Guest Submission by Teri Sasseville
The first time I met Newt Gingrich, I thought I was going to throw up on his shoes. Literally! I had just run a 5K road race much faster than I should have and I was bent over at the waist, breathing hard and looking at my feet when I realized that the other pair of shoes in striking distance belonged to my grinning Congressman who had also bent over to look me in the eye! My friend Margie was campaigning with Newt at the finish line and they both risked their shoes so he could shake my hand and ask for my vote.
I had been a Newt supporter for years and would have enjoyed the visit, if not for the overwhelming pain that rendered me nauseous and mute. I just nodded. Little did I know at that miserable moment, the impact that Newt Gingrich would one day have on my family.
Flash forward a few years. I’m no longer running road races, I’m running to catch my four year old daughter who has no sense of danger. I just can’t figure out why she seems bent on running into traffic and has such odd, quirky little habits. And why isn’t she talking like the other kids her age? After all, she can already read and write! The teachers say that she’s not socializing at pre-school. What’s going on here?
We went looking for answers from a Developmental Psychologist on a beautiful October day. The doctor asked me if I’d ever seen a movie called “Rain Man?” We came out of her office to learn that the stock market had crashed that afternoon while we were receiving a diagnosis of autism.
The word “autism” didn’t really change anything. It was simply a roadmap that gave us a direction in our quest for helpful strategies. We continued to have high expectations for our daughter. But we understood that she had different pathways of learning and communication. We just had to figure out how to put the pieces together.
Life with autism was not easy. We dealt with some pretty difficult social situations and onlookers often scowled in our direction, obviously judging us to be bad parents.
She still delighted everyone with her quirkiness. We poured our effort into helping her learn appropriate social skills and self-control so she could make friends and get along in the world. She worked very hard and thrived in inclusive classes with typical peers. She made great strides in all areas of development.
As my own daughter made progress, I wanted to reach out to other families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorders. So I got involved with my local chapter of the Autism Society of America (ASA).
As an advocate, I learned quickly that Newt Gingrich had always been a leading voice for people with disabilities. He championed The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and was one of the original sponsors of The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). On the fifth anniversary of theADA, he established a National Task Force on Disabilities and a local Task Force to coordinate advocacy at the grassroots level. When he became Speaker of the House, Newt made time to meet with ASA National leaders during the critical “first 100 days” as he was working to pass the “Contract withAmerica.”
When I called on Newt Gingrich to help raise funds for a local autism foundation he generously agreed and gave of his time to deliver speeches at three annual educational conferences to benefit the foundation, in 1994, ’95, and ’96.
The scheduling was tight for the 1994 event. But true to his word, Newt Gingrich kept his commitment to our kids. On the morning after he was sworn in as Speaker of the House of Representatives he flew in to speak at the fundraiser. In 1995, he delivered his famous “Renewing America” speech at our fundraiser before he delivered it in an address to the nation.
Newt Gingrich’s participation in those three conferences raised more than $500,000 for autism research and support. That seed money has grown and continues to provide assistance to families and individuals with autism all over theUnited States. Newt didn’t just “talk the talk” he followed through, kept his commitments and got things done for people with autism!
Those of us who have followed Newt Gingrich’s career are not surprised to see him include autism, Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders on the priority list that is his 21st Century Contract withAmerica. He has made a commitment to invest in research to advance medical innovation that will improve quality of life and reduce the astronomical amounts theUS spends treating these disorders. The Alzheimer’s Association believes that by merely delaying the onset for five years, between $5 and $10 trillion could be saved in the next four decades.
RecentlyAmericagot a rare glimpse of the compassionate side of Newt Gingrich when he became visibly emotional discussing his late mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Again, we are not surprised. Newt has been a caring friend, reaching out to help families dealing with disabilities for his entire career! He has always kept his commitments to people with disabilities. And he wants to do even more…
Contact Newt 2012 to join the Autism Advocates with Newt Coalition!