This last weekend, the Special Needs community in South Florida came out to the 2017 Autism Speaks Walk. As always, the Progressive team came out in full force to get together and basically celebrate our shared commitment to working with our families, many of whom we had the honor of seeing. We spend far too little time outside our sessions with our families – for reasons of time, of course, but also for ethical reasons as we have to maintain boundaries.
Having said that, it’s wonderful to get to see our families outside our routine, and even more wonderful seeing them enjoying themselves on a beautiful sunny day. But the Walk is more than just getting together and having fun. It reminded me of a few things I’d like to share. Before I do, though, let me say I am aware of the controversy many in the autism community feel about Autism Speaks. I think a good discussion on that subject in the near future in this place is a good thing, and I need to research more about it before we do, but here I want to shift the focus away from the organization and the good (and perhaps bad) it stands for, and instead focus on what is clear to me from simply getting together as a community, regardless of what organization did the work to get us there.
Here is what I observed:
We have grown.
When I started working in the special needs community in South Florida 15 years ago, it was normal to encounter confused faces when I mentioned I worked with autism. “What is that?” people would ask. No more. I remember events like the Walk which were hardly attended by anyone- in fact, it would often be a regroup of people I already knew from my work. The numbers of Sunday’s event were so overwhelming that the realization is clear we have grown in quantity- with more diagnoses, of course, but also with more people who are willing to align themselves with the community.
We are not just special needs families.
This is huge: the special needs community is not just special needs families anymore. As awareness has grown, so has the number of people touched indirectly by the spectrum who want to come out and support it. Not long ago, every attendee at an event like the Walk was either a special needs family or a provider of services to that community. No more. I met on Sunday teachers, educators, neighbors, friends- all people touched by the love and warmth of the special needs community, although not a direct member of it. This is so powerful for me because it represents the triumph of awareness.
We are not done.
But I don’t want to get carried away here. We still have more work to do. I would have loved to see even more attendees, and would love to see community-wide events like this many many times a year. And I don’t want to seem petty, but I didn’t meet anyone over the weekend – nor did the 45 members of our team who came out to volunteer – who was simply there to learn more, which I would have loved.
So, cause for cheer- but more work needs to be done. It is an honor to be on the front lines doing it!