From just mom to advocate

Where there were roadblocks, Ellen Garber Bronfeld made opportunities.

Where there were frustrations over feces smeared on her walls and sadness over the loss of a‘normal’ childhood, the Northbrook mom focused on love for a son, Noah, now 20, who can’t tell her he loves her back but gives hugs that let her know his love is there.

Autism has turned the former nurse into a political advocate whose energies are spent forging a path first for her son, but also for those coming on the path behind him. One piece of advice kept her focused: Get involved.

“If you want to have any leverage in the system, this is what gives you leverage,” she says.

Bronfeld wanted inclusion of her son, who she describes as her soulmate, into regular classrooms. Faced with no choices, she found a school on her own to include him. She says she became part of the solution instead of part of the problem. She also helped push for the creation of special needs sports teams in her area and later helped create jobs for Noah and others.

And with a group formed by 23 families called Best Futures, she and other parents are now urging Gov. Rod Blagojevich to close state-funded development centers in favor of funding community-based programs to help more developmentally disabled people who are aging out of the public school systems.

While she knows the sense of loss parents with autistic children know, she also has a cautionary tale.

“… It is beginning to look like the first 20 years of little sleep and lots of really bad days will be followed by much more of the same and maybe even worse.”

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