Meet Alex and the Bear Named for Him
Keeping acceptance and inclusion going in Alex Eldreth’s name
Published: April 5, 2022 by: Carla Koss
Among Autism Delaware’s planned activities to celebrate autism acceptance and inclusion month in April is the statewide introduction of Alex, the Autism Delaware bear. As a symbol, this teddy bear represents universal acceptance and inclusion as advocated by Alex Eldreth, who served as Autism Delaware’s policy and community outreach director from April 2014 until his unexpected death in November 2017.
Representing Alex Eldreth’s advocacy of universal acceptance and inclusion, Alex, the Autism Delaware bear, will be interacting with the community in ways that are inclusive, whether manning an information table or sharing story time at an elementary school.
If you would like to schedule an appearance for Alex, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for Alex on social media: #autismdelabear #autismDE
right: Dafne Carnwright, Interrim Director of Family Support, holds Alex the Autism Delaware Bear during his inaugeral visit at the Brandywine YMCA in Wilmington, DE. photo: Susan Campbell
As Autism Delaware’s key contact person on all advocacy issues, Alex put to work his hard-earned experience advocating on behalf of foster children and the mental health, LGBTQ, and MS communities. In his first six months at Autism Delaware, Alex joined forces with other advocates to assist in plans to change state systems for the better. He also grew a grassroots effort to advocate for legislation designed to improve the lives of people and families affected by ASD, and he continued to identify potential legislative issues, all while promoting Autism Delaware’s mission. For Alex, helping people and families affected by ASD fit well with his drive for universal acceptance and inclusion.
His push for advocacy became his rallying call to families: “What makes advocacy successful?” he’d ask. “Grassroots participation!”
And the families came! On Smart Cookie Day at Legislative Hall, they shared their stories of daily life with loved ones on the spectrum and advocated for their loved ones’ needs.
Among the many pieces of advocated legislation were bills to improve education:
One bill improved and enhanced the IEP (individualized education program) process, allowing for greater parent participation and teamwork with school staff, increasing consistency and accountability across school districts, and making IEP training a statewide priority. This bill was signed into law by then-Delaware Governor Jack Markell and went into effect for the 2015–16 school year.
Another bill established the Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism (DNEA) and the Interagency Committee on Autism. The DNEA was needed to provide a resource for training and technical assistance for Delaware state agencies, schools, organizations, and other private entities that provide services and support to individuals and families affected by ASD.
When this bill did not pass in 2015, Alex continued to drum up support until it was passed — this time, unanimously in both the senate and house and signed into law by Gov. Markell in September 2016.
A third bill was aimed at expanding resources for teachers who supported students with ASD, creating a pilot program that recognized the need for specialized technical assistance and training staff, and updating legal language that had not been addressed since the early 1980s. (The number of Delaware students with an educational classification of autism had jumped from 152 in 1991 to 2,109 for the 2017–18 school year.)
When Alex died suddenly, his grassroots group of advocates remembered his words: “Your story is important and needs to be told. That’s why you make the best advocates. So, let your voices be heard!”
And they kept the work going with passion and purpose. Autism Delaware co-founder Marcy Kempner, who helped write the bill — and rewrote it, and rewrote it—tweaked and re-tweaked the legislative draft, and never gave up. Debbie Gottschalk provided professional expertise along with Verity Watson and Kim Willson from Ruggerio Willson. Endless effort was also extended by autism advocates Marie-Anne Aghazadian, Melissa Stansell, Dawn Maloney,Kathy DeNight, Jenn Cinelli Miller, Bill Doolittle, Vince Winterling (then-director of the Delaware Autism Program), and Mary Ann Mieczkowski, director of the Delaware Department of Education’s Exceptional Children Resources Group. Then-Delaware State Senator Margaret Rose Henry (D-Dist. 2) and then-Del. St. Rep. Earl G. Jaques Jr. (D-Dist. 27) were also tireless in their support.
After four long years, this bill was passed by the Delaware General Assembly and signed into law by Del. Gov. John Carney — and named the Alex Eldreth Autism Education Law.
Carla Koss (left) with Alex Eldreth (right) at Smart Cookie Day 2015. photo: David Woods