My name is Jessica Brown and I am the Executive Director of All 4 Autism and the mother of a child with autism.

In April, we opened up the Autism Resource Center of the Pee Dee, the first and only in our region, to fill the huge void for services and support for families affected by autism in our community. Autism affects 1 in 68 people in the United States. In our local school district, there are 321 students diagnosed with Autism. The need is substantial, and our organization provides the support services and resources families so desperately need. We are grassroots, and we do not receive federal funding. All of our services are free.

I was asked recently to share our family's story. In 18 years of working in the nonprofit sector, I have spoken hundreds of times. However, I have never spoken publicly about our personal journey with Autism, and wasn't sure if I could do it. After a lot of thought and prayer, I decided I would tell our story through a letter I wrote to my son a few months back:

Dear Jack, All I ever wanted was to be a momma. You made that dream come true for me on August 28th, 2003. From the moment I saw you, I was deeply, head-over-heels in love with you. By nature, I am a planner. I like to know what’s happening and what to expect. I had big plans for you, too. You were my whole world and I dreamed of all that you would do and accomplish. When you were diagnosed with Autism at age three, I had to accept that something much bigger than us would determine your path, no matter how much I had planned. Your diagnosis came at a time when Autism wasn’t as understood or talked about, especially in the area where we lived. I was terrified and unsure of what to do or how to help you. We spent our savings that first year getting you every therapy and intervention we could get our hands on. The road was tough, lonely, and I questioned every decision that I made for you. We were denied coverage for your services, so we sold our home, I left the children’s shop I had opened a year before, and we set out on a journey that would change the course of our lives. You were blessed to spend your elementary school years at Briggs where you were accepted, nurtured and loved. The middle school years are tough for anybody, and we will continue to pray that you will find your way. I know the last year has brought many changes for our family. You were my inspiration to leave the safety of a secure job with Habitat for Humanity and take the huge leap of faith to join All 4 Autism. Thank you for giving up your playroom for our first make-shift office. I was so proud of how you and Sammy stepped up and helped with Max when I was spending long hours at the office, often working 7 days a week. On April 25th, we opened the Autism Resource Center of the Pee Dee--the first and only in our region. I made a promise to you years ago that if I ever had the opportunity, I would open a place where families like ours could receive the support and resources they needed. The autism journey can be very lonely and often exhausting, and we want to give our local ASD Families a soft place to land, an ear to listen, and a hand to hold. I see you, Jack. I see how hard you try, and how much you want to connect. The strides you have made, the challenges you have overcome, and the impact you have had on our family is a true testament to God’s unfailing love and grace. I’ve told you a million times how much I love you, but I also want you to know this:

1. You are more than your autism. God made you in his image, and that makes you perfectly made. Autism is a part of who you are, but doesn’t define you.

2. You are worthy. God will put people in your path that appreciate and value your friendship. You have so much to offer, and someone isn’t doing you a favor by being your friend. Friendship is a privilege.

3. We love you just the way you are. It takes courage to be yourself. Continue to follow the beat of your own drum. Embrace the spectrum and the gifts that come with autism that make you unique. Don’t allow others to dim your light. Seek out and surround yourself with secure, honorable people that value and accept the differences in all God’s creatures.

4. Most importantly, we are proud of you. While your peers were in play groups and joining soccer teams or bonding at summer camp, you were spending countless hours in ABA, OT, speech and various other therapies. It broke my heart to see you miss out on the typical childhood experiences that we take for granted.

I have watched you overcome more obstacles in the first ten years of your life than most of us see in a lifetime. For that reason, you are my hero. I pray that you will keep God close and seek purpose for your life. I pray that by sharing your story we will help spread awareness and promote acceptance so that this world may be a little nicer for those with disabilities.

All my love, Momma