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The Autism Alliance Story
It all started in a church basement in MetroWest Boston, 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 their diagnoses. The families supported one another, sharing vital resources including doctors, teachers, and therapies. At that time, rates of autism were believed to be one in every 10,000 births and the internet was not part of 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 (for siblings of children with autism), support groups, Sunday gym programs, music programs, newcomers’ packets, and a lending library. In 1998, The Family Voice became the Autism Alliance of MetroWest. The organization partnered with Natick’s Morse Institute Library, which provided a permanent home for the resource center. By 2003, the Autism Alliance had attained official non-profit status and had grown its roster to approximately 300 area families.
As the Autism Alliance grew older, so too did the children the organization served. Just as in the organization's early days, the same core group of families searched for a solution that would allow the agency to continue to serve individuals with autism into adulthood. After much consideration, the Autism Alliance became a program of Advocates in 2009. In 2013, when Advocates' Life Skills and Learning Center opened in Ashland, programming expanded to include adults with autism, ages 18 and older.
One of the Alliance's most recent efforts is the Autism Welcoming Initiative℠, which provides training to organizations and community members on how to respond compassionately to individuals with autism. The Autism Welcoming Initiative℠ provides training to restaurants, businesses, law enforcement, first responders, religious communities, afterschool programs, nonprofit organizations, arts groups, and other community establishments seeking to become more inclusive and sensory-responsive.
Much has changed in the last two decades. The internet and social media are now common ways to find resources and information. From its original six families raising children with autism, the Autism Alliance has grown to include 2,700 families. More than one in thirty-six children born today will be diagnosed with autism. Even as the landscape has shifted and evolved, the grassroots mission of the Autism Alliance has remained the same:
Provide families with information, education, and support. Plan programs and events that will aid those families. Increase public awareness, acceptance, and action around autism.
Today, the Autism Alliance remains the only center of its kind in MetroWest Boston supporting families living with autism. Core programs designed thirty years ago still exist, and families that helped to found the organization remain involved. While much larger, the Autism Alliance remains a group of families dedicated to a common goal: providing people with autism opportunities for full and meaningful lives.