Australia's a world away from Milwaukee, but autism brings people together. Never was that driven closer to home than when I met two amazing women from Melbourne, Mandi Herauville and her friend Liz Prountzos, at my neighborhood coffee shop a few days ago. Currently, Mandi and Liz are on a mission to help Liz's daughter, Amelia, an adorable non-verbal 6-year-old with autism, find her voice. Mandi read my blog about RPM and contacted me via Facebook, so we could all get together when they passed through Milwaukee on their way from Chicago to Green Bay, where there's an RPM specialist.
The coffee shop was crowded when I got there, and Amelia stood near the counter, grinning and holding the new books she'd just gotten. She met my eye and watched as her mum and I talked about autism, RPM, Liz's plans for the trip, Mandi's support along the way, Liz's family (her husband and three other children), and the "Go to America with Amelia" journey. It was an inspiring two hours that ended with Liam (my non-verbal 7-year-old with autism) and Amelia hanging out at a local park. We talked about so much in such a short time, but here are some of my favorite parts of this surprising moment of community and connection.
Amelia's First Sentence Using RPM
The first sentence Amelia spelled out, while working with RPM founder Soma Mukhopadhyay, a few years ago blew me away.
She wrote: "I will matter."
(I almost cried into my coffee when Liz told me that.)
The Plan for the Trip
Liz, Mandi, and Amelia are on the road for two weeks. They've been to LA, Chicago, Milwaukee, and are in Green Bay right now, working with a Soma-trained RPM specialist. Amelia's getting one-on-one lessons and Liz is working to learn more about RPM, so she can teach Amelia and other children once they return to Australia. After Green Bay, they're headed to Austin, where Liz will attend a parent training camp with Soma at HALO.
Mandi is Probably the Best Friend Ever
Mandi, a former nurse who now works in the fitness industry, is a great friend. Like a really, really great friend. Not only was she the one to connect me with Liz, but she believes so much in Liz's mission to help Amelia find her voice. Throughout our coffee, Mandi was eager to let Liz and I chat (getting us coffee, hanging out with Amelia, taking pictures), and I wasn't a bit surprised to hear how much she's helped Liz with all the ups and downs of the trip (from Amelia's insomnia and jet lag, to navigating Chicago traffic to find a Whole Foods). Cheers to the best friend who's helping make the journey find Amelia's voice possible!
How the Trip was Funded
Liz, Mandi, and other friends and family raised over $8000 for this trip to America by crowdsourcing and through fundraising events.
Liz and I Have (almost) Matching Tattoos
I almost fell out of my chair when Liz and I realized we both have autism-inspired messages of hope on the same forearm surrounded by birds that represent the rest of the people in our family. I feel like we might be able to build a friendship on this fact alone!
Liam and Amelia Agree: Popcorn is Delicious
As the afternoon wound down, Liam and Amelia sat near each other at the park, happily eating popcorn. Liz, Mandi, and I commented that in a few years it might be possible—using RPM— for the two of them to be having a conversation. I was filled with hope imagining just such a thing.
This Story is Still Being Written...
Just as Liz, Mandi, and Amelia's journey is not done yet, there's a lot more to this story. I'll stay in touch with these new friends, and I can't wait to see how Liz's training with Soma goes, how she implements it with Amelia, and I'm especially excited to hear all that Amelia's got to say. I know it's going to be amazing, and as Liz posted on Facebook after our meeting, I'm also "feeling full hearted... [and I] love RPM connections and how this amazing program is giving our kids the chance to communicate."
Jamie Pacton lives near Lake Michigan where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons, Liam and Eliot. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter @jamiepacton
Images provided by Jamie Pacton, Mandi Herauville, and Liz Pro