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By Karen Krejcha
It was about six years ago in 2008 that my husband and I held each other in the back of Journey Church in Camas, WA. Our youngest son at age 2 had just been diagnosed with autism. Over the previous months, we had watched his development regress. He had stopped speaking, started grunting and spun in circles without ever losing his balance.
We were newcomers to the church and the community. When the first few notes of Amazing Grace began, we stood in the back, voices trembling. We weeped, overwhelmed by emotion and the unfamiliar path ahead. Although we didn’t know where we were headed, we were comforted with the thought that God had led us to “Journey” church for a reason.
About a month later, a little shy of 9, our older son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. My Asperger’s diagnosis would come a couple years later, although by then, I had done so much research that diagnosis was more of a formality than a surprise. That left my husband as the only family member not on the autism spectrum. (We’re gradually converting him to “our side”.)
On January 16th, 2010, I began blogging at Aspierations – Come As You Are, Let Your Light Shine. The tag line was “Written by an Aspie Mom with two kiddos on the spectrum, this blog promotes acceptance and empowerment for those on the autism spectrum, those with Asperger’s Syndrome and the family and friends who love them.”
That year I blogged 143 times at Aspierations. It was therapeutic, my own form of counseling. My husband also blogged and it was helpful for him as well. It was part of our journey.
Yet we were soon called to do more… much more in fact. We changed churches in 2009 to LifePoint in Vancouver and had come to a point in our life when we wanted to help other families like ours. We looked for an active local organization that was positively working in our community to provide individual and family support for children, teens and adults on the autism spectrum but the groups we did find were either pretty inactive, too far away or not a good fit.
Also, there was something else, something much bigger. Even though I had never grown up going to church and thought I was quite comfortable living a life of relative introverted isolation, I was being called to serve on a much grander scale… Not just Vancouver, not just the Northwest, not just the United States… but worldwide.
I’ve never been a big fan of the telephone but when God calls, you don’t let it go to voicemail. He always seems to find a way to get through.
We started out volunteering part-time and it quickly turned into full-time hours. Along the way, we stepped outside of our comfort zone, developed new relationships and watched our children get involved in the community and make friends. We also made a powerful observation.
As we would offer various programs, services and special events, children, teens and adults on the autism spectrum thrived when they would volunteer. Instead of being a person who “takes” services or goes to therapy, they were now experiencing a joy and peace that comes through selfless giving to others.
We each have the potential to make this world a better place!
At Autism Empowerment, we have launched a new program called Autism Serves. It is an innovative and empowering program that allows children, teens and adults on the autism spectrum to give back to their community in inspiring and positive ways through local service projects for various groups, schools, business and nonprofits.
Autism Serves teaches life skills, social skills, job skills and provides opportunities for bonding and inclusion in our community. The program also provides rewards for volunteer hours in 3 categories: individuals on the spectrum, family members and friends of those on the spectrum and individuals who want to volunteer with Autism Empowerment.
Who is this program for?
Individuals of all ages and abilities on the autism spectrum. Individuals of all ages and abilities who want to support those on the autism spectrum.
Autism Serves Vision
The vision of the Autism Serves program is to promote unity within and beyond the Autism Community by creating a program that is built on giving back and working together. We are piloting this program locally with the vision of a national and worldwide expansion.
We have built a number of positive relationships with local nonprofits and are always looking for additional nonprofits, local groups and businesses to partner with.
What does an Autism Serves volunteer look like? It looks like YOU! Interested in getting involved or learning more?Please visit us on our website at: AutismEmpowerment.org and click on Programs: Autism Serves or Get Involved: Volunteer.
**Karen Krejcha is Executive Director of Autism Empowerment. She is host of Autism Empowerment Radio, a national podcast which features educational and inspirational programming. Karen was published as an Aspie Mentor in “Been There, Done That, Try This, An Aspie’s Guide to Life on Earth” (2014), was co-author of the “Autism and Scouting Leadership Training Kit” (2013) and had a story in “Chicken Soup for the Soul – 101 Inspirational Stories for Parents of Children with Autism and Asperger’s” (2013). She was awarded with the 2012 GRASP (Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership) Distinguished Spectrumite Medal and was also honored as a 2013 Washington state Jefferson Award winner for public service.
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With a network of affiliates across the United States, the Autism Society is the nation’s leading grassroots autism organization. Their mission is to increase public awareness about the day-to-day issues faced by people on the spectrum, advocate for appropriate services for individuals across the lifespan, and provide the latest information regarding treatment, education, research and advocacy. Contact and join a local affiliate and get involved! To find the affiliate nearest to you, click on your state below.