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What the Arc Means to Me
By Jeanna TenBrink
When my two youngest daughters were both diagnosed with autism, life as I knew it changed. It was heartbreaking to find out that two of my children had a condition that I was not familiar. I had no clue how to help them and I was afraid of the unknown. In the beginning I immersed myself into any book I could get my hands on about autism. What caused it? What could I do to fix it? I spent countless hours either reading or googling about autism. I felt isolated, angry and sad. Most of my family and friends couldn’t relate to what our family was going through and I desperately needed someone in my life who understood. When my girls were very young, I found the Arc in Michigan. They were a group of caring moms who were on the same journey I was on. It was an immediate connection that wrapped me with comfort. Not only were they there to guide me to resources, they offered a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. When our family moved to Texas, our girls were entering kindergarten and first grade. Because of my knowledge of the Arc, I knew I had to find the closet Arc in our new area. Before we even touched Texas soil, the Arc of the Gulf Coast spent many hours on the phone with me helping to prepare me for the move. The girls started school and soon after tensions mounted. It was very different in Texas than where we came from and I became frustrated and worried that my girls would regress. Communication with teachers and administrators became very difficult. I needed help! I found hope at the Arc of the Gulf Coast. Their advocates listened, they cared, and they understood. The advocates at the Arc took me under their wing and taught me language I needed to know to help get the educators, administrators and myself on the same page. They taught me the power of a well crafted individualized education plan (IEP) when it focused on the student’s needs rather than their label. I learned that inclusion is an experience that you create, not a place my child goes to and after every meeting I had with them, I left feeling more empowered and ready to work to get my girls what they needed to be successful in school. Because of the Arc of the Gulf Coast, I developed confidence in myself as their advocate and I’m passionate about helping other families on this journey.