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“On behalf of every man
Looking out for every girl
You are the guide and the weight of the world
So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughter will love like you do…”

-Daughters by John Mayer

Last night I had the privilege of speaking at the Greater Boston Autism Speaks Walk Kick Off Party. I have to admit that I was a little nervous, in part because anybody who had been to the Event a few years ago would remember Jess’ absolutely amazing, ovation-inducing keynote speech. I was asked how my worlds as a runner, a father and a person touched by autism interconnected. What follows is a video of my speech (thank you Jess for recording it), a transcript of the speech, and a few “thank you’s”. You can tell my public speaking skills are a little rusty (I hadn’t given a speech since my PTO President days), but I think I got my point across.

Good Evening.

Some of you may know me through my wife’s blog, A Diary of a Mom, as Luau.

I am a father of two beautiful girls, one of whom has autism.

I am also a believer that awareness is the key to understanding which in turn leads to acceptance – I firmly believe that if I can sit down with anyone and talk with them about autism and how it affects my little girl’s interactions with the world, I can erase one more disapproving face, one more thoughtless comment, one more snicker from the world – as parents, these are things we have all experienced at the playground or the grocery store or the mall.

Those “know-it-all” parents who look at you and say, “I would never let my child do that”. – They are a big part of why I do what I do.

But what is it that I do?

Well, I run.

And I write about running.

And you’re right – that should have nothing to do with autism; but as I am sure many of you know, when you have a child with autism, it becomes a part of everything you do.

When I write about running, I often find myself drawing parallels to the challenges, the trials & tribulations, and of course the victories of living with a child who has autism. As my audience has grown, so has the number of men and women who have now developed a sense of compassion for our families. I hope that as time goes by, more people like me, specifically dads who just aren’t sure how to make an impact, will find their own voice, their own way of contributing to the conversation, whether it be through running, talking to other parents while coaching Little League, or sitting around a poker table – ultimately raising awareness.

Now don’t get me wrong. Awareness, understanding and acceptance are not the goals – they are the vital first steps on the journey toward the goals. This is one of the many reasons why I work so hard to raise funds for Autism Speaks.

Autism Speaks understands that there isn’t just one solution to the challenges faced every day by people with autism and those who love them. And so while Autism Speaks works hard to raise awareness, they are also tirelessly working to unravel the mysteries of this epidemic using a reasoned, scientific approach, pushing for good, solid science to eventually answer the myriad and endless questions we have.

As men we are wired to “fix” things. As fathers we are wired to protect our children. This is our nature. But autism is neither something that can be fixed nor something we can protect our children from – instead it is messy, complicated, hard, frustrating. And so as fathers we lose faith in ourselves.

But I am here to tell you tonight, no matter how lost you may feel, no matter how overwhelmed by the process you may be, there IS a way that you can help, there IS a way that you can make an impact, not only for your child but for all of our children.

You walk. And as you talk to your friends sitting around the poker table, to the parents at the little league game, and to your co-workers about why you are walking, I bet you get to see judgement replaced by compassion and ignorance with understanding.

The first time I ran the Boston Marathon, my wife handed my an Autism Speaks pin to wear during the race. Her message was that if our little girl could fight each and every day to interact with the world around her, then dammit, I could drag my butt up Heartbreak Hill even with my legs failing me. And when they did – I put my right hand over my heart where I was wearing the pin – I made it past Heartbreak Hill and finished with a Personal Record of nearly 25 minutes.

I now wear this pin to every road race I participate in. This simple token does two things:

  1. It gives me strength when my legs start to tire.
  2. It starts a conversation and helps me pull more people into my community of understanding.

I run, I write, I talk, and I walk for Autism Speaks because to quote one of my newest heroes, Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer, Geri Dawson, I want “A world in which suffering because of autism no longer exists.”

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Dawson speak about the latest scientific breakthroughs and ongoing research initiatives that are being funded by events like this. During her talk she gave me something I had been struggling to find in the preceding weeks. We were having a particularly hard time and had let our fears for our baby’s future grab hold of us. But on the night that Dr. Dawson spoke, she gave me, us, the gift of hope.

The hope that “A world in which suffering because of autism no longer exists.” is possible.

“A world in which suffering because of autism no longer exists”

That is not only Autism Speaks’ mission statement, but also mine – not just for the sake of this dad’s little girl, but for all of our loved ones who live with autism every day.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for listening. Thank you for helping to make the world a better place for my little girl.

***

I would like to thank Jess for helping me turn my crude rough draft into a polished piece; Kelley Borer for inviting me to speak (I was convinced she was asking the wrong member of our family at first); Autism Speaks for helping make the future brighter; Randy Price for continuing to be a fixture at every Kick Off event and walk; and last but certainly not least the amazing people of the Teamsters Local 25, who have raised nearly $1,000,000.00 for Autism Speaks – Sean, Trish and Tom, you are Heroes in my book.

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