As the calendar year turns over, many of us take time to reflect on the past year, think about our journey of self-discovery, and set intentions for the year to come. As we approach our 26th year at AANE, I am also reflecting on AANE’s past year and all we’ve accomplished, how we have evolved as an organization, and the future we will be creating as we develop our 3-year strategic plan in the coming months. Today I would like to share with you some of the highlights from the past year and our hopes for 2022.
AANE is its people. When I think of all that AANE has achieved, I am tremendously grateful for the AANE staff, board, volunteers, and donors – all of the work we do is fueled by their dedication, expertise, and generosity in support of our mission: to help individuals with Asperger’s and similar autism spectrum and neurodiverse profiles build meaningful, connected lives.
Our community is growing. In 2021, we had over a million new visitors to the AANE website and a 70% increase in new people contacting us. Our community now includes all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, and over 80 countries around the world. In 2022, we will be upgrading our website to make it easier for users to find the information and resources they are looking for.
AANE helps people feel like they belong. Many adults and families reach out because they feel isolated. Often we are the first place they’ve turned to where they see themselves represented. Whether it’s a grandparent’s group, neurodiverse partners coaching, or parents of transgender or nonbinary teens or adults, they can find others who are going through similar experiences. In 2022, we intend to expand the ways in which both new and long standing community members can connect with each other and share resources to improve daily life and feel less alone.
AANE is a hybrid organization. While some of our programs had been offered online prior to 2020, we rapidly shifted all of our support groups, events, and training online in response to the pandemic. We’ve seen authentic connections occur in virtual spaces where individuals can bring their concerns and challenges, and celebrate successes. In 2022, as we can safely return to providing in-person options, we will continue to offer virtual programming for our expanded online community.
Diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) needs to permeate all we do. AANE has always lived its values of respect for and inclusion of neurodiversity by having autistic adults in governance and staff positions since our founding. Yet we have more work to do on racial and ethnic diversity, equity, and inclusion within our board, staff, and community. In 2022, our new DEI specialist and our active DEI committee, which was formed in 2020, will continue to guide our listening, learning, growth, and action as we improve our organization as well as our outreach to communities and other autism organizations.
AANE values lived experience. Autistic adults tell us how transformative it can be to have neurodiverse group leaders. We know it is essential and powerful for autistic voices to lead. In 2022, we will continue to build our capacity to have even more autistic adults facilitate groups for other autistic adults. We are also thrilled to develop and pilot a new neurodiverse adults peer mentoring program.
AANE understands the importance of intersectionality. AANE offers groups and programming that address the unique needs of people who identify as autistic and hold other identities central to their sense of self (e.g. Women, LGBTQIA+). In 2022, AANE will expand offerings for these populations so that we can offer a place where a person’s whole self is acknowledged and welcomed.
AANE is a center of excellence. We have 3 training institutes that have expanded and deepened the expertise of professionals working with the autism community: Neurology Matters for therapists working with neurodiverse partners, AsperCoach for life coaches and other professionals working with autistic teens and adults, and an Educator Institute for Massachusetts educators working with students on the autism spectrum. In 2022, we will continue to find ways to support and train professionals so our community members can access a skilled support network.
AANE innovatively responds to unmet needs. Even with all the progress we’ve made through the years, there is still a myriad of unmet needs: under- and unemployment, increased and more complex mental health challenges compounded by a dearth of mental health providers with expertise in autism, inequity in autism identification and resources in underserved communities, a lack of state and federal supports, and more. Through our strategic planning process, which will take place over the next few months and includes community input, we will decide and prioritize how AANE can best use our deep Asperger/autism expertise to be a catalyst for positive change.
I hope you’ll consider joining one of our upcoming Executive Director chats so I can hear your hopes for AANE in the future. The next session is on January 25th. Wishing you all a healthy, meaningful, and connected 2022.