight. What he did was to give me ‘hope’ because he was collecting data to try to determine a path or paths to help families like mine whose children were fading away. I collected and sent Dr. Rimland all the data that I could gather from my son with hopes that it could lead to ‘something’ that may help him.
Well, as the advertising tagline said “We’ve come a long way baby,” I was impressed and amazed at what I saw at the Autism Research Institute/DAN! Conference this past weekend in Baltimore. There were hundreds of attendees searching for answers, including many fathers and grandparents. There were many experts in their respective fields sharing their knowledge, answering questions. No matter where you stand on the autism topic, you would have appreciated the sense of community that was there. Much has changed since I started this journey into autism a quarter century ago with my son. With technological advances, I am now able to post this blog and share my experience. But I couldn’t help think to myself during the conference that this was the “House that Bernard Rimland built” many years before. Though there remains so much yet to do, it may never have occurred without the vision of one person, Bernard Rimland, who was kind enough to answer my phone call. This one person who gave me and my family hope. Thank you Dr. Rimland. You would have been proud of what I witnessed this past weekend.