Goodbye 2020 (for reals!) and Hello 2021

by Lisa Ackerman

So just how does someone summarize 2020? I am glad it is almost gone, grateful for the lessons, very much looking forward to the new year. I am also extremely hopeful.

First, I need to applaud this team of staff and volunteers. COVID-19 has affected every human and organization across the world. At TACA, the challenges were enormous, but we didn’t miss a beat. Over one weekend in March, we translated all of our programmings to virtual. I am very proud of this team facing many hurtles with flare. Their dedication and sacrifices are so appreciated.

TACA continues to fulfill the needs of a community that is seeking hope, help, and support for their children – pandemic or not. We are officially a 20-year-old foundation. That is a huge milestone.

Before I update more about TACA, let’s start with an update on my inspiration. Every year I have shared a window into my son Jeff’s journey. Inspiring, heartwarming, motivating, uplifting; none of these words are powerful enough to express the impact this young man has on my family.

Jeff is now a 23-year-old man who continues in making plans for his future. Let me tell you that the future is bright. He is in his fourth year of college and due to changing his major a couple of times and this pandemic has a bit more in the credit department to go before he graduates. His college experience went from living in the dorm 4-5 nights a week to being back home full-time mid-March and distance learning due to COVID-19. He truly misses his friends and the college life experience especially live music and concerts. Despite these challenges, his bright shiny positive attitude is leading the way.  He is leading his friends in 2 to 3 times a month online game nights with Zoom and Jack box online games with lots of laughs. He is checking in via Facetime and texts regularly to stay connected.

Jeff continues to “ace” his finals and in each class achieved “A” level work. To say we are proud of him is the understatement of the year.

For fun, Jeff continues music lessons in piano and guitar. He’s committed to regular exercise and helping me in the kitchen making gluten and dairy-free creations. We have expanded his recipe repertoire significantly during this phase of life.

I feel like I say the same thing every year, and at the risk of being redundant I’m going to say it again: Jeff continues to show more growth and maturity in managing stress, COVID-19 roadblocks and independently developing new skills.

Jeff has come so far since his autism diagnosis and original prognosis (1). The most important lesson that I’ve learned: Individuals with an autism diagnosis can have a positive future and are worth every effort to help them achieve that goal. Team TACA’s wish is that every person diagnosed with autism can be fulfilled, happy, and successful while living as independently as possible.

So back to TACA.  Now I get to brag more about TACA and how this incredible team of volunteers and staff works hard to provide education, support, and empowerment to families living with autism. Here are partial TACA program highlights from 2020:

  • Nearly 70 new and updated articles on the website
  • Articles and interviews featuring COVID-19 related tools and resources for families
  • Over 2.1 million website views (that is up 800,000 views from 2019!)
  • Over 12,000 members in our online support group Hope & Help with thousands of questions answered (membership has grown almost 30% over 2019.)
  • Our first virtual conference was attended by over 2,400 people across the U.S.  (am almost 70% increase over 2019 attendance.)
  • Over 8,000 attendees for our Coffee Talks, Virtual Chapter Meetings, and Webinars (an almost 20% increase over 2019.)
  • Over 350,000 Social Media followers across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
  • New activity: Facebook Live presentations of over 11,000 “Live” views and almost 100,000 watches post 
  • Increased support needs from the families we serve

This list is only a small portion of what TACA has accomplished in 2020. We will be publishing a full report early in 2021. TACA made these incredible accomplishments with 35% fewer funds from 2019. We had to modify, adjust, and pivot to do more with less.

How COVID hurts families living with autism is emerging as a larger issue than with typical children. The challenges are more daunting. We are grateful for the collaboration with the OC Register in highlighting some TACA families and the struggles they face (2). TACA will continue to rise to meet these challenges and find innovative ways to help families.

I know I have said thank you in general, but I have some specific shout-outs for the TACA staff. Thank you to Carolyn, Leigh, Di, Moira, Cindy, Nicole, Kelly, Sim, Kiele, Susan, Heather, Michelle, Tara, Ace, April, Melanie, Lea and Jessica. Thank you to the best Board who serve, guide, and fundraise to help make it all happen (Glen, Dan, Elizabeth, Robby, Keith, Erich, Kim, and Inna.) Also on the team is our great ambassadors and committees working to help our mission – thank you! Team TACA is the best!

A special, heartfelt thank you to our 60 INCREDIBLE Volunteer Chapter Coordinators leading chapters in their areas across the country and our 347 Parent Mentors who serve selflessly. You are core to our mission of Families Helping Families and ensure that our programs reach many in local communities. TACA would be lost without this incredibly dedicated team of volunteers living with and navigating autism in their own homes all the while paying it forward to help others.

We have two other incredible groups that help us move autism forward and that includes TACA’s Ambassadors and Physician Advisory Team. They support TACA in their professional circles and talk about autism regularly. These friends have made invaluable contributions to help champion the mission with webinars, conference lectures, donated appointments, donations, and their valuable time.

To our over 2,000 supporters: thank you for investing in TACA. Thank you for standing with us. The bottom line is TACA does NOT exist without these generous people. Many of these folks are staying with us for years caring, cheering TACA families on, anxious to hear about new treatment research, and hoping for the best outcomes for their children.

And to TACA Families: We are so proud of you! Keep doing what you are doing. If you need help or want a refresher course, TACA is here for you. We believe in your kids. We see you working hard and all of us at TACA are proud of you! I hope you get an opportunity to check out our 9th Annual TACA Celebrations Campaign where we celebrate our kids’ accomplishments over the last year. You can see these on our national Facebook page at this link: https://www.facebook.com/TheAutismCommunityInAction/. These stories are beyond inspiring.

Despite my hopes and wishes for each new year, autism is STILL the least funded disability in America with more individuals diagnosed than any other childhood disability (3). The most recent CDC-funded survey now reports 1 in 54 U.S. children have been diagnosed with autism (4). TACA is also defining the autism plan needed during this year’s presidential election (5). TACA continues to find ways to acquire help and provide our programs every year with little funding. We are always looking for more help with our mission. We are asking the families we serve to please share this blog with someone who can donate to help TACA assist more families living with autism.

In closing, the hope I have for my son and all our children remains –together, we will work towards the future and create positive outcomes for all. Together we can be the autism community in action for the families who need us, especially with COVID-19. 

Let me be one of the first to wish you a Happy, safe, and HEALTHY New Year!  Truly hoping this challenging phase concludes soon. TACA families continue to meet these challenges head-on and do what they can with what they have.

All my best for 2021 & beyond,

Lisa Ackerman

TACA Executive Director & Co-founder, Mom to Jeff & Lauren, grandma to Will and wife to Glen

P.S. We need additional support for TACA’s mission and programs. If you have a friend that would like to make a gift for “Actions Make Change” campaign in your family’s honor, please help https://tacanow.org/year-end

References:

  1. Some past blogs on our personal journey:

https://tacanowblog.com/2013/05/16/just-because-they-dont-speak-doesnt-mean-they-dont-understand/

https://tacanowblog.com/2013/05/01/genetically-modified-organisms/

https://tacanowblog.com/2013/02/14/uncles-should-be-fun/

https://tacanowblog.com/2013/02/07/leading-with-anger/

https://tacanowblog.com/2012/04/20/oakley-one-icon-magazine-features-taca/

https://tacanowblog.com/2011/09/12/anniversaries/

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