August 28, 2017
President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
RE: Hurricane Harvey & the Autism Community
Dear President Trump:
We thank you all for what you do every day to help run our country. We know it is a huge job and people don’t often return with thanks. We are grateful that you listen to your people beyond the beltway.
Last year, when you came to Louisiana to survey damage from our historic flooding here in Baton Rouge, I met you at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church. I spoke with Vice President Pence for several minutes to discuss our very specific concerns regarding the unique disaster rescue and recovery needs of our special needs populations – whether they are children or adults with autism or individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Louisiana’s Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser was with you that day and has come to know us as well.
Our families living with autism were repeatedly turned away, or ejected, from shelters due to adverse behaviors exhibited by their children. One of the largest shelters told me personally, “We do not take people like that.” They were living in cars and sheds because it was more manageable than trying to care for their children living with autism in a large congregational setting. This put the children directly in harm’s way but alternatives were scarce.
Unlocking Autism stepped out in faith, raised money, found our families, and helped them find stabilized shelter. Then, we cared for them until they were back on their feet. We learned valuable lessons that your administration may need in the recovery efforts. Here is a video to explain our families stories.
I appeal to you to help provide our autism community in Texas with top down direction for simple steps that will improve their recovery efforts. The need is massive. Each Congressional district impacted could have as many as 3200 children under the age of 21 with autism, which leaves a huge number of our people, at least 64,000 families, in an even more difficult situation.
This may 15 times what we witnessed with our families in South Louisiana. Our organization will not be able to handle it alone, but we stand ready to help hold their hands.
Congregational shelters, whether open to anyone or segregated for special medical needs, are incredibly difficult for our specific population to navigate. Families already suffering from PTSD stress levels and no sleep are further traumatized at times like this making wandering and other adverse behaviors worse and more dangerous. No one likes congregational shelters, but they are overwhelmingly difficult for our families and for other shelter residents.
This is a problem that can be easily solved, but requires a partnership with leadership and groups familiar with this unique circumstance. Enclosed are some suggested steps that could be taken, and if these can be achieved, our group will make every effort to disseminate appropriate information to TX and LA residents, and collaborating autism NGOs, to help with the recovery process.
On Friday, August 25th, this information was sent to the Texas Congressional delegation, the Governor of Texas, the Louisiana Secretary of Department of Child & Family Services (who helped us so much last year) and my Congressman – Congressman Garret Graves (LA-6) – to try to get ahead of the storm. Last year, Congressman Graves and his wife came to my house to learn more about how we were helping our special families. He invited me to attend a dinner with several Congressmen, including Congressman Brian Babin (TX-36) – whose district is now impacted by Harvey – so that everyone could learn of our experiences and no community would forget the least of these when, not if, this happened again.
Last year was apparently a dress rehearsal.
We will always encourage our families to seek shelter with other family members or friends first wherever natural support are available. This request is specifically designed for those families who have no other alternatives and we can help shelters establish screening protocols to prevent people who would have other resources available to them from taking advantage of a hotel stay that another family would need.
Unlocking Autism has worked with hundreds of families across the country living with autism over the last 12 years through the rescue/recovery process following natural disasters since Hurricane Katrina sounded the alarm for us. Our immediate hope, and primary concern, is to help our families get out of harm’s way so they don’t have to live in their vehicles or sheds in their backyard until their homes can be repaired like our families had to do here last year.
Here are some things the government can do to help our families living with autism – quickly.
I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. While we didn’t know when we met you and Vice President Pence last year that this storm would bear down on our country, God did. He prepared us for such a time as this. Bad things happen in this broken world, but He positions people to be able to safeguard against them and take care of His children.
Please do not let our people with autism fall through the cracks of recovery efforts. He has given us an opportunity to learn from the mistakes on such a wide scale way that it hopefully this become part of the permanent protocol. With one in 68 children diagnosed, it must be.
God has also given our country the opportunity to truly be our brother’s keeper. Apathy is as bad as hate and it is hard to understand this level of devastation without experiencing it personally. Racial division and socio-economic disparity dissolve in flood waters which equalize everything and everyone. Help this country hold onto the love and compassion they feel right now and turn in repentance to both God and their fellow man.
Thank you for your consideration and for everything you do every day to lead us and protect us.
We stand ready.