You, Empowered: Starting an Autism Initiative in the Local Community
by Leann Anglin
Director of Resource Development at The Arc of Caddo-Bossier
When she walked in my office I could tell that she was going to speak her mind. She was passionate and pushy, but she had the right to be. She knew what it is like to raise a child with autism, and she was sitting across from me demanding more from our community. As a community we were failing our parents who have children with autism. Even with severe budget cuts running through my head, I couldn’t tell this mother that The Arc Caddo-Bossier would not be able to help.
Just a few weeks prior to that meeting, The Arc of the United States had announced that it was awarded a grant from the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD). This national initiative produced the Autism NOW Center.
The Arc Caddo-Bossier grabbed this opportunity and followed suit by launching our own local resource and information initiative on autism in Northwest Louisiana. Our goal was to provide our community with opportunities to engage in the autism information exchange, just as The Arc of the United States was doing with the national initiative, while also providing quality local resources and information. We were able to connect families to efficient and productive discussions with experts from across the United States on relevant and timely topics through the free weekly webinars hosted by Autism NOW. We began initiating conversations about autism, making connections, and simply not only demanding more from our community, but from ourselves.
In the spring of 2011, we started working closely with our local community foundation on the concept of assembling leaders from organizations, institutions and businesses that serve individuals with autism and their families. The first meeting in June of 2011 was extremely successful as we sat around a very large table and discussed how we could improve communication and reach more people. After this event, we gathered everyone’s contact information and kept the conversation moving through emails, e-newletters, and meetings. Since then, we have collaborated with a group of students at the medical school in our community to develop and expand a database of local autism resources that will soon be available on our website.
It is thrilling to know that as a result of our first gathering in 2011, the local chapter of the pediatric society has reorganized with one focus on how physicians are diagnosing autism and how they are disseminating information about services that are available. This past July, we hosted our second annual Community Conversation on Autism, and everyone in attendance was excited to come together again, not only to discuss our accomplishments, but more importantly, to discuss our plans for the future.
Have we accomplished everything that the mother who met with me had hoped? No, but we are off to a great start! To the organizations and groups that are also interested in initiating conversations about autism, we have found that round-table discussions with leaders of local autism resources and services are an excellent beginning. They do not cost much, but they develop a powerful network that is vital to quality communications in the future. Also, once you open up communications, you find gaps in services developing a clear path for future plans with everyone working together. Our work began with a conversation, but you can’t just talk, you also have to be willing to listen!