Sep 03, 2012 0 Share

Pioneer Spirit

Backpacker at sunset with arrow pointing the way.

It’s hard for me to believe, but Autism After 16 is celebrating its first birthday this week. As with all birthdays, it seems time has flown by and yet so much growth has taken place. What better time to reflect on milestones and accomplishments than a birthday?

I think back to when Cameron was first undergoing diagnosis—or lack thereof—and I myself was undergoing acceptance and denial of his situation. I don’t think I’m the only one who will admit that 20 years ago my only exposure to developmental disabilities came from “Rain Man” and “Forrest Gump.” In 1998, when my son was undergoing testing, autism wasn’t an everyday word. The Internet was brand new territory, and “Googling” wasn’t a verb. So forget about typing in a list of symptoms and finding thousands of Facebook friends that felt your pain and could offer advice and support. And gluten-free? Are you kidding me? If you were lucky enough to have information about the pros and cons of a gluten-free diet, you were in your kitchen making bread every day. The gluten-free aisle in your local grocery store wouldn’t appear for another decade.

So today, I would like to offer a piece of gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and artificial ingredient-free birthday cake to the Pioneers of Autism. Without you, the reports released on various research projects regarding autism wouldn’t be making national news. Autism Speaks would not have over one million likes on Facebook.

I am always so impressed when I hear from an AA16 reader that begins an email with, “I have a 6-year-old …” I mean, wow! How awesome is it that parents of 6-year-olds are checking out what’s ahead of them a decade from now? When I had a 6-year-old, I was still figuring out day-to-day supports, and how to get through the next 10 months. Heck, I was still celebrating toilet training success. Thinking about the teenage years wasn’t even on the map.

Thanks to the Pioneers of Autism though, the importance of early detection and early intervention has reached the mainstream. Parents with questions about their young child’s development don’t have to look far to find someone who knows someone who can point them in a helpful direction. Were it not for the Pioneers of Autism, it might never have occurred to me that staying in school beyond the “typical” timeframe, as opposed to racing to graduation, would be in Cameron’s best interest. I realize that the services Cameron seamlessly receives through the school system today will quickly evaporate once he has aged out of the system. As the children of the Pioneers of Autism have reached adulthood, I have hope that their struggles with finding post-secondary education programs and meaningful employment will lead to a wave of legitimate, tried and true, outcome-based opportunities for today’s 6-year-olds with ASD, and the 6-year-olds-to-be as well. The need for these types of programs is nothing new. The recurring success of these programs is something the Pioneers have set out to establish. I, for one, have my wagon packed and am ready to join the trail.