Last summer I was asked to speak at the annual fundraiser, Unspoken Angel Golf Invitational. At this event an announcement was made that Seattle Children’s was the recipient of a most generous gift and that Children’s would open and manage the new Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center in Bothell. As a parent of a teen who has but a few years left in the school system, the opening of a center focused on providing lifelong learning was exciting news.

Opened in January of this year, the center with a long name is also affectionately known as “The ABC”, “Alyssa’s Center” and the “Burnett Center”. Last week we had my daughter’s intake meeting there and once again, I found myself feeling very grateful to the people behind this life-changing opportunity.

Today, I share with you the words I had for them last summer.

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Last month at my son’s high school graduation, I was overcome by a flood of emotion. Not surprising you might say; all moms get choked up when they see their young adult child in cap and gown, on the verge of this important life transition. Memories of Justin in his younger years sprang to mind, particularly his absolute refusal to even consider pre-school until the age of four when one day he announced, “Mom, I’m ready for school.” And ready, he certainly was. Just as he now is ready, more than ready, for college.

What caught me off guard that evening was that from where we were seated, we could see a handful of students closer to the stage, supervised by teachers as they sat – then stood, paced – then were shepherded back to their seats. While I didn’t know them by name, I knew them. These were some of the students in the special education classroom that I had just visited a few weeks prior, the classroom where our daughter, Carrie will begin in September.

For you see, as Justin was starting preschool fourteen years ago, his younger sister was diagnosed with severe autism. During those early years I sought out moms whose kids were a bit older, figuring they’d be a few steps ahead of us in navigating this new world of special needs. Carrie’s preschool years were filled with numerous therapies and interventions all aimed at helping her to be more able.

School has been her anchor. Like most kids with autism, she craves routine and needs structure and repetition to learn.  I was encouraged to know that by law she is entitled to continue her education through age 21. That seemed light years away back then.

All too quickly though, she was 15 and teachers began to broach with us the subject of Carrie’s “transition”.  “Transition to what?” I wondered, hoping that someone would share with us a list of options. Not quite.

As too many parents have discovered, there is not much of anything for our young adults after that yellow school bus stops coming. As many parents do, I naively hoped that “someone” would create the opportunities our kids need – whether it’s a school program or a place to live – that someone ahead of us would do it before it’s our child’s turn.

In our case that “someone” has been Barbara and Charlie Burnett. I know for a fact that schools in our district are better, teachers and staff more informed, parent’s voices more respected because of their efforts on behalf of Alyssa. The Burnetts blazed the trail for me and for many parents whose kids have followed.

Within the next decade, more than half a million children with autism will enter adulthood.

With the Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center, Barbara and Charlie have created a desperately-needed service for the ever-growing number of young adults with developmental disabilities in our region.

As I watched the students before me take their turn on stage, it struck me that Carrie would be there soon. The questions that echoed in my brain were:

“Will she be ready?”and “Ready for what?”

I want her to be happy, healthy and to continue to learn and grow her whole life. The same as I want for Justin. The same as all parents want for their children.

I now have renewed hope that my child and many others becoming young adults will have opportunities to enhance their quality of life.

On behalf of their weary parents who can now breathe a collective sigh of relief, I offer a huge thank you to someone – Alyssa’s parents, Barbara and Charlie Burnett.