It is time I introduce our son, Sam Wessels, the presidential campaign crusader, to the rest of the world. He is nine years old, about to begin the fourth grade and becoming a very fine advocate. I am beyond proud of that boy! HE ROCKS OUR WORLD EVERY SINGLE DAY! Oh, by the way, Sam has autism. He was diagnosed at two.
Sam and I have made a point of visiting with our country’s representatives since very shortly after his diagnosis. When we were told that Sam had autism, we were also virtually left on own to figure it out. A daunting task, to say the least. It did not take us long to see that if it was to be, it was up to us to reach out and affect change. So, one person at a time, one law-maker at a time, one crowd at a time, one corner of the world at a time, we try to change some hearts and minds on behalf of all families and individuals living with autism.
With the upcoming 2012 election just around the corner, it was time for us to once again hit the campaign trail here in Iowa. We had some grand successes back in the 2008 presidential election arena; thus, we thought we’d try our luck again. (Autism Action Coalition Presidential Letters)
We started with Governor Tim Pawlenty of MN for no other reason aside from proximity and accessibility that happened to work with our own availability. No worries folks, we will give them all, including the president, equal face time, if at all possible. You have our word. We don’t choose sides nor play favorites; our message and mission are far too important to leave any behind!
First, allow me to clarify that Sam read his questions to the governor from a previously prepared and practiced script. The primary question was born in the course of a discussion thread between myself and friends on Facebook pertaining to Sam questioning his respite group friends about their own diagnosis.
Having said all of that, the following is a transcript of the Q and A between Sam and Governor Pawlenty. You can also view the video on FaceBook.
Governor Tim Pawlenty meets Sam Wessels
by Lin Wessels on Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 7:30pm
Sam: "My name is Sam Wessels ."
Mom: "Loud please."
Sam: "I am nine years old. I live in Rock Rapids, Iowa, with my mom and dad. Actually I have two questions. I hope that is okay."
Governor Pawlenty: "Yes. It is."
Sam: "First question, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Mom: "Louder") now says that one in six American Children has a learning disability. Mine is autism. What is yours?"
Gov Pawlenty: "What is my learning disability?"
Sam: " Yeah."
Laughter from the crowd.
Mom: "What...let, let him continue. Go ahead. Keep...."
Gov Pawlenty: "Okay, go ahead."
Sam: "The reason why I am asking is because my mom and I have been asking (Mom: "Louder Sam") our country's law makers, including President Obama, for help for all of the hundreds of thousands of families struggling out here for more than seven years and we are still waiting for answers. My second question is on behalf of all of those with autism, would you please accept a gift? It is from the movie the...movie we, we are part of. The movie is called, 'The United States of Autism'. It is a documentary of families living with autism from all across our great nation. Thank you."
Gov Pawlenty: "Thank you for sharing that. Thank you, Sam. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. I'll be delighted to receive that if you want to give it to me. I appreciate it. "
Mom: "Do you want to take that up to him?
Sam: "Take what up to him? Oh, this?"
Mom, "Um, hm."
Gov Pawlenty: "That's very well done. Thank you, Sam. You're wonderful. Thank you very much."
Man in crowd: "Good job."
I must say the governor was a very good sport about the widely intentional put-you-on-the-spot remarks. As well he should be. He was also very gracious in offering me the opportunity to take center stage and expand. Although you would maybe expect presidential contenders to readily confer, they more often do not, than do. They don’t like to give up precious mic time nor the spotlight to anyone. At least that has been my experience. Occasionally, we are pleasantly surprised.
The first impression I wanted to leave with not only the governor, but also the crowd, was that many, if not the best part, of individuals with autism do not function at the same level in which Sam is able to. It saddens me deeply to have to say that; but as it is true, I absolutely must! To not would be a gross misrepresentation to the entirety of the spectrum.
From there I informed the listeners that the predominance of those with autism, some 1.7 million of them, at present are children. Children who are now beginning to age out of their systems and into adulthood. Children who have never paid into Social Security but who will most likely be reliant on Social Security Disability. We are all brutally aware of the current state of affairs within the social security system itself. We have a calamitous crisis people! We are in a world of hurt, plain and simple.
We further discussed the various reasons behind the differences in functionality of individuals with autism. We touched on the inconsistency of services across the nation as well as within the individual states themselves. We went back to Sam’s original comment of one in six children currently owning a leaning disability at a time when schools are both underfunded and ill-equipped to serve them. I reiterated how we have been at this, approaching our reps for several years, to no avail. I wanted Governor Pawlenty and everyone in that room to understand that beyond a shadow of a doubt, not only has this problem not been addressed, it has GROWN, by leaps and bounds. To my astonishment, the governor agreed. We also discussed the differences in functionality being a direct result of level of damage to the brain and nervous system. It’s time we face facts. It’s time for real research in real time!
It was quite an enlightening experience, always is. I hope the governor, his staff and the attendees got as much out of it as we did. I hope our family can continue to inform audiences and politicians all across America, from our little corner of the world. How about you? Join us? We have the numbers. They can’t avoid us if only we keep reaching out to them.
To order your owns shirts from the movie “The United States of Autism” follow this link: http://usofautism.com/2011/united-states-of-autism-official-t-shirts-now-available/ We appreciate all of the support our community can afford us. Our sincerest thanks to you!
And, stand up and be counted!
Mark, Lin and Sam Wessels live in a small rural community in NW Iowa, where Sam attends public school and his mom works as a licensed paraeducator. His dad works full time as well. He is their stability not only financially, but in most every aspect of their lives together. They have learned to take nothing for granted and to always expect the unexpected. Together, they crusade for all of those living with autism, everywhere.