Randa Habelrih is the mother of a child with very high needs who founded the MATES program and Model MATES and is on a mission to encourage genuine inclusion for families and people with autism.

Randa was told her son Richard would never walk or talk as he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Successful mother Randa believes it’s not enough to be aware of autism; it’s now time to be more proactive and work towards empowering people with the disorder as valued members of the community.

Richard has inspired the trajectory of his family’s life and others alike as he has made a positive impact. “Autism Mates started as a response to my son’s suffering. He has autism, and after enduring another day of bullying at school I made a video, appealing to his peers to be compassionate – we can’t cure autism, but we can cure unkindness,” she said. “My video made a far greater impact than I expected, it won first prize in the Nova Focus on Ability Short Film Festival. My video received a global response from other families who have experienced bullying because of autism, too,” she said.

This positive reaction and circulation was the beginning of the immensely meaningful project of Austin Mates that Randa and her son share. “We want to create a kinder world for people with autism. Adding other events to give young people with autism the stage at Autism and Me conferences – no experts, just kids telling their stories, has been powerful and visceral,” she said.

Having achieved this success, this enables Randa to be more available to Richard where she can work at night if it’s needed. “I’ve been able to work around Richard’s needs. As much as he is thriving and achieving wonderful things, as a child of special needs, he still requires the same input from me as a six-year-old child,” she concluded.

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