This Dad Knows What It Means To Be a Modern-Day Autism Advocate


Billy Mann is the music producer behind your favorite songs. (Really.) But we’re not talking about what he’s doing for the face of music right now.

For Mann, the richness of life comes from so many things that aren’t about a hit song. As a father of four, Mann and his wife Gena have been actively involved in the autism community and raising awareness for the ABLE Act. Mann is a modern-day advocate in every sense of the word. Aside from taking part in big, important meetings on the Hill, he takes to Twitter to throw gems out into the Twitterverse and start important conversations.

Amid a busy start to Autism Awareness month, Mann recently answered three questions for The Mighty.

1. How has being a husband/father/artist/executive made you the advocate for autism awareness you are today? 

Having a child with special needs has made me a dad with special skills, and one is being inspired by my son to take action. He’s so brave and noble in his silence. Most people with typical kids don’t realize that it can take some children with autism years to learn to go to the bathroom by themselves, to use a fork, to hold a pencil. Most people don’t realize that when they see my son and they ask him how he’s doing, after 10 years of not responding, teaching, nurturing and therapy, now he says, “good” back to them. And being a coast-based creative executive out of New York where everyone is so important, in a rush, so special and almost-famous, I’ve learned to remember that everyone I meet has a story I don’t know about. The taxi driver. The doorman. The guy folding a straw over and over again while waiting in line at Starbucks… My son has made my listening and perception skills stronger and grown my compassion and sensitivity. But when I look at the fast increase in diagnosis, the NIH and CDC government numbers and studies and the impact autism can have on families and school districts, I cannot not act.  

2. How do you see media raising awareness for autism? 

In reality, the increase in media coverage of autism is a reflection of society, as it should be. Autism spectrum disorders have increased in the U.S. While the autism community is a diverse spectrum, the need for awareness, services, advocacy, resources to soften the harsh economic impact on school districts, local, state and federal governments, applies to everyone equally. Raising awareness is the first step towards right-sizing resources and inspiring understanding and acceptance.   

3. What are some defining characteristics of a modern day advocate? Have you seen social media make a difference?

I think that advocating in the social media world means seeing cyberspace as a kind of “Hyde Park” moment at all times. There are so many critical causes and needs and missions out there, and even while I’m focused on autism, I know in Hyde Park there are a lot of us at once. I’ve learned over the years to not just tweet my thoughts but also retweet and favorite and encourage others whose feelings and thoughts align with mine. Sort of like when James Brown screamed, “Yeah!” and then his whole band and the audience echoed back, “YEAH!” I think people who share causes are best when we grow the community through reaffirmation and positivity. 

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