This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started the club Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.
I’ve had several surreal moments that have happened in my life. One of them happened last week when I got to spend the day at the Capitol in Washington DC speaking to New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez about several autism related topics. As someone on the spectrum, I have been advocating for Autism Rights for the past several years by sharing my experiences along with doing consulting work for families with individuals on the spectrum. This however was a new test for me as this was the first time I was speaking to a U.S. Senator. To say I was nervous would have been an understatement.
When I arrived to his office in Washington, Senator Menendez let me in with open arms. Senator Menendez is considered by many people, “The Champion of Autism” because of his close work with Autism Reform in regards to his recent sponsorship of the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA), he helped establish in December of last year, with former Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd. Overall, he came over as warm and very caring about the needs of awareness of autism in not only New Jersey, but throughout the United States. I was very impressed as at the end of our conversation he was able to quote a majority of one of my recent blogs I did for Autism Speaks found here.
Some of the main discussion items we discussed were:
- The Light it Up Blue Campaign-> Autism Speaks is currently doing a campaign to try and encourage The White House to be lit up blue for April 1st and 2nd in celebration of World Autism Awareness Day. We discussed this item and also how we can get prominent buildings in New Jersey lit up blue (we are still on talks about this item).
- New Autism Reform Acts-> when we can expect a new Reauthorization Act (such as CARA) and what will it look like.
- What impact will the financial constraints being felt around the country have on full funding of (CARA), and the importance of hearing from the Autism community to have Congress make it a priority
- How can Autistic individuals get more involved in Autism Related Topics (Groups such as Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism)?
The main goal for me from this meeting was to just get the opportunity to start a dialogue. As most of us are aware, a great deal of Autism litigation and reform is a tedious process. One thing that Senator Menendez mentioned which I found very interesting was, “It’s difficult sometimes to spread awareness of Autism and get funds pushed towards Autism when many individuals on the spectrum can’t relay the importance of why it’s needed”. We both understood how unfortunately even though this may not be fair it’s a reality. That’s why hearing from other autistic individuals, especially those that are verbal becomes vital because even though some people can see how some with autism act and behave, it’s something entirely different to understand what they are experiencing and feeling on the inside.
This was a bit of an eye opener as it makes me understand the importance of continuing to get the word out and understand that Autism needs to speak sometimes in order to make people aware of its need. I would like to thank Senator Menendez officially on this blog for giving me the opportunity to speak to him as it has made me better advance my understanding of The Disability Movement going on right now and what I can do to self-advocate.
I hope the journey to Washington was the first of many and that I will be able to continue the dialog with Senator Menendez in the months and years to come. What an amazing individual!