What is the value of the Autism Society in helping individuals and families impacted by autism? That is the question I often am asked as CEO. Part of my response includes talking about how we have a national network of 104 grassroots affiliates working throughout the nation helping individuals diagnosed with autism maximize their quality of life by providing support, information, programs and advocacy all aimed at helping a person have the opportunities of life most people take for granted.
This past week, I saw that value better than ever before. As you know, last week, through the horrific and evil actions of two people, 14 people were killed and many injured in the Inland Regional Center facility in San Bernardino, California. Regional Centers are facilities where individuals can get diagnosed for autism, and get help in accessing services and support to meet their needs. With respect to the San Bernardino facility, it was also the location where the Autism Society Inland Empire holds meetings and training to help families and individuals impacted by autism.
Immediately upon learning of the shooting, the Autism Society Inland Empire and its outstanding board chair, Beth Burt, began assisting a hurting autism community. Many in that community use the Inland Regional Center and worried, about the well-being of building occupants. Many feared the realities of needing to go back to that Center in the future for help, now that the facility was a target of this horrible attack. The Autism Society Inland Empire held a vigil on Friday night and provided families and individuals with written information, both in English and Spanish, on dealing with a community crisis and how to talk with children who might be impacted by the events that transpired. The Autism Society Inland Empire also discussed if it should hold its annual holiday party that was to be on Sunday. The event planned long before the shootings already had over 900 positive RSVP’s. They felt, as we did that the event had to go on for the healing process to begin.
I was fortunate to attend Sunday’s Holiday Party along with one of our national board members. The Autism Society Inland Empire had a grief counselor available for those who needed help. Written material on coping and dealing with this terrible event was available. A large card sympathy card was there for all to sign; even Santa Claus to spread some holiday cheer.
At 2:30 p.m. when the doors opened for the party, you could see the fear and worries on the faces of many of the parents and far too many children. After just a few minutes the look of fear on the parent’s faces turned to looks of hope as they watched their children with autism having fun. The fear those children showed had dissipated as they quickly realized fun was better than fear. For parents and children, they knew that the Autism Society Inland Empire was there for them and would continue to be.
That is what the Autism Society is about. It is about a caring group of individuals coming together to help our community. In times of crisis and in times of joy, the Autism Society is there for all who need us. This past week in San Bernardino, we were and will remain there helping the autism community heal because of an event that touched way too close to home.
President & CEO