Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts held their 18th Annual Autism Advocacy Day at the MA State House on Monday, May 8.
Michael Borr, Chair of AFAM for almost 20 years, welcomed the attendees and spoke to the crowd about transitioning his Chairmanship to Katie Terino. He shared with the community his honor in serving in this role and his excitement to turn AFAM over to Katie, who also addressed the crowd. Katie Terino is the CEO of HoPe (House of Possibilities) and a dedicated advocated for people with autism.
Governor Maura Healey presented the Autism Day proclamation and spoke to the 300 plus attendees, including dozens of legislators, about her FY24 budget and commitment to the autism community.
The advocacy day was emceed by Reggie Williams, self-advocate, and Heather Hedgedus, anchor and autism parent advocate. The event honored Senator Joan Lovely for her dedicated work for people with autism over her career at the State House. Senator Lovely was presented her award by Senate President Karen Spilka.
The theme of the event focused on the workforce shortage crisis and those with autism who have been left behind due to their complex or high needs. The key note speaker, Irelsa Oliverias, shared her family’s powerful story about the lack of services for her son Israel.
Also providing an impactful speech on the workforce and the need for rate increases to support adults with autism was Anne-Marie Bajwa, CEO of Charles River Center. Jeremy Chiu, BCBA, spoke about his work with The Arc on the ABA pilot for individuals in Day Habilitation and the importance of equity in access to ABA.
Maura Sullivan, Senior Director of Government Affairs and Health Policy for The Arc and Legislative Liaison for AFAM, gave the “Call to Action.” She focused on those with profound autism, whose voices are often not heard – a moment of silence was observed to allow their presence to be felt in the room. Maura explained the budget priorities and the advocates spent the day visiting with their lawmakers to ask for their strong support of legislation and policy that affects their constituents with autism.