I joined the ACT Today! team during the quarterly rush to organize all of the applications before the Grant Committee would meet to discuss grant winners. It was a whirlwind of a few weeks, but I learned so much in the process. Primarily, this was because I had never knowingly met anybody on the autism spectrum, and (as I am sure that people familiar with autism agree) I found many of the available resources confusing or contradictory. Furthermore, reading about a medical diagnosis is one thing, but hearing the personal stories of families that have struggled through it is completely different.
During my first week on the job, Laura, Director of Programs and Development, warned me, “Be prepared to cry.” She was right. Every time I read the brief story that applicants are permitted to include or spoke to a parent on the phone, I was horrified at the conditions some of the families were forced to live in and awed by the strength that they all showed in the face of such obstacles.
I can remember a woman calling to ask for help in getting a pram for her triplets with autism so that she could get on the bus to get to therapy. They had already been left at bus stops on days so hot that all three children passed out with heat stroke. Financial constraints and the lack of disability-friendly prams for triplets stood in her way of improving her children’s lives.
Moreover, one application that sticks in my mind was sent in by a single mother with several children on the spectrum. She couldn’t work because there was no one to take care of her children, so they lived off of social security and food stamps. She just wanted to get some treatment for her children since she knew that it was so much more likely to be effective when they are young. “I just want them to one day be able to be independent,” her application pled.
Isn’t that what every parent wants? It makes me sick to know that the laws of our beautiful country do not allow these parents to provide opportunities for their children, despite their best efforts.
After a few depressing weeks of reading hundreds of applications, the best part of my job arrived: I was given the pleasure of calling all the grant winners. I swiftly experienced a variety of reactions: from tears to laughter, from suspicion to disbelief. One mother burst into tears and didn’t stop for several minutes; another refused to believe me and insisted on finding the office number and calling us herself, just to make sure it was legitimate.
The impressive part of the whole experience was talking to the providers of the services, treatments, and materials. ACT Today! gives our grants directly to these providers, not to the families, so it is necessary to liaison with them as well. Every time I spoke with one of these providers, I would ask if they could offer any discounts. Without fail, at least 70% were either already providing discounts to the families or were willing to give additional therapy sessions, free deliveries, or even up to 40% discounts. I was overwhelmed by the goodwill that these people showed for those in need.
As the summer came to a close, I spent the last few weeks working on a presentation that would be used at ACT Today!’s Denim and Diamonds 2011 event. As you may have heard, all the proceeds from the paddle auction will be going to 12 children that are in desperate need of Autism Therapy Dogs. This project was “my baby,” and I can’t wait to hear about how Denim and Diamonds’ attendees’ generosity will make so many children happy.
Working at ACT Today! was a wonderful and eye-opening experience. It was truly a privilege to work with the organization and I will certainly continue to follow it on Facebook and keep in touch with everyone I met and worked with. From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank ACT Today! for the amazing opportunity. To all of the donors out there, thank you for your generosity and compassion; I cannot even begin to explain to you how much good you are doing. And finally, to all of you who are struggling with an autism diagnosis, keep your head up and don’t lose hope! Everything can (and will!) get better, and you are not alone!