SARRC’s Family Services Specialist Janet Kirwan, RN, has always had a passion for helping families on their journeys with autism. Initially, it was her own experience as a mother of a child with autism that empowered her to get involved. Kirwan experienced success using applied behavior analysis with her son, William, so she formed an autism support group to assist other families in need. It was there that Kirwan connected with another mom seeking answers, SARRC’s Co-founder Denise Resnik.
Through this new, promising connection, Kirwan joined SARRC in 1997, the same year the organization was established. At that time, there were just a handful of staff members, limited resources and an overwhelming need for answers. Kirwan knew it was a top priority to help families meet the needs of their children with autism, so she immediately began her outreach efforts. Her can-do spirit and strong work ethic even led her to serve as the interim executive director of SARRC. Through all of SARRC’s advancements and growth during her tenure, one thing has remained constant— Kirwan has continued to be a beacon of hope for families facing autism.
During her 22-year tenure at SARRC, she has helped improve the lives of families impacted by autism in numerous ways. By conversing with families daily, she recognized a common area of need and developed SARRC’s flagship program, JumpStart® in 2002. The program evolved dramatically over the years, but the intent has remained the same – to guide families on the right path and help them navigate the complex world of autism
Recognizing that not every family is able to participate in JumpStart, she meets with families personally who just received an autism diagnosis and don’t know where to turn. She gives them a crash course in autism and covers their next steps in just a couple hours. Her personal outreach efforts evolved into SARRC’s Family Orientation program (formally New Parent Orientation), which is still accessible to families on a monthly basis.
As our research department grew to include pharmaceutical and genetic studies, Kirwan also became SARRC’s study nurse, collecting blood samples from people with autism of all ages. The procedure is unpleasant for most, but it is critically important for the research studies. Janet knows how to get it done in a way that the child (and the parent) feel cared for and supported.
Over the past two decades, she has taken more than 20,000 phone calls, educated more than 2,500 families through JumpStart and another 3,500 families through Parent Orientation classes, and has collected blood from more than 2,000 research participants.
Kirwan has played an extraordinary role in SARRC’s growth, and our community will be forever grateful for her invaluable contributions. It is a bittersweet farewell, but we wish her the very best in her retirement years and extend our heartfelt gratitude for her years of service.