A Farewell from Dania Jekel

Dania Jekel, Executive Director
Blog Post

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The first speaker at our very first conference in 1995, before there was even an official AANE, was a parent who told the story of something that had happened just the day before. His nine year-old son had become frustrated and angry at school, and had kicked the shin of a teacher. The police were called and the boy had been hauled away to the police station. Several hours passed before they finally located his parents and the father could reach him. When he did, he found his son traumatized, in a fetal position on the floor of a bare cell. It was this heartbreaking story and others like it that made it clear there was a need for an organization to address the lack of understanding about Asperger’s, and provide information and resources. That was the birth of AANE.

I have been lucky enough to have been a part of AANE’s journey: from its founding when it was a single desk in a shared office through its growth and development into a national organization. As this is my last newsletter before my retirement at the end of this month, I want to say how grateful I am for the relationships I have formed with our community members over the years, and I wish to acknowledge and thank the people who have helped build AANE into the organization it is today.

My biggest thank you goes to the autistic adults in this community for patiently teaching me all I know about life on the autism spectrum. For 25 years, you have given me insights only you could provide. I not only appreciate your unique traits, but have grown to prize them. I have also tried to better understand the significant struggles you sometimes face to fit into a world designed for the neurotypical. It was always my desire to be respectful of your needs–whether for friendship, someone who could listen, or someone to provide support and understanding, and I hope I have fulfilled that intention.

Through the years, I have seen families and professionals work tirelessly to provide the help and support autistic individuals have needed. I thank you for your trust in and partnership with AANE, and I hope we have been able to provide you with information and community you have needed on your journey. For some families, I feel privileged to have seen your children become adults, and watching their growth — whether it’s small victories or major accomplishments — has been an incredible joy.

There are too many of you to mention by name, but each community partner, volunteer, board and committee member did their part to strengthen AANE. I want to thank everyone for their efforts large and small to help build the organization. You provided the expertise and the necessary monetary support so that we could grow and meet the expanding needs of those in our community.

And lastly, I want to thank the past and current staff. I feel that the quality of service reflects wholly on the quality of the staff. I have found AANE’s staff to be passionate about our mission and compassionate listeners — for those in crisis and for those who just needed understanding, community, or information. Whether working directly with the public or keeping the organization running behind the scenes, I have deeply appreciated your dedication and willingness to go the extra mile.

When I think back to that devastating story the father related at the first conference, I hope times have changed, and most schools, educators, and professionals understand autism and know how to prevent and respond to anxiety. I firmly believe that the recognition of the Asperger profile 25 years ago began the broader understanding of the variations of how people innately perceive and process information. By defining the profile and then moving toward accepting these differences rather than changing them, it opened the door to an expanded understanding for all kinds of neurodiversity and how much this variation enhances our world. I hope AANE has been a part of that positive change, though I know there is still much work to do. I feel secure that my successor, Brenda Dater, who I have worked closely with for 14 years, will be an excellent Executive Director with the ability to continue to further this understanding while moving AANE forward into the future.

As some of you know, I’m expecting my first grandchild any day. My daughter lives in Cincinnati, so I will be visiting the midwest to welcome the baby and offer help if needed. When I return, I plan to pursue my hobby as a fiber artist.

I will, of course, miss all of you. I wish you health, happiness, and all the best for the future.