SpeakHope: Giving a Voice to Those with Autism

SpeakHope: Giving a Voice to Those with Autism

By Susan Shaw, Platform Client Solutions Executive - Global Business Solutions
Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - 4:05pm


Did you know that it’s believed that one of the founders of AT&T had Asperger syndrome which is an Autism Spectrum Disorder? Amazing to think that a man that may have had difficulty with his own communication, created a communication technology and company that changed our world. When I am not helping AT&T and one of our business customers, I am advocating for my five year old son who was diagnosed with autism.

When my son was diagnosed at the age of two and a half, I went through the necessary period of grief and hopelessness. But then, I decided that my son would recover from this widespread developmental delay, be able to communicate and achieve his highest functioning level possible. I took the AT&T signature that I work with daily and applied it to every aspect of my son’s being - “rethink possible.”           

AT&T is dedicated to making our technology accessible to those with disabilities through our Corporate Accessibility Technology Office. We also have an Employee Resource Group called Individuals with Disabilities Enabling Advocacy Link (IDEAL ERG) that provides an outlet for employees with disabilities and employee advocates to spread awareness, offer support and develop an inclusive culture at AT&T. The IDEAL ERG gave me a support system and I have since established a taskforce within IDEAL that is specifically focused on autism.  We share our successes, challenges and lessons learned. When this group learned of AT&T’s Speak Hope campaign with the Holly Robinson Peete’s HollyRod Foundation, we were renewed with hope and pride for AT&T’s support of those with autism. Speak Hope is a social sharing initiative that drives donations to support the HollyRod Foundation’s Gift of Voice program.  The program offers tablets with specially-designed apps to children with autism; in essence providing them with a voice. 

To convince you of the importance of awareness and technology in the autism community, I would like to share some stories from my fellow AT&T employees who have children with autism.

Michelle Bueno, a Sr. Project Manager in NJ shares how she now gets to “hear” those precious words all parents want to hear because of technology.

Most of you who are reading this have some type of “smart gadget”… you may even be using one to read this. For my family and my son, Justin, who is 18 years old and diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), also known as autism, the development of smartphones and tablets has been a blessing.  For years, Justin only learned in the classroom and his learning was very limited due to his inability to stay focused on any given topic or task for more than 10 seconds.  Now with his smart devices, he can learn and entertain himself for hours.  Most importantly, Justin is able to retain what he learned, as well as share and communicate with his siblings. Recently, he discovered YouTube and started watching his favorite cartoons and music videos, as well as soccer tricks to share with his younger brothers.  Justin is finally able to share something with them and be their “big brother.”  He also uses his gadgets to communicate his feelings with us – something that he was never able to do verbally or voluntarily until he received his first tablet five years ago.  With the tablet, Justin can tell me if he is happy, sad, upset or sorry.  Most of all, I look forward to getting my nightly text messages from the room next door, when Justin says “Good night, Mommy.  I love you.”

Lisa Hodges, a Manager for Planning/Engineering in TX shares how technology has helped her son communicate at home and school.

I have a nine year old, non-verbal son with autism who uses his tablet daily for learning and some communication.  This seems to be his favorite method of connecting with the world around him after many attempts at all different kinds of communication strategies and devices.  He uses his tablet for fun, learning and some communicating.  He takes it to school with him every day to use in his classroom and interact with his teacher.  We hope that technology will continue to expand and provide him with even more and better options to be able to learn and communicate in the future.  Without the necessary funding for speech therapy, accessible technology has been a huge asset for him.

Andy Martin, a Sr. Network Support Manager in AZ shares about his son who sounds like the next blockbuster movie maker.

We had our first child just after I started with AT&T 15 years ago, and when he was two years old, Alex was diagnosed with autism. Alex has always been comfortable with technology, using our computer to play games and type words at a very young age. Today, he uses a tablet with augmented communication software to help express thoughts and feelings he can’t communicate. Alex is able to select words and sentences based on images he recognizes and can relate to and have the device “speak” for him when he’s having trouble finding the words. He also uses his smartphone, webcam, and movie-making software to create videos about his experiences, perceptions, and hobbies, giving us a window into Alex’s head and a way to understand him better.

Donna Morgan, an Account Manager in FL shares how technology can build responsibility.

My son is 20 years old and has autism but my family has opportunities and possibilities because of technology.  Access to information benefits us greatly. Previously, we gained information and support from our geographically-close community but due to technology, today that community is worldwide.  We have found programs and tools that allow us to measure and score my son’s progress.  He is capable of learning and doing and thanks to technology, his family and community is more aware of his capabilities. My fears for his safety and his desire to grow are often contradictory, but technology helps to balance them.  We look forward to self-driving car technology as he observes his younger sister learning to drive and itches to try it himself. Technology has opened doors to possibilities and broadened perspectives. My favorite benefit has been the elimination of limited expectations of what’s possible in all of us.

These stories demonstrate how technology has made it possible for people to communicate with their loved ones. AT&T is not just about staying connected, but about making connections with the world around you. To those with autism and their families, it is an invaluable connection to those you love. I urge you to join us in giving a voice to persons with autism and helping them to rethink possible by supporting the Speak Hope campaign.                 

  • Like, Tweet and Retweet – Engage with the community by Tweeting or retweeting using the hashtag #ATTSpeakHope or “Like” the Speak Hope Facebook page and AT&T will donate $1 to the HollyRod Foundation, up to $25,000, through 6/30/14.  See att.com/speakhope for details.
  • Share the Facebook Sweepstakes – Encourage non-AT&T employees and affiliates to go to the AT&T Speak Hope Facebook page at www.att.com/speakhope to submit their story about how technology has made a positive impact in the life of someone living with autism for a chance to meet Holly Robinson Peete. They can win a VIP experience to attend the HollyRod Foundation’s 16th Annual DesignCare Gala in the lively city of LA – for a good cause! See rules at att.com/speakhope.

AT&T will donate $1 to the HollyRod Foundation for each Facebook “Like” on the Speak Hope Facebook page and for each tweet or retweet that uses the hashtag #ATTSpeakHope between 4/21/14 and 6/30/14, for a minimum donation of $15,000 up to the maximum of $25,000.  See att.com/speakhope for details. No purchase necessary. Open to legal residents of the 50 US who are of majority age. Ends 6/30/14. See rules at att.com/speakhope. Void where prohibited.