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4 Questions with Lorri Unumb, VP of State Government Affairs, Autism Speaks

2014-11-25



Ryan Kisses Lorri

In the month of November, We-Care.com is paying special tribute to Autism Speaks, an organization with a goal to change the future for all who struggle with autism spectrum disorders. They strive to raise public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society: and they work to bring hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder. If you have not yet chosen a cause to support with your shopping, we invite you to consider supporting November’s Cause of the Month!

1. How long have you worked with Autism Speaks. What drew you to Autism Speaks and what has kept you excited all these years?

I have worked with Autism Speaks for 6 years. I was hired after I worked, on a volunteer basis, to pass an autism insurance law in South Carolina (which is named Ryan’s Law after my son with autism). Autism Speaks contacted me in 2008 and asked if I would work full-time trying to replicate Ryan’s Law in all 50 states. That’s what I’ve been working on for the last 6 years, and it’s such a thrill that 37 states now require health insurance to cover autism. I consider it a blessing to be able to do for a career what I would do for free if I could, and I am thankful to Autism Speaks for making that possible.

2. What are the biggest challenges facing someone with autism today?

The biggest challenge depends so much on the individual with autism – their age, the amount of support they need, where they live. For many individuals with autism, finding employment that matches their skills is a burden. For others, finding acceptance is a big challenge. For my son, trying to express his basic wants and needs is a daily challenge.

3. What has been or would be the most influential public policy for people with autism?

Well, I’m obviously biased, but I think the laws we have passed that enable people with autism to afford the treatments they are prescribed by their doctors is the most influential! I know for my family and many others in our situation, those laws have been life-changing. They allow families to give their children with autism the best opportunity to succeed without going bankrupt in the process.

4. Do you feel there is adequate awareness around the issues of autism? If not, what is the most important point to get across to a general public?

Autism awareness has improved dramatically in the last decade, and much of that increased awareness is due to the concerted efforts made by Autism Speaks. We still need to work to educate even more people, though – policymakers, first responders, doctors, lawyers, teachers, grocery store workers – everyone!! As a mother of a non-verbal teenager with autism, I still face stares and snide comments, and they still hurt. I don’t get personally offended, because I assume the person just isn’t familiar with autism, but I long for a world where everyone understands and accepts individuals with autism.

TCX

Lorri Shealy Unumb, J.D. Vice President, State Government Affairs, Autism Speaks
Lorri Shealy Unumb is a lawyer, professor, and the mother of three children – Ryan (13), who has autism; Christopher (10); and Jonathan (7). In 2005, she wrote ground-breaking autism insurance legislation for South Carolina (“Ryan’s Law”) that passed in 2007 and served as the catalyst for the national movement toward autism insurance reform. You can follow her on Twitter, @lunumb.

Dylan Nord works with nonprofits to maximize fundraising through We-Care.com. Working with partners like the ASPCA, the National Autism Association, Save the Children, and Clean Water Action, Dylan has helped supporters raise over $4.6 million dollars through We-Care.com. Dylan believes that small deeds can add up, that we all have a responsibility to do good, and that technology is creating collaboration that will change the world. Dylan holds a Bachelor of Arts from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.