A Sandy Hook Initiative for Safer Schools

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 10.23.19 PMWe are an autism family.  We will always be.  Our daughter’s short life on earth was a journey for our family—a journey through autism into faith, hope, and compassion.  Through Joey, we learned to look at the world differently, hold onto each other tightly, and love each other fiercely.  Although her journey through autism came to a tragic end on December 14, 2012, we are committed to sharing with others all that she taught us.  In her honor, we share our experiences and support other families on this journey through autism and work to keep ALL students safe in school.

Supporting Children and Families with Autism

Joey’s Fund is one way that we aim to support families and children living with autism.  We created Joey’s Fund in honor of our daughter’s generous and compassionate spirit.  While living with autism, our family relied on the support of many other families—some with autism and special needs children, and many on a more “typical” family journey.  Providing direct support for other families with autism is our way of giving back in Joey’s name and thanking the many people that supported us during Joey’s life and after her tragic death.  We chose the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism as the home for our daughter’s fund.  The Flutie family continues their journey through autism and supports many others along the way.  We are proud that Joey’s Fund is a part of their mission to serve some of the most amazing people in the world:  autistic children, adults, and families.  We are honored to remain a part of the autism community in this way.

Autism and School Safety

Our autistic children––with all of their gifts and challenges––are some of the most precious and vulnerable members of our communities.  Most parents find that sending their child off to school alone for the first time is a great challenge.  Imagine how it feels for the parents of an autistic child.  Like many children living with autism, our daughter could not speak for herself and could not communicate her needs without the help of caring adults and peers.  Our autistic children face all of the childhood challenges and dangers of their typical peers—and exponentially more, because of their autism.

We relied on a well-educated and highly trained school staff to keep our daughter safe on a day-to-day basis; but, it was up to us to ensure that her unique safety needs were provided for while she was in school.  Her physical safety on the playground, in the classroom, and in the cafeteria required constant supervision. Like many autistic children, she loved to wander, was attracted to water, and had complex dietary requirements.  Her social-emotional well-being depended upon the facilitation skills of the staff.  She needed trained, caring professionals to help her play and interact with her peers in order to develop relationships and friendships and help her communicate her ideas, needs, and wants.

And let’s not forget her peers. Joey was young and lucky enough to enjoy true friendships with many of her classmates. Friends like Emilie, Jessica, James (and too many others to name!) were the highlight of her school days. There are no words to express the gift that Joey’s friends were to her and the family that loved and protected her in this life. Yet even her exceptional peers needed a great deal of support to understand and safely play with Joey. The safety of her beloved friends required the support of an attentive and caring school community.

Not a day goes by that our family doesn’t think about Joey.  We consider ourselves blessed for the time we had with her and on our journey through autism.  We know we are blessed to have her inspiring us in our missions: Joey’s Fund and Safe and Sound Schools, working to improve the lives and safety of precious people like her.

Michele Gay, Executive Director, Safe and Sound Schools
Photo credit:  Cynthia McIntyre Photography