On a typical morning in Maria Winn’s home, you can hear her periodically ask Brant, her 8-year-old son, “What’s next?” as he packs his lunchbox and backpack for school. Brant was diagnosed with autism when he was 5 years old, and she supervises the daily routine while encouraging him to be self-sufficient.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Autism Acceptance Month in April promotes acceptance of people on the spectrum and ignites positive change toward their inclusion. According to autism speaks, autism affects an estimated 1 in 44 children in the United States. Including Brant.
Winn doesn’t allow the diagnosis to limit Brant’s capabilities, she uses it to advocate for him and other people on the autism spectrum. “I focus on where my son can thrive instead of what he can’t do,” said Winn who is a lead business specialist at Unum. “My mindset had to switch. I became more aware of sensory overstimulation that affected my son when I realized he was on the spectrum.”
For parents like Winn, their professional and personal lives often overlap. For example, during the workday, Winn calls the day program Brant attends to see if he is having a tough day. If so, she may need to leave the office to pick him up. With an opportunity for hybrid work, this helps Winn take care of Brant at home and bring her whole self to work – no matter where she is working from.
“The hybrid work environment at Unum helps facilitate my schedule as a mother because it provides me more flexibility to be able to take care of Brant,” said Winn.
In addition, Winn took advantage of Unum’s Employee Assistance Program to find a daycare that specializes in taking care of children with special needs. She also found counseling to help Brant and her navigate life’s tough moments.
Winn also made connections on the job. She notes Unum’s Employee Networks like enABLE, a network that promotes a more inclusive community for people with disabilities, helped her find shared resources and a listening ear.
“We identified there was a subset of us that had children with school Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and 504 Plans, and we created a group called The Village. We take opportunities to chat, support each other and provide resources and guidance that help us make the best decisions for our loved ones,’ said Winn.
This support can be invaluable to people who have loved ones on the autism spectrum. “I would encourage everyone to find parents with differently abled kids and be their friend. This will help you understand how that child has helped them become a better worker and person,” said Winn. “One thing I know is that Brant has taught me to focus on what someone can do rather than what they can’t do. That’s a lesson we all need to learn.”