After several years of planning, in December 2021, SARRC announced the founding of its first Self-Advocate Advisory Board (SAAB)—a group of individuals on the autism spectrum who will advise SARRC on issues ranging from programmatic efforts to vision, mission and strategic plan.
“In SARRC’s 25-year history, we have emphasized the importance of listening to parents of children with autism, our team members, our board of directors, and our community of supports,” said Daniel Openden, SARRC president and CEO. “Yet we’ve recognized we need to do a better job of listening twice as much to a stakeholder group that is critical to advancing our mission: people with autism.”
The Board is currently comprised of 10 members with varying backgrounds, and ages, and will counsel SARRC leadership on ways to ensure that individuals with autism and their interests are represented on behalf of the autism community.
Kaesha Neil, a biology professor, says, “The Advisory Board is important to me as an autistic individual because I feel like I am being heard and that my thoughts on autism issues and needs are valued by the people who are making decisions about the research and services they provide for autistic people.”
Zoë Tepper, a freshman at Arizona State University, is looking forward to helping make change as a member. “This board means so much to me as an autistic person. I was misdiagnosed multiple times and was told that I was too smart to be autistic. This is an opportunity to create great change in the community and to strive to make other people's experiences better than mine was,” she says.
And for high school student Bodie Bernosky, he hopes his involvement will help pave a path for others who are ramping up to enter the workforce. “For a long time, the autism community has been largely left out of the American workforce. They often find themselves unable to land a suitable job because they are looked at as ‘disadvantaged.’ I hope that by serving on this board I can support others like me to pursue worthwhile and fulfilling careers like I hope to have someday,” he shares.
The group held its first meeting in December and will meet quarterly throughout the year.
“After years of teaching those on the spectrum, we are now learning from autistic adults. And together, we’ll be even better positioned to realize SARRC’s vision of people with autism meaningfully integrated into inclusive communities,” said Openden.
SARRC is thrilled with our new advisory board and cannot wait to see all the positive input and change that comes from this group in 2022. To see our full list of members, visit autismcenter.org/self-advocate-advisory-board.