Nearly 25 years ago, Anna and her husband, Albert, were overwhelmed when their 3-year-old son, Lawerence, was diagnosed with autism. At that time, there were little-to-no resources for him. Eventually, they found a therapist based in Southern California, that they would fly up every three months for therapy. Eventually, word spread through the Chinese American community of what the Wangs were doing, and many parents who also had chidlren with special needs started to learn from Anna and her family. Five families with children with autism met regularly together to discuss how to access care, therapy, and education for their children. “For the longest time, these parents had hidden their kids,” says Anna. “People in the Chinese community like to say, ‘My kid got into Harvard or Stanford,’ but no one says, ‘My kid has a disability.’” These meetings ultimately was the foundation for the formation of Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN) in 1996.
FCSN offers after-school programs and summer camp for children. It has also become a service vendor for the East Bay and San Andreas Regional Centers, which allows FCSN to provide full-time day services and Supported Living Services to adults with special needs, too. Other programs include weekly family support gatherings and advocacy training for parents on topics such as Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for their children. FCSN has grown to serve over 1,000 individuals and their families across Alameda and Santa Clara counties. Anna is instrumental in projects providing housing, advocacy, training, employment and recreation. She also co-founded the Autism Parents Task Force, is a board member of Kaiser Permanente’s Autism Research Program. Her most recent accomplishment is the formation of the Dream Achievers Band, an ensemble of young musicians with autism that has performed nationally and internationally, and became the ambassadors of hope for the special needs community.
Today, their son who is in his late 20s, sings, dances, and plays five different instruments in the “Dream Achievers,” a band comprising FCSN youth with autism. “Your life may not turn out the way you planned,” says Anna, a former electrical engineer. “But I’m living a much fuller life because of FCSN.”