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Autism and special needs by the numbers

Allison Ziering Walmark

Last week, armchair numerologists and/or arithmophiles (if that’s even a word) worked themselves into a Dan Brown DaVinci Code frenzy about November 12, 2013. More specifically, the numeric abbreviation 11.12.13, which, by the way, went into overdrive — twice — when the clock struck 08:09:10.

Wendy Williams with Eliza and Ethan Walmark

However, you missed the proverbial forest through the trees, if you think that was the only significant event that day. For my family and thousands of families like mine, two other Nov. 12, 2013 events held particular significance for the autism and special needs communities:

A date to remember

Autism Speaks — an organization we are deeply committed to and grateful for — graciously invited my husband and me to attend the “Autism Speaks to Washington” summit, There was a kick-off event Tuesday evening honoring the Congressional Autism Caucus, where both major political parties were able to put aside their differences long enough to unite for this all-important cause. The actual summit convened on Nov. 12, 2013 at George Washington University in our nation’s capital. (Washington, D.C. for those of you keeping score at home.)

Along with an impressive array of dynamic keynote speakers, presentations unveiled Autism Speaks’ enhanced state and federal advocacy strategy and groundbreaking advances in science and research. Also included were in-depth discussions of the barriers to — and opportunities for — addressing the housing needs of those with autism.

My husband Michael, son Ethan (8), daughter Eliza (6), Ethan’s music accompanist/family friend Tom Crowley and I missed the summit, and instead attended the Bridge to a New Era gala in New York City. (The center of the universe for those of you keeping score at home. Ask any New Yorker.)

We selected the gala for good reasons — Ethan was asked to be the evening’s featured entertainer (singer/keyboard), Eliza was asked to speak about her brother (before the 500-person crowd), and Michael and I were introduced with them both. At the close of Ethan’s two-song performance, he flawlessly introduced the evening’s guest emcee, mother, wife, media mogul, entrepreneur, performer and best-selling author Wendy Williams. Until you meet Wendy Williams in person, you can’t fully appreciate or comprehend just how stunning and gracious she truly is.

Seeing beyond disability

YAI — whose motto is “seeing beyond disability” — is a network of agencies that offer people with intellectual and developmental disabilities a comprehensive range of services across their lifespan. What does YAI do?

  • Helps “different learners” have the fullest life possible through new home and work opportunities
  • Has supervised, supportive and independent residential programs
  • Works with individuals and families to create a positive future
  • Helps individuals living at home develop skills for independent living
  • Prepares adults to participate in their communities through personal development in activities of volunteering, daily living and social skills
  • Provides a comprehensive array of medical and dental services that supports whole-life health and well-being
  • Helps children, adults and families build relationships through recreation and socialization programs, parent groups, respite and crisis intervention
  • Offers employment evaluation, training, placement and support that transforms individual interests and strengths into rewarding work
  • Service coordination, information and referral
  • Provides throughout New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens), Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey and Rockland County and the Hudson Valley Region

You can contact YAI at 212-273-6182 or 866-2-YAI-LINK (toll-free), or email them at

Nov. 12, 2013 (at 8:09:10 a.m. or p.m. of course) is a date that should hold a special place in history, but not because of chronology. Nov. 12, 2013 should be best remembered as the day two noteworthy organizations in two different American cities made — and continue to make — the betterment of, and advocacy for, people with special needs their number one priority. That’s the most impressive and important number of all.

Image credit: Allison Ziering Walmark

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