PORTSMOUTH, Va. - A Portsmouth woman is taking action, speaking up for families who have loved ones on the autism spectrum.
Cheryl Wilson has created a petition, addressed to Gov. Ralph Northam, advocating for more support and resources for families like hers.
Wilson describes her bond with her daughter, Shaquena Mullen, as “unbreakable.”
“The bond is strong,” Wilson told News 3. “Her situation, I’m just passionate about it. It breaks my heart.”
For 30 years, Wilson has taken care of Shaquena, who has autism.
“It’s a lot,” she said. “[Sometimes] I just sit and cry because I just feel like there’s not enough help, especially after they graduate high school.”
“It breaks my heart just to see my daughter just have nothing to do every day,” she added.
Wilson’s petition, as of last Friday, has gained more than 1,200 signatures in Hampton Roads.
“I want to make a difference for the autism community, especially for the adults,” Wilson said.
Wilson said she’s advocating for an adult learning center in Hampton Roads, more speech and behavioral therapy opportunities for adults and training for doctors and law enforcement officers, as children transition into adulthood.
“The level of autism that Shaquena has, she needs the same service that she was receiving when she was in school,” Wilson said. “She needs it all the way through her lifespan.”
Nicole Miller, chapter operations manager with the Tidewater Autism Society, told News 3 their group regularly works with families and lawmakers to push for more help and support services.
“We are definitely maybe one of the lower states of availability,” Miller added. “We definitely want to make sure that we have access to support and services in those adult years.”
For Miller, inclusion is power.
“We can’t just have one voice at the table - you need many,” Miller said. “The important thing is to have them as fully-included members of the community, and they do that by being fully supported themselves.”