This guest post is written by Shelley Hendrix, Autism Speaks’ Director of State Advocacy Relations. She currently resides in Baton Rouge, La. with her two children, Liam and Mairin. Liam was diagnosed with autism age the age of two in 1998. She began advocating on behalf of her son and other children with autism almost from day one.
One night in the spring of 1988, I sat cross-legged on the floor of a chapel. I was in my first year at Mount Holyoke and my roommate had asked me to ride the bus with her over the mountain to Amherst College. The guest speaker that evening was Coretta Scott King – an opportunity of a lifetime. How could I turn that down?
So there I sat, listening to her melodious voice, hanging on every word until I walked out of that chapel changed and determined to change something. I wanted to be like her, inspiring people into action, but for what purpose?
Twenty-two years later, I work on civil rights issues for children with autism daily through Autism Votes – an Autism Speaks initiative. State by state, the dominoes convincing politicians that it is inappropriate to allow marketplace discriminatory practices to continue against our children are falling. They are beginning to agree with our community that it’s unacceptable for insurance companies to accept premiums from parents while simultaneously denying coverage for the treatments and therapies their children’s physician prescribes.
Our volunteers will tell you I often compare the tedious, slow growth of an advocacy program to eating their vegetables – necessary but not glamorous. Like a nagging mother at the dinner table, I remind them that splashy rallies, hearings, press conferences, victories are all sweet, but you won’t get dessert without eating your veggies. Not in my house. Not in political arenas either.
This spring, we initiated an internship program at Mount Holyoke for a data entry project to more quickly strengthen our advocacy base. I knew these women would be socially aware, committed to making a difference. I knew that the College doesn’t generally offer internships during the semester where they can garner skills to help them find a meaningful summer employment.
My recruitment trip last week was successful. I found eight willing young women hailing from three countries and six states. All first years, none of them know what they want to be when they graduate, nor do they know anything about autism – yet. Now, the possibility exists that they will enter any number of fields that will serve our community well or bring this newfound knowledge back to their countries to change autism communities there.
Autism Votes strives to make your participation easy so you feel empowered. We want you to be a part of each step changing this system – making it work for your family instead of spending your time and money railing against it. Your children deserve equal access to the medical treatments they need – today.
Eight young women you may never meet now want the same thing for your children. They caught the fire and the passion on that cold, snowy February day in Western Massachusetts. They have a mission now to change the world – your world.
Autism Votes. It’s time for lawmakers listen. More importantly, it’s time for you to tell them what you think.
Get involved today at www.autismvotes.org/.