Today we’d like to introduce you to Donna Lorman.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
In 1996, my son, Drew, had just been diagnosed with autism. I was searching for help and stumbled upon the Autism Society of Greater Orlando. It was in its first year of operating as a non-profit organization and was still small and trying to find its footing. I was asked to become the Vice President and I jumped right in. During those first years, we held one large event, Sea of Dreams at SeaWorld Orlando. After a few years, I became President and the rest they say is history. The Autism Society of Greater Orlando is now in its 25th year serving the needs of the Central Florida Autism Community.
We have grown into the oldest and largest parent autism organization in Central Florida. We host approximately 200 events, activities, trainings, meetings, supports, etc., per year. Our focus has always been supporting the individual with autism, their families, and the community as a whole. We have created programs such as social skills groups for individuals with autism ages 2-35; trainings for law enforcement officers, first responders, hospital staff, businesses, schools, parents, etc.; an Autism Art program that assists young adults who are transitioning out of the school system with no where else to go; family events that offer a safe and supported environment; and awareness events and activities that raise autism awareness and acceptance in our community.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
With any non-profit organization who is dependent on donations and the support of the community, there are always bumps in the road, especially when the economy is down. This past year has been extremely difficult with the covid pandemic and the loss of so many jobs and income. In addition, the need for assistance has greatly increased since the rate of autism is now 1 out of 54 children, up from 1 in 10,000 just twenty years ago. We now have more people reaching out to us for assistance with no increase in funding. Thankfully, we have had reserves that we have been able to tap over the past year so that we could continue to offer supports, services, and events to the families. We anticipate that in 2021, we will be back to some regular programming that will start the donations coming in again.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I am President of the Autism Society of Greater Orlando and as such, it’s my responsibility to anticipate the needs of the autism community and create programs that meet that need. I have created a large amount of programs to date. If I had to pick one specific program that I am most proud of, it would have to be Autism Awareness Training for Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders. This program grew out of the fact that behaviors of those with autism is misunderstood and could be misinterpreted as having a mental illness or on drugs.
At the time, my son was 6’6″ tall and weighed about 250 pounds. I knew that if he came into contact with a law enforcement officer, the chances that the police officer would not only recognize autism but know how to interact with someone with autism would be slim. So, I made it my life’s mission to train officers on how to recognize the characteristics of autism, how to interact with someone with autism, and how to de-escalate a situation so that both the officer and the individual with autism who go home safely. I am proud to say that we have now trained over 38,000 officers representing over 225 different agencies here in Florida and Georgia. My training team consists of my son, Drew, as well as autism father and detective Hector Gonzalez, and his son, Christopher. We travel to any department who would like to receive the training and provide the training free of charge as ASGO underwrites the training to ensure that cost is never a factor in getting the life-saving training. If we can save one life (be that of an individual with autism or that of a law enforcement officer), then our life’s mission will be accomplished.
How do you think about happiness?
I am most happy when I am traveling with my family and friends and enjoying new sites and experiencing new things. While I love my hometown (I am a native Floridian), I have always looked at the world as an opportunity to grow. We love traveling throughout the United States as our country is beautiful and has amazing sites to see. But, we also love to travel to other countries to experience their traditions and their history. We have traveled to the Caribbean, England, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, just to name a few. We bring back a Christmas Ornament from every country that we visit so that we can relive our adventure when we decorate our Christmas tree every year. We have made incredible memories that gets us excited for our next adventure.
- An ASGO family members is $40 per year
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: www.asgo.org
- Instagram: AutismSocietyofGreaterOrlando
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AutismSocietyofGreaterOrlando