The Albany Chapter of the Autism Society of America awarded Mary Ann Allen, the executive director of Wildwood Programs in Guilderland, its first Community Impact Award.
This award is given to an individual who has made a substantial impact in the lives of individuals affected by autism. According to the society, Allen has been at the forefront in developing individualized and innovative programs for people with autism and is dedicated to advocating for autistic individuals.
Wildwood provides support and services to children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Cindy Herrmann, a member of the Autism Society's board of directors, said the award was created this year to honor an individual who has made an impact on the lives of people with autism.
We thought it would be a nice thing to recognize someone in the community who goes above and beyond for autism, said Herrmann.
Allen said when she heard she had received the award she was stunned.
"I have no idea how I even hit their radar screen," she said. "I'm really not doing anything more than any other parent is doing in walking this journey with a child with autism."
Allen has a 20-year-old autistic son, who is non-verbal and has significant cognitive challenges.
In her time at Wildwood, Allen has collaborated with other organizations and government and community programs, advocating for the local autism community.
A lawyer by trade, Allen said she began serving as a volunteer at Wildwood when her son was enrolled in kindergarten. She served on committees and boards, and eventually, when the previous director retired, she was asked to take his place " an offer she initially declined.
Eventually, she agreed because she said she wanted to have the ability to build up the lifelong support someone like her son will need at Wildwood while she still has the energy. Allen has been the executive director for more than five years.