By Scott Lentine
Last week, I visited the State House offices of some state legislators to discuss autism issues and to get to know them on a personal level. My first stop was the office of the Canton Representative William Galvin. I talked to him about The Arc of Mass and how they help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities get additional resources in Massachusetts. I mentioned to him that I have cousins who grew up in Canton and asked him if he knew them. He said he did not. Next I went to the office of my representative, Marc Lombardo of Billerica He was out of the office that day, so I left him a note detailing who was and gave my phone number where he could contact me if he had any questions.
One of the highlights of my State House trip was meeting Melissa Reilly, an aide with Down Syndrome, who works for Senator Jamie Eldridge from Acton. I told Melissa about my autism and mentioned that I work at The Arc of Mass in Waltham, where I advocate for support of legislation that would expand the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities. She encouraged me to try to work for a legislator so that I continue to convince other legislators to back important legislation that would support those with autism and other intellectual disabilities.
Next I visited the offices of Hingham Representative Garrett Bradley and Ashland Representative Tom Sannicandro. They, along with others, were major supporters of the recently signed Autism Omnibus Bill. Though they were out of their offices that day, I spent time talking with their aides and thanked them for supporting the legislation that would expand autism resources in the Commonwealth. I also stopped by the offices of Bedford Representative Ken Gordon and Brockton Representative Michael Brady. I got a chance to go to Senator Ken Donnelly, my own state senator. In each office visited, I left a letter telling them of my visit and thanking them for their help. I left my phone number in case they wanted to call me. The next day Rep. Bradley called me and thanked me for my visit to his office.
The trip was beneficial for me since it gave me a tremendous opportunity to meet some legislators who helped pass the Autism Omnibus Bill. Also it gave me a chance to talk about autism to some who might be unfamiliar with the symptoms of autism. I told some personal stories of my life on the autism spectrum and mentioned the names of relatives I have that live in some of their towns to try to build relationships with the politicians.
The legislators and aides were very receptive towards me and by my having autism it allows them to gain a better understanding of a person with high-functioning autism. Everyone I met listened to my ideas about how there needs to be better resources for people on the autism spectrum in terms of health care, employment, social, and educational opportunities. In so many ways, it is not always to easy to live with autism because I have found it difficult at times making new friends due to the fact that I do not drive and there is limited public transportation in my town. I felt it was very important to share some of my experiences with the staffs to help dispel the stereotypes that many people still have of those with autism.
I fully recommend that other people with autism or other developmental disabilities visit their legislators’ offices in the State House. By connecting with legislators and their staffs on a personal level, I am educating politicians about the struggles that people with disabilities experience on a regular basis.