I’m Mark Smith, born in Omaha Nebraska and lived here all of my life. I only use the A. in my signature as there are more than a few Mark Smiths about everywhere I go. I’ve also worked in the disability field nearly my entire career. I started out working in group homes where we were actively in the process of deinstitutionalizing individuals from our state institution on a court order. Tough but rewarding work. I spent about 5 years in group homes and work training settings as a direct care staff and supervisor before moving into a consultant role with a focus on supporting service teams and families caring for individuals with challenging behavior. I moved around (Nebraska) a lot in this role: DD Provider agencies, schools, clinics, family homes, etc. I did this for quite a while as I really liked the work. About 14 years ago, I was approached by the UCEDD director where I currently work and asked to join the staff.
As a former professor of mine, we knew each other pretty well. I’m also the parent of a young man with Developmental Disabilities, and they were looking for a parent to work in our LEND and UCEDD programs at MMI. It was a big change, but it’s one I’m glad I made. It gave me the opportunity not only to continue my work as a therapist, but also support needed improvements in disability policy (which by that time I felt pretty strongly about) and work increasingly at the state and national levels. I get asked a lot if being a parent got me into this work. In truth, I have a younger sister on the Autism Spectrum who I helped raise; she probably had a lot more to do with it. In my advocacy and systems-change work, I’ve focused on Early Intervention (probably most attributable to my son’s experience), Disability Policy and Legislation, Cultural Competency, Family Support, Advocacy and Leadership, Behavioral Psychology, Genomics and Genetics, and sundry other issues too numerous to mention (but am happy to talk about) but all with a focus on the individual and family experience. I’ve worked with individuals across the spectrum of severity of disabilities, and that has only made me feel more strongly that, with supports, everyone can and deserves to participate in the community; to experience an “enviable life,” if you will. I’m all about making a difference. Hope I didn’t meander on too long (an occasional bad habit.)