So those of you who have been around here for a while might remember that around this time last year, I wrote THIS,which led to an invitation to THIS which is how I ended up going HERE which I then wrote about HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and then finally HERE.
In the last post above, I wrote the following:
Michael Strautmanis took the stage. According to the agenda, Mike is the Deputy Assistant to the President and Counselor for Strategic Engagement to the Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. For his sake, I really hope there’s a shorter version of that that he can use at cocktail parties. For my sake, I hope it’s OK to call him Mike.
Mike has been with the President since before he was the President. I am told that he was the one to whom (then brand-new) President Obama referred HERE.
I found it impossible not to like Mike. He is one of us. He is the parent of a child with autism. He gets the joke. He also understands why we’re not laughing.
I wrote about Mike’s words to us that day. How he urged us to work to find ways to come together as a community – to work through our differences. I wrote about him telling us that we cannot stand divided. That we cannot fight amongst ourselves. That we must come together and stick together. That we can argue behind closed doors, but that when we open those doors we MUST be holding hands. That we need to seek partners. That we can only do that TOGETHER.
And then I wrote the following:
I introduced myself to Mike before I left. I thanked him for his leadership and for all that he has done for our kids. I told him I was a mom. No longer did I say just a mom. I’d long since banished the just. I stood up straight and said simply, “I am a mom.”
He pulled me into a warm, knowing hug.
And somehow, standing in the EEOB, right in front of the very presidential stage, hugging an advisor to the President of the United States seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
We are parents of children with autism. That connection transcended the fact that we’d never met. It transcended the bizarre setting in which we stood.
We are parents of children with autism.
God willing, that will transcend our differences as a community. Because we’ve got work to do.
Mike and I connected that day. We have e-mailed many, many times since. We’ve spoken on the phone at length. Mike has indulged me as I’ve rattled on (and on) about what I believe that this community so desperately needs. He’s allowed me the space to tell him what I think his boss’s administration can do to help us.
And he’s listened.
He’s listened to me tell him that we are failing our military families. That it’s unconscionable that we are forcing the people who fight to protect us to also fight for the care that their children need.
He’s listened to me tell him that we need support from the top down – that we need his boss, our President, to LEAD – to tell people from the lofty height of his office why it is so important to invest in our community. To not follow the tide, but to use his power to help us SHIFT the tide – to insist on what is right and just and logical whether or not it may be popular. To talk at every turn about why we as a society must value – truly, deeply and systemically value – the potential of people with autism and to convince the non-believers why it is so richly worth the cost – from both humanitarian and fiscal perspectives – to do everything in our power to unlock it.
He’s listened to me talk about the dramatically uneven levels of support around the country – from state to state, zip code to zip code and school to school. He’s listened to me talk about how much a child’s services hinge on their parent’s ability to advocate effectively for them and how – in this, the greatest country on earth – that is so desperately wrong.
He’s heard me talk about the need for ABLE accounts and a federal autism insurance mandate. Yeah, I know – mandate. It’s a dirty word. Call it whatever you want, but there’s got to be some kind of uniformity in order to protect the rights of autistic individuals to receive care no matter where they live.
He’s heard me talk about the desperate need to remove the barriers to creating feasible, comfortable, safe housing for our children as they run headlong into adulthood. He’s heard me talk about creating and supporting employment opportunities for autistic adults, harnessing their unlimited ability to contribute to our society.
And he’s listened.
MIke has invited me back to the White House.
There’s no big event this time.
Just me and Mike.
Sitting down to talk.
So you know how this goes, right?
When I go to the White House – when I go anywhere to speak on behalf of our families – I don’t go alone.
You’re coming with me.
All of you.
We have half an hour – thirty minutes – on Thursday morning to tell Mike what matters.
We have his ear.
He has the ear of the President.
What do you want them to know?