autism awareness

I will never forget the moment when the physician placed Austin on my chest. His wrinkled forehead, tiny hands, and faint cry. I was a mom, and I brought life into the world. The feeling was surreal. 

But, the feelings of overjoy quickly subsided, and my world would turn upside down and become twisted over and over again as this precious baby started to grow, now I was the mother of a child with special needs. 

As I watched other babies reach their textbook milestones with ease, I continually beat myself up, wondering what I did wrong in my pregnancy to cause Austin’s delays. Lots of tears were shed, until one day I realized Austin had a greater purpose. 

We were told by the “professionals” that Austin would never be able to do this or that; however, being a woman of great faith, I repeatedly said to my husband, “they don’t know our God.” Well, those words would prove especially true as the years passed and as the God of the impossible worked in Austin’s favor. 

Despite challenges and delays, Austin reached his milestones and has continued to this day to overcome any obstacle before him. Easily the apple of everyone’s eye, Austin has proven that his “disabilities” are actually his “capabilities.” 

Austin is now 24 years old; loves to cook, bowl, and go to the movies. He is in his third year of college, auditing classes while learning life and vocational skills in his program. He has flown on an airplane by himself, interned in many job experiences, and developed an eye for capturing life through his own special photographic lens. He is ready to enter the world as an independent adult. There’s just one glitch … 

Like everything, Austin has had to overcome a lot, and he still has one large hurdle to maneuver … lack of noncertified housing for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Significant budget cuts have left parents/caregivers to “think outside the box” and create alternative housing opportunities for their adult children. Available noncertified homes are basically nonexistent in Rochester and throughout NYS, forcing this population of adults to be waitlisted for a residential opening; currently, a 20-year wait list of which Austin has been on six years. 

It became obvious it was time for me to take matters into my own hands. Not only for Austin’s sake but on behalf of individuals with I/DD living in Rochester, NY, seeking independence and looking for solutions. 

In 2017, I founded The Dirt Road Project, a Rochester-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose mission is to empower underserved populations through the creation of sustainable opportunities, including noncertified housing for individuals with I/DD in our community. 

Individuals just like Austin.