What we know today as Autism Tennessee, began more than 25 years ago as a group of moms sitting in waiting rooms while their children were participating in various therapies. These mothers would sit quietly waiting on their child's therapy to end making lists in their heads about groceries, errands, phone calls to make, appointments to schedule and more. During those quiet moments, they would ask other mom's in the waiting room questions like, 'Who do you guys see for dental? It's so hard to find a provider who gets autism."
Building a network of providers, caregivers, and community that gets autism isn't easy now, and it was near impossible 25 years ago. These desperate moms began making lists of reliable speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, pediatricians, neurologists, etc on the backs of envelopes and receipts they found in their purses. As friendships formed while moms waited for hours together in waiting rooms, the began to make comments about how there should be a resource to collect all these autism friendly resources for parents to access. They decided this wasn't a bad idea and got together at kitchen tables typing resources into lists that eventually became the resource database we have today! They didn't stop there, though. These moms were just getting started.
They soon realized families could use some education and information in addition to recommended providers. A monthly newsletter was born. Newsletters connected families to upcoming education, interesting new research, and new providers in the area. As diagnosing autism became more prevalent in the mid 1990's, demand for the newsletter and resources grew. Autism Tennessee became an incorporated not-for-profit support group to try to raise money for the cost of producing the newsletter and expand their efforts to reach more families.
By the late 1990's, Autism Tennessee (known then as Autism Society of Middle Tennessee) had a staff of autism moms working tirelessly to connect families to resources while their own children were at school. Around this time, they realized the need to join together and have some fun! It was time to provide families with autism-friendly social experiences to turn the heartache of isolation to hope for a sense of community. They had a vision to create a space for families to gather with understanding and compassion for the various levels of skills and functioning each person on the autism spectrum uniquely exhibits. Family Fun Events have been an important part of the community efforts of Autism Tennessee ever since!
In the early 2000's, Autism Tennessee found its voice in advocacy. However life changing the work to that point had been for each family served, it was no longer enough to simply be a responsive organization committed to creating a network of support for families, one at a time. Autism Tennessee began speaking up about educational, legal, medical, and governmental injustices for individuals on the autism spectrum. Autism Tennessee began making meaningful changes to policy, regulations, and laws that impact those on the autism spectrum.
Fast-forward to 2020 and you will find that Autism Tennessee still finds its passion in the hearts of autism moms (and dads!!). We have continued to evolve from the days of pens and old envelopes to provide a high quality HELPline staffed by parents who assist each caller with the specific nuances of their situation. When you reach out to the HELPline, you are talking to a parent who gets it because they are in the trenches with you.
One of the most beautiful things about the evolution of Autism Tennessee is seeing and serving the kids of those early moms as they navigate adulthood as a person on the autism spectrum. Autism Tennessee grew up alongside these children and is honored to continue to provide high quality programming for all their adult needs.
Adults on the autism spectrum have worked hard to maximize independence and champion for their right to participant in society in a meaningful way. Often the phrase, "Nothing about us, without us." is used to promote the need for autistic voices at the decision making table. Autism Tennessee takes that concept seriously, having representation among our staff, board of directors, and volunteers.
We are honored to be a trusted friend for families who are navigating their autism journey. We are humbled to be the one door families can open to access all facets of autism support, education, and network development.