By Kodey Toney
The Eastern Oklahoma Regional Leadership Conference was held Saturday, and it was great. We had several presenters, along with parents and professionals from throughout the area on hand to discuss issues in the world of developmental disabilities.
I was honored to be the opening speaker because I knew the conference was going to be informative, but I didn't know for sure what I was going to talk about. I jotted down some ideas ahead of time and on Saturday morning I gave it my best. What I wanted to get across was the importance of working together, and sometimes alone if you have to, to increase awareness and available resources in our area of the state.
I'll share a little of what I said with you now.
"I am a writer and advocate, but
first and foremost I try to be a good father.
"I have boys, Konner who and Kruz.
At age 3 Konner was diagnosed with autism.
"I was a journalist and enjoy research, so I began doing as much research as I could. I read books, surfed the internet, and looked for any resources I could so I could find out as much as I could to help my child get the best life he could have.
"What I found at first is that there are not that many resources in our area. But, as I did more research I actually found that the resources for the state are out there if you know where to look. That was the problem though. Not many people knew where to look, or even what they were looking for.
"My wife Jennifer and I joined a local parent group called Parents of Autism. That helped to vent, but I found out that many of these families didn’t know about the services that they could receive.
"I decided to do what I could to help educate this area, so about three years ago I contacted a friend of mine who was the editor of the Local newspaper and told her about my idea for a column. She was happy to do it. That grew into three other publications and several online sites.
But I didn’t want to stop there. So another friend, Konner’s speech therapist at the time, told me about the Partners in Policymaking program. I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about autism.
This program taught me about so much more than just autism. It taught me about advocating for all disabilities, networking, and basically just helping others.
"I came out of there thinking that I could conquer the world, or at least the disability world. In fact I got in trouble a little the first time I went in to advocate for a family at an IEP meeting.
"I recently spoke to a group of teachers here in Sallisaw, and psychology class here on the CASC campus. I have been talking to the student body each April about autism awareness. I go to any conference I can in the state to learn what is out there, network, and share that information. I want to talk to anyone who will listen.
"I’m currently working on a non-profit organization to establish a resource center in this area of the state to partner with people like the Oklahoma Family Network, NAMI, ODDC, and the Oklahoma Autism Network etc., so that we can work together to help the families around here receive the best possible care.
"You see acceptance is the most important aspect of coping with disabilities. If we can get the communities to accept us then we will have won a huge battle.
"Everyone in this room should be applauded for giving up your time to be here. We do all of these things because we see a need, and we know we have to spread awareness.
"Again, I will do anything I can to spread awareness and more importantly acceptance about not just autism, but all developmental disabilities.
"I challenge you to do the same thing."
I want to challenge all tht are reading this to do the same.