Friday, September 2, 2016

Dreaming Big

by Anna Hundley, ATC Executive Director
Over my many years of serving as Executive Director of the Autism Treatment Center, many people have asked me to describe a typical day at ATC. My response is the same – the typical day at ATC is definitely not typical. We recently had one of those typical, not typical days. Let me share with you.

Several of the teenagers in our residential program attend public school. This means that for eight hours out of the day, they are under the supervision and direct support of other dedicated professionals and community partners who contribute to the individual’s success. It also means that just like any parent who has children away at school all day, you never know what situations they can get into.

Well, at the end of the school day, these individuals got on the bus to come back to ATC. So far, this is a typical day. Then, one of the students said he needed to use the bathroom before the bus took off. He was allowed off the bus and told to return quickly. This is where the not typical day really starts.

The individual did go to the bathroom but didn’t return to the bus. Security cameras show him exiting the school and walking in the opposite direction. As soon as it was obvious to the bus driver he hadn’t returned, ATC was called and made aware one of our individuals was unsupervised. The school officials assumed he was lost and assured ATC he would be quickly located.

I got the phone call in the middle of an Executive Management meeting of the board of directors where every agenda item was of extraordinary significance. Still, I told the board this situation was more important and I drove to the individual’s house hoping to find him walking home. For the next several hours, ATC staff, local police, school district staff from the safety patrol, and several district volunteers looked for the young man. Finally, a phone call came in that he had been positively identified and was on his way back home. I was relieved he had been found safe and was out of harm’s way.

But then I learned he had been found at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport - almost 30 miles away – attempting to purchase a ticket. I told the police officer he had the wrong individual and I wouldn’t believe it until I saw him. Well, he was correct and had the right person.

The young man is nonverbal so piecing together this puzzle might forever remain a mystery. But since then, I’ve been reminded just how clever and resourceful some of our students can be. Without any money, he was able to get to the DART station and take the blue line to downtown Dallas. Then, he was able to transfer to the red line and take the train to DFW. I’m still convinced that had he not been identified, he would have found a way to get to his original destination – Sydney, Australia.

Believe me, this is a terrifying incident and ATC has already taken appropriate measures to work more closely with our community partners about the wandering tendencies of individuals with autism. And now that the young man is back under our direct care and supervision, I can take a step back and find the humor in this.

I share this story with you for two reasons. First, to give a very concrete example of how ATC’s programs and services are supported by several community partners – school districts, our first responders, and dedicated individuals in our community who look out for our individuals. We could not do this important work on our own. Second, to bring awareness to the fact that while autism can affect the ability of an individual with autism to communicate, it doesn’t mean they don’t dream big. The Autism Treatment Center provides the support for individuals to appropriately harness their interests and talents that build their independence through our life-changing programs.

You can help us continue to make these programs and services available by contributing to our Center. September 22nd is North Texas Giving Day, an online giving event for people across the nation (and the world!) to come together to raise as much money as possible for North Texas nonprofits on one day. In seven years, North Texas Giving Day has pumped $119 million into the North Texas community. In 2015, $33 million was raised through more than 118,000 gifts benefiting 2,020 nonprofits.

Not only will each donation to ATC of $25 or above be matched until a challenge grant of $5,000 has been met, bonus funds will be added to your donation. In the next three weeks, I hope to earn your contribution by highlighting the children and adults with autism whose lives are changed by your generosity.

Learn more at

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