When was the last time a governor of New Jersey spent an entire morning in direct dialogue with the best professional minds, the most dedicated parents and the leaders of organizations for the autism community in New Jersey? Having attended, the answer for me is easy: today, April 19th, 2012. Governor Chris Christie and his gracious wife Mary Pat hosted a breakfast reception at Drumthwacket in Princeton. The press conference that followed saw the Governor announcing that his administration will support people with developmental disabilities to “be productive, earn a living and feel a sense of personal fulfillment” through the “Employment First” initiative. New Jersey will become the 14th state to adopt this program, which embraces a philosophy, implemented through policies, programs and services, to proactively promote competitive employment in the general workforce for people with any type of disability. The progressive-minded Commissioners of Human Services, Health and Senior Services and Children and Families also attended; their accessibility and sense of mission was most welcome.
Getting back to the breakfast with the Governor and First Lady, the tremendous respect that they demonstrated to the autism community was nothing short of exhilarating. The invitations themselves were proof that the administration had listened and heard our message. But then the Governor and Mary Pat took nearly two hours to validate their commitment, to thank those present for teaching them so much about autism, to promise better services through departmental reform and to engage the audience in a question and answer session with sincerity and charm. The Governor gave deserved credit to his staff and his appointees. He noted his campaign promises and how that campaign began his knowledge and interest in the autism community; he visited Child Centered Therapeutics in Warren early in his term and re-toured the Somerset Hills Learning Center last Tuesday. He told how he has spoken with parents, self-advocates, and the professionals who know their clients’ needs. As a terrific parent advocate in the audience said, “We know that you GET IT.”
Autism New Jersey is mindful of the part we continue to play in effective and responsive government policies concerning autism. We are a conduit to the systems that affect almost every facet of our children’s future, a structure for transporting ideas and innovation. Many parents of my generation benefitted from the work of pioneering advocates and brilliant professionals. Don’t you want to be the wellspring of informed advocacy feeding our conduit? Autism New Jersey needs your membership to continue its advocacy, to continue to advise and teach the leaders of our state government what matters to the autism community. Government can’t do everything. But it sure helps when it’s on your side. Thanks, Governor Christie and Mary Pat, for today.