The Autism Alliance Story
It all started in a local church basement, back in 1993, when a group of six families, all with children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, gathered to try and wrap their heads around this shattering diagnosis. The families supported one another, sharing vital resources including doctors, teachers and therapies. At that time, rates of autism were 1 in every 1,000 births and the internet was not part of our everyday lives. Resources surrounding autism were not easily accessible.
The group found great value in the support and guidance they provided one another. Furthermore, they did not want other families repeating the experiences they had already endured. Fueled by this desire to make a difficult path easier for others, they transformed from a small, informal support network into a non-profit organization. The group quickly grew from six members to sixty and became known as The Family Voice. With a shoestring budget granted by the Department of Developmental Services, the volunteer-run organization set up a small office space. They designed programs such as SibShop, support groups, Sunday gym programs, music programs, newcomers’ packets, and a lending library. In 1998, The Family Voice became The Autism Alliance of MetroWest. We partnered with Natick’s Morse Institute Library, which provided a permanent home for the resource center. By 2003, we attained official non-profit and grew our roster to approximately 300 area families.
But as The Autism Alliance grew older, so did the children that we served. Much like the early days, the same core group of families searched for a solution that would allow the agency to continue to serve individuals with autism who were now entering adulthood. After much consideration, in 2009, The Autism Alliance became a program of Advocates. In 2013, when Advocates Life Skills and Learning Center opened in Ashland, The Autism Alliance expanded its programming to include adults with autism, ages 18 and older.
Today The Autism Alliance remains the only center of its kind in the MetroWest area supporting families living with autism. We provide training to members of the larger community on how to compassionately respond to individuals with autism. Such trainings have been provided to local fire and police departments, religious communities, fitness centers, after school programs and theater groups, to name a few.
Much has changed in the last two decades. The internet is now easily accessible. Googling is the most common way to find resources and information. Six families raising children with autism in MetroWest has multiplied to 1,300 families. One out of every 68 children born today will be diagnosed with autism. But despite all these changes, the grass roots mission of The Autism Alliance has remained the same:
To provide families with information, education and support; plan programs and events that will aid those families; while increasing public awareness regarding autism.
The core programs designed 24 years ago still exist. The six, original families that began the agency are still involved in many aspects of our operation. While much bigger, we remain a group of families dedicated to a common goal; providing people with autism opportunities for a full and meaningful life.