Director's message: Three important words

October 10, 2018

Image with caption: Karoly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D.

Karoly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D.

On Oct. 6, Munroe-Meyer Institute Director Karoly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D., accepted the Autism Action Partnership's "Help Is Hope" Award at the organization's annual fund-raising banquet. Below is his acceptance speech:

Thank you very much for this award.

I am deeply honored, but I feel that there are others equally or more deserving to stand in front of you today. I stand on the shoulder of giants. I get credit for the work of many visionaries, including Gail Werner Robertson and Dr. Bruce Buehler. Bruce is no longer with us physically, yet his vision and raspy voice will always guide us in our endeavors.

This is an amazing community, and Autism Action Partnership is an amazing organization. The cornerstone of AAP is that it deeply and passionately cares for individuals on the autism spectrum, and embodies what we should aspire to as a society.

I deeply believe that we can judge the humanity of any society by its willingness to take care of individuals who are different, who do not have a strong voice, and who are not powerful. If this statement is valid we must ask -- are we doing well or are we failing this test as a society?

I would like to spend a few minutes talking about three words, which are critical for the future for the AAP-MMI joint endeavors: awareness, acceptance and opportunities. They are interconnected and are the key for the future of individuals on the autism spectrum. Awareness leads to acceptance. Acceptance leads to opportunities. This should be a logical progression in our evolving society.

I believe that we are making good progress in the first step, raising awareness. Acceptance -- not so much!

Societies set a behavioral codex established by neurotypical individuals. I see too often that the community will accept individuals on the spectrum, but only as long as they behave according to the rules of typical individuals! If something is atypical, the majority of organizations will judge the atypical individual based on their (written and unwritten) rules of expected behavior, without considering the value of the individual on a spectrum to that particular community. Does this make sense to you?

Acceptance is not true acceptance if it is limited, if we accept only one mold, one set of specific rules. Consequently, if there is no real acceptance, opportunities will always remain extremely limited for individuals on the spectrum.

The word "opportunities" has many different meanings for the individuals with autism and their families: independent living, integration into the community, meaningful employment, being involved in fun activities, and inclusive health care across the lifespan -- and much more. Today, few individuals on the spectrum have these opportunities, but we are diligently working to change this.

The newly envisioned MMI will provide exceptional health care on for individuals on a spectrum, expand the available services, establish new treatment modalities and focus on providing care over the lifespan. Due to the generous support of the community, we will be able to do this is our state of the art, transformational facility of 220,000 square feet which will open in July of 2020. Furthermore, we are committed to partner with AAP to create a framework that will provide training and meaningful job opportunities for the population on the spectrum.

Changing the minds and hearts of the society is hard, and it is painfully slow. Nevertheless, we are on the right track. Together we are an unstoppable force, each with a critical role. In the long-term, I am confident that we will achieve our goals, we will further expand the meaning of the word "opportunities", and the struggle for awareness and acceptance will be left behind in a distant memory.

Thank you for this incredible honor, your support, and the incredible work you do.

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H. Sommer
October 15, 2018 at 11:26 AM

Congratulations. I love your words here, as there is absolute truth in it all. Thank you for your hard work and all the hard work of everyone at MMI.