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MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN OUR COMMUN As special needs parents, we have to fight…for everything; IEPs, services, equal treatment of our special needs children. As our children grow older, we have to start thinking about what will happen after high school; Will they go to college? Are they capable of holding down a job? Who in my community will hire my child? I have a 17 year old son with Autism and I am now faced with these issues. I run a support group for other special needs parents. So I know I am not the only parent to face this issue. Whenever I am out in my community, I try to speak with business owners about the possibility of considering hiring a special needs individual. Most seem receptive to the idea. After I met with my Vocational Rehabilitation representative, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands if I was to find my son a job that would cater to his passion…animals. He is an animal whisperer. So I reached out via social media to local businesses to see if anyone would hire him. He has been interning since April as a dog groomer’s assistant. He thinks he has died and gone to Heaven. So this year when my Facebook feed was being blown up with political endorsements, I decided that I needed to take things a step further. I needed to get my local government involved with our special needs community. Going to a town council meeting can seem very overwhelming. I again, utilized social media to reach out to the individuals running for my local town council. Out of the seven candidates, three showed up to my parent support group meeting. They talked about their platforms and then they listened and learned about our concerns as parents for our children. After this meeting, one of our local restaurants held an Eat and Greet with the candidates running for council. You got to spend seven minutes with each candidate individually and talk to them about your 10 www.BrightFeats.com most pressing community issues. I jumped at the opportunity. Why? Because out of the seven I got to meet that night, at least two would be elected to our town council. Did I expect them to have solutions on the spot? No. But I was going to put the special needs community on their radar. My job as a special needs mother is to advocate for my son wherever I can. And trust me…I do! I need a warning label “Special Needs Mom – you have been warned I will talk to you about the needs in our community… proceed with caution!” I asked three questions of all seven candidates: 1) If you get elected to town council, how do you propose to bring jobs to our community for special needs individuals; 2) How would you resolve the transportation issue that faces our special needs community, as many are not able to drive (and currently convicted felons can ride the Lynx bus with them); and 3) How would you bring affordable housing to our community for our special needs population? Some of the candidates sat there for a moment with their mouths hanging open…I did not come to talk about the overgrowth of our town, the road widening projects, our parks…I came to talk about an issue they had not thought about. Oh my goodness, a blonde with a brain? Most genuinely seemed concerned and wanted to know more about who I am and what I am trying to do. I just put the special needs community on their radar. Not the happyfeely sort of being on their radars, but the we-need-a-solution kind. by Diana Anderson “We have to start thinking about what will happen after high school; Will they go to college? Are they capable of holding down a job?”


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