"Every child is a gift that brings out the best in all of us."

Deborah Smith-Pressley, Chief Executive Office / Founder

Grassroots Group Gives "Hope" to Families Living with Autism

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Reporter's Notebook

by Bill Forry, Managing Editor

(Excerpted from the DORCHESTER REPORTER )
Ten years ago, when Norfolk Street's Deborah and Clayton Pressley were told that their handsome five year-old son Garrett suffers from Autism, the couple felt like they were being handed a "death sentence."

Neither she or her husband, a Boston Police Sergeant with 27 years on the job, had any experience with the increasingly common brain disorder and felt obligated to "knock down doors" to find answers to tough questions that no one seemed ready to give them about their son's future.

Today, Deborah and Clayton know they're far from alone.  In fact, they are leaders in a growing network of families-all with a similar story-who are laboring to make Autism a priority for the state policy makers and educators.

Boston Families for Autism also offers after-school programming for 6 to 12 year-old children at a program based in Roslindale.  Many of the participants come from city neighborhoods, but since the group is the only one of its kind in the Boston area, it is attracting suburbanites as well.  Teachers use yoga, swimming and other activities to help keep autistic kids engaged and active in a safe and supportive environment.

For kids with autism and their caregivers that's not always an easy task.  The condition, which affects boys more than girls, seems to be impacting a larger and larger group of  people nationwide.  There are several different types of autism, all with a wide range of severity.  Some children have a milder disability and, while they exhibit unusual behavior at times, are considered "high performing" and can lead normal lives as adults.  At the other end of the spectrum, some autistic children need around-the-clock supervision and have severe speech and behavioral disabilities.


That was a story that was written about Deborah and Clayton Pressley.  Now, they are the Founders and CEO of The Garrett Pressley Autism Resource Center in Dorchester.  They are still leading the charge in getting national attention about the cause and affects of Autism.  They continue to reach out to families, communities, lawmakers and city councilmen.

 Deborah's  Biography

   Deborah Smith-Pressley holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education from Northeastern University and a Master's degree in Education & Management from Cambridge College. She has additional licenses in Early Childhood, Mental Health Care Advocacy and is certified as an Autism Specialist in the City of Boston. Deborah is also an independent consultant and has written and developed policy on inclusion for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston.

  She has worked for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Department of Workforce Development and now as the  Chief Executive Officer of The Garrett Pressley Autism Resource Center, which is her most passionate assignment as she continues to advocate for her son and many other children and young adults on the autism spectrum.




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