Reimagining Autism: Partnering With New Dreams

Posted: September 10, 2014 in Disability Issues
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One of the best decisions I made for Andrew and myself was to attend an advocacy and self-advocacy leadership training program through the Tennessee Council of Developmental Disabilities called Partners in Policy Making. Beginning in September 2005, I drove to Nashville one weekend a month to have my paradigm shifted, unraveled, and frankly, blown apart. My head spun as layers were peeled and a new foundation was born. Finally, my mind embraced a new perspective about my son, his diagnosis, our life, his future, and our family!!

The training is phenomenal. Classes are carefully chosen to include a diverse representation from across the state which include advocates of family members and those with varying disabilities (self-advocates). The training, by design, opened doors to rich networking and deep friendships between classmates. Speakers from all over the state and country, many of which had significant disabilities themselves, passionately shared about grass root movements in disability communities, booming entrepreneurial endeavors, and other innovative topics. Several motivational and inspirational speakers who were non-verbal communicated clearly by using computer voice technology. Musicians and other artists gave performances and shared their artistic handiwork stirring emotions in my soul while landing a permanent home within me.

When I graduated in May 2006, I experienced a metamorphosis! There’s freedom when one learns to fly!! The community I met seemed set apart from anything I had ever experienced. I made a surprising discovery when I realized the “difference” had nothing to do with their disability but actually in their ability to live life alive! Their story wasn’t about surviving but thriving! Yes, some of them had to overcome daily obstacles, but their life was not defined by their frustrations but by what they experienced on “the other side”. Many of them had failed but was not scared to fail again.  Slowly, my inhibitions began to fade. Nothing had changed except my mind. I would not continue to be a student of fear but a student of this community.

Now Andrew is twelve. He was three when I went through the school. In eight years Andrew will be old enough to attend Partners in Policy Making as a self-advocate. I hope he will want to go. Maybe he will be the one sharing a success story, presenting a new entrepreneurial idea or speaking to his representative about his own personal experiences with autism. Maybe he’ll do something even bigger. Maybe I will too.

It feels a little risky to dream even though there’s no risk in dreaming. It’s the realization of the dream that can frighten. It’s disappointing when our dreams do not come true. But,  fear of disappointment should not keep us from dreaming. Some of our dreams may never come true, but they keep us stepping higher and further than we would have stepped had we never dreamed at all. It’s in the stepping that occasionally we step into a passion or niche that we would have never found without the dream.

We cannot be scared to dream!!

Meeting successful adults with disabilities is important if you have children of any type of disability or diagnosis. I highly recommend finding mentors. Spend time with them. Ask them questions. Shadow them if possible. We need people with disabilities who are thriving in our circle of influence. It is essential to re-imagining! Make friends. Let them teach you!!


Check out the link to Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilties: If you do not live in Tennessee, check your state website for more information. Here’s a little history from Widipedia:

“The program was originally conceived by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities under funding by the U.S. Administration on Developmental Disabilities and has since been adopted in over 35 US states. It has also been adopted in the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Ireland, Scotland, and England. The “core” curriculum covers current issues, state-of-the-art approaches and best practices in many areas including legislative processes and strategies; communication and team-building; using assistive technology; independent living; creating inclusive communities; and employment.” (


I just couldn’t resist adding a picture of my sweet Andrew. He is 7 in this picture.

  1. […] see my son and myself through eyes of opportunity!!  My perceptions received a major overhaul at a Partners in Policy Making Leadership Program in Nashville, Tennessee where I was privileged to hear Robert Watson, Executive Director of […]


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