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Melissa Parrish went from teacher to advocate to help autistic children and families

Extraordinary People

She started as a teacher and social worker, but after her son was diagnosed with autism, Melissa Parrish took on a new role. Now, she works tirelessly advocating for autistic children and their families.

Melissa Parish says, “Related to the autism issue, I think the thing that anyone can do is educate themselves.” Parish says it’s her calling to help families living with autism. She works with the Golisano Autism Center as a Family Navigator and advocates on her own time.

Melissa explains, “I want to make sure that individuals in the urban areas have the same access, have the same education, and are able to fully be integrated into the multitude of services that are available in Rochester.”

Melissa knows a lot about autism. Her son, who’s now 20, was diagnosed when he was 3 years old. Melissa tells us, “Our goal as parents is to make sure that our kids get the right education program and that they are able to fully be kids like any other kid. That means participating in camp and recreation programs.”

She says she doesn’t want anything to get in the way when it comes to families and kids getting the support they need. “If it means my taking someone to a camp or to a program in the suburbs because they don’t have a car, I don’t want that to be a barrier to them,” she says.

Melissa goes on to say, “I personally believe that anyone working with our children …the optimal way to service anyone with a disability is a holistic approach. That means to also integrate everyone that’s part of their lives.”

She has advice for parents and caretakers living with autism: “Educate yourself, love your child, get to know your child. The last thing I would say is: you’re part of a community. You’re not alone. There’s a lot of us out there that are living what you’re living.”

If you would like more information on support services available in our area, call the Golisano Autism Center at 585-248-9011 extension 115.

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