At the mere age of 14, Chinese-born Albert Wang was sent to America to live with close relatives. The ambitious young Wang worked hard and earned admission to three UC schools. He spent his undergrad years at UC Berkeley, then attended UC San Diego for medical school, and served his residency at UC Irvine. The motivating force behind Wang’s academic success was his mother. He recalls, “My mother went to medical school in China until the school decided that women should not be in that profession. Thus, she had to change her ambitions and became a mathematics teacher.” Finding a path when faced with adversity would become a hallmark for Wang.
It was at UC Berkeley that Albert met his bride to be, Anna, while she was studying for a degree in electrical engineering. After nine years of schooling and courtship, the couple married. For Albert and Anna, both Chinese immigrants, settling into steady-going careers and buying a home was the definition of the American Dream. But as is so common, life hands us the unexpected. For the Wangs, the joyful birth of their first son, Lawrence, in 1987 was followed by the news that their precious child had autism. Anna recalls, “We had no idea what it meant to have a child with autism, but our faith helped guide us.” She decided to dedicate all her energy to helping their son, giving up her engineering career at Intel and returning to school for language development and behavioral psychology of handicapped persons.
Through Shuiow-Luan Chan, a special education teacher working with Lawrence, the Wangs were connected with other special needs families, and they gathered together in each others’ homes to share experiences, advice, and information about special education classes where the children could learn socialization skills. Seeing the struggles of these families, Chan suggested in 1995 that the families get organized in order to support each other better. By 1998, Friends of Children with Special Needs was formed and running.
“It serves as a meeting place encouraging Asians to become more vocal in the public view and youth development.”
FCSN began to grow, first offering classes at local churches and YMCAs in Silicon Valley, but demand required more. The Wangs poured their time and talent into nurturing the organization. While Albert offered strategic advice and was key to FCSN’s fundraising, Anna was hands-on—organizing activities, events, and programs. When she describes the many hats she wears at FCSN, from advocate, visionary, fundraiser, and event manager, to project leader and teacher, she happily admits, “Of all of those jobs, what I love most is the teaching—I love helping students learn how to set up for success. Their smiles of achievement are the best wage I could ever receive.”
The Wangs have nurtured the organization from its infancy to its current state, with a devoted staff and a wide circle of supporters. The couple relates that their continuing goal is to change the mindset of Asian parents of special needs children. Anna points out, “I try telling them to never give up on their children and help them discover and develop abilities never before recognized. I yearn to help the parents rid themselves and their community of cultural stigma and shame towards the handicapped, while working to help those afflicted integrate into their community.”
Ever willing to help Asian-American causes, the Wangs are also involved in APAPA- Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs—an apparatus for Asian-American politics. Founder C.C. Yin says, “It serves as a meeting place encouraging Asians to become more vocal in the public view and youth development. Albert confides, “My hope for the future is that Asian Americans have equal rights and say in this country. I want to see that special needs individuals and other developmentally disadvantaged persons will be well cared for and respected as anyone else.”
Fast-forward to the present day, and Lawrence has grown into a self-proficient adult and accomplished saxophonist, while his family’s beloved FCSN has had a positive impact, not only on the Wangs, but also many other prospective families.
For more information about Friends of Children with Special Needs, visit www.fcsn1996.org.