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This Is Why I Speak

November 14, 2011 18 comments

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a graduate student at Seton Hall University, and is actively involved with our college program. Autism Speaks U is an initiative designed to support college students in their awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts.

“My 5 year old son was just diagnosed with PDD-NOS and has no speech. Will he ever be able to speak?” 

Kerry Magro at age 4.

While the young mother stood before me in tears, I felt trapped; trapped because I couldn’t tell her that everything was going to be alright.

When I look back at my life, that 6 year old boy, going into first grade with so much anger, and so many emotions, it was almost too much. I knew back then I was mad. I was lashing out because I didn’t know how to communicate in an appropriate manner. That was almost 16 years ago. I was that 6 year old again. What would it take for her son to be able to speak one day? Would he be as lucky as me?

So, I surprised myself. I hugged her. I hugged this complete stranger for what probably ended up being 5 minutes. No words were said. I could only hear her sobbing and I almost joined her several times. I knew I couldn’t answer her question, but by telling her about my journey, I could give her hope.

I reflected back to the journey that I had had led me to where I am today. The therapies, the special need classrooms, the accommodations, the hate, the ignorance, the awareness, the drama, the acceptance, the struggle, the tears, the heartache, the strength, the friends, my mom, my dad, and above all else the love that has made my journey worth every second.After we hugged I told her my story. I told her about that 6 year old boy and how he became who I was today. 15 minutes later tears of uncertainty had become tears of hope for not only her but for her son.

This is why I speak. Each time I share my story I pray that I’m making an impact on a parent, a family, a friend, etc. for the future of the autism movement. I may not be a scientist, or an expert in the field, I just know what it’s like to grow up–and thrive with autism. So, if you have autism, especially those young adults out there who are trying to spread awareness at the college level or beyond, tell your story.

It’s time for all of us to listen.

*I shared this story with my friend Laura Shumaker on her official website here as well. Thanks Everyone!*

This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org or through my Facebook Page here.

11 Questions Students on the Spectrum Can Ask their College

October 31, 2011 1 comment

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a graduate student at Seton Hall University, and is actively involved with our college program. Autism Speaks U is an initiative designed to support college students in their awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts.

Below are 11 questions students on the autism spectrum can ask their college/university.

1. As a college student affected by autism, what is one of the main things I need to know?

A big difference between college and high school is that in high school you generally have a structured plan for your accommodations called an “Individualized Education Program.” However, in college that no longer exists, meaning you must advocate to your Disability Support Group on campus to receive your own accommodations

2. What are some accommodations I can receive in my classes?

Individuals on the spectrum receive accommodations only if they register with their Disability Support Group. They will then receive accommodations based on their needs. This can include extended time on tests, tape recorders for classes, individual note takers, etc.

3. Do I have to pay for accommodations?

Under The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, colleges are required to provide all learning disabled individuals with “reasonable accommodations.” However, you should check the guidelines in regards to what is and what is not available on your campus.

4. Will faculty or fellow students be informed that I am on the autism spectrum?

Faculty members are not allowed to disclose any information about a student to others without consent from the student. However, students must register as a “disabled student” to receive accommodations – meaning your disability support group would be aware you have a disability. It is then up to you to inform your instructors.

5.  Is on-campus living for me?

Accommodations can also factor into your living arrangements on campus which will give you opportunities for a safer environment, like a single room. Ask if your resident assistant will be made aware of your living situation, since he/she can be of help in an emergency.

6. Will tutoring be available for my courses?

Most colleges provide tutoring for all students, but it is important to learn about those services early on to see if it is available and if you need additional support.

7. Are there any restrictions on how many courses I can take?

Some disability support groups require you take less courses in your first few semesters of college to make for an easier transition.

8. Is there a club on campus that raises awareness about autism and provides social opportunities for students affected by autism?

Autism Speaks college program, Autism Speaks U, works with students across the county to start chapters that raise awareness and funds. Some also establish mentoring programs for students and youth on the autism spectrum. To see if a chapter exists on your campus, visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U.

9. Will my professors have any previous training in educating individuals affected by autism?

There is no requirement at most college for professors to have education in teaching individuals with learning disabilities. You should be prepared to advocate for yourself when a situation deems itself appropriate to do so.

10. Will I be treated differently by fellow students because I have autism?

Like in any other situation where you are around people, there is the possibility of a lack of awareness on their part in dealing with people with learning disabilities. Therefore, spreading awareness is crucial for you and others affected by autism.

11. Is there anything on campus that focuses on post-college plans for individuals affected by autism?

Many colleges have a career program/center that focuses on helping you network with outside companies. You can also look under the Americans with Disabilities Act for information about job accommodations and workshops.

If you are interested in raising awareness on your college campus visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U.

Autism Speaks U Spotlight: Virginia Tech Chapter President

October 24, 2011 2 comments

This guest post is by Kaitlyn Whiton, a senior at Virginia Tech. She is the president of her school’s Autism Speaks U chapter and is working to create a long lasting legacy on campus! Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

Autism was a word that most people had never heard of 20 years ago, when my younger brother, Freddy, was diagnosed. I cannot count how many times my friends would ask me why Freddy would hit himself, not talk to anyone, or only repeat the same lines from the same movies. By the age of 10, autism had already had a huge impact on my life and I knew I wanted to continue to help others, like my brother, grow to their fullest potential. Starting a chapter of Autism Speaks U at Virginia Tech was a perfect opportunity to not only give back, but also inspire others to be involved with a wonderful organization.

Kaitlyn (far right) with her brother Freddy (left) and her father Fred (center).

Even though this is only Autism Speaks U Virginia Tech’s second semester on Hokie stomping ground, we have already made an impact in our community. Last semester we raffled off a football signed by coach, Frank Beamer and a  basketball signed by coach, Seth Greenberg. This semester, our big fundraising event is going to be an awareness night at Hokie House, a local restaurant and bar, on Friday, November 4. During the event we are going to be raffling off themed baskets as an extra way to raise money.

Autism Speaks U Virginia Tech, unfortunately has a number of seniors who will be graduating in the spring. Luckily, we have found motivating and inspiring individuals who will continue the mission of Autism Speaks U in the Virginia Tech community. Our old executive board will help train the new executive board throughout the rest of the current semester and will be here to advise the new officers during the spring semester.

My dream would be to come back to Virginia Tech and attend a fundraiser executed by our predecessors. My goal this year is to inspire, motivate and educate the newest members of the executive board so that our organization continues for many years to come.

Members of Autism Speaks U Virginia Tech at their 2011 club fair.

For more information about Autism Speaks U at Virginia Tech, contact the chapter president, Kaitlyn Whiton, at kait6573@vt.edu.

GO BLUE for Autism Speaks U Photo Winners

October 19, 2011 3 comments

College students from across the country have submitted amazing pictures for our GO BLUE for Autism Speaks U Facebook photo contest! Winners were chosen by the number of Facebook “likes,” comments and creativity (how “blue” you could go!). Thank you to everyone who participated in this fun awareness campaign! The winners are as follows:

First Place: University of California, Irvine

First place wins a $200 grant for their next Autism Speaks U event


Second Place: Appalachian State University

Second place wins a $100 grant for their next Autism Speaks U event


 Third Place: University of California, Berkeley

Third Place wins a $50 grant for their next Autism Speaks U event


Honorable Mentions: Each winner receives a $25 grant for their next Autism Speaks U event

Case Western Reserve University: Best Use of a Human Puzzle Piece

Elmira College: Best Use of Decorations

Northwestern University: Best Action Shot

Rider University: Best Homemade Banner

Southeast Missouri State University: Best Use of Hand Signs & Face Paint

Stonehill College: Best Group Shot

Texas A&M: Best Pose

To view all Go BLUE photos click here. Autism Speaks U will email photo winners about prize details.

Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities. If you are interested in raising awareness on your college campus, visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U.

Autism Speaks U Spotlight: Cornell University Chapter President

October 18, 2011 1 comment

This guest post is by Cynthia Vella, a junior at Cornell University. She is an Industrial and Labor Relations major as well as the founder and president of her school’s Autism Speaks U chapter! Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

As President and Founder of Autism Speaks U at Cornell University, I feel strongly attached to the goals and values of our newly established club. With an uncle who is autistic, I have heard the struggles my mother and her family went through years ago.

Because of this, I decided Cornell needed to spread awareness about autism to it’s own students. Gathering a few friends and meeting two more great board members along the way, the Autism Speaks U Cornell board has really come together to raise money and especially awareness around campus. Our university organizations have even reached out to help us promote our cause through various student organizations like Greek sororities, fraternities and Hillel. In our second semester on campus, we have expanded our club’s initiatives and are planning a Dance-a-Thon called Dance Now for Autism Speaks U, which we hope will have a huge impact on Cornell.

Members of Autism Speaks U Cornell University tabling to raise awareness.

While last semester was extremely successful, from earning funds through bake sales and through Greek life and Hillel events, this semester, the Autism Speaks U Cornell board has much planned to increase our presence on campus. While bake sales are always easy and fun fundraisers, we plan on holding our first annual Dance-a-Thon on October 22nd in one of our basketball courts with pre-sale tickets, refreshments, cookies, blue decorations, and giveaway t-shirts.

We are currently marketing the event around both the campus and Ithaca community through our school newspaper, media site, flyers and posters. We are also tabling at local dining halls and main libraries where there is a large traffic of students and faculty passing through. We want to reach out to different clubs such as A Cappella and dance groups.

Additionally, one of our board members, Conor Callahan, has teamed up with the Racker Center located in nearby Ithaca for our members to interact with local children affected by autism. We are excited to have this opportunity and plan to start doing smaller events like slumber parties in the spring semester. As our club continues expanding with almost 30 new members this fall, we have more and more great ideas to make the club more successful in our endeavors. New leaders stand out and our board welcomes more students to help raise funds and awareness. We are extremely excited to collaborate with our new members to make a difference in our community.

For more information about Autism Speaks U at Cornell University, contact the chapter president Cynthia Vella at autismspeaksucornell@gmail.com.

Autism Speaks U Spotlight: UC Berkeley Chapter President

September 26, 2011 2 comments

This guest post is by Caroline McCloskey, a sophomore at UC Berkeley. She is the president and founder of her school’s Autism Speaks U chapter and is a true ambassador for our cause! Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

Helping those with autism has always held a place in my heart. My older brother Joey was diagnosed with autism at a very young age, and has always been my big “little brother.” Joey has a considerably severe case of autism and is often misunderstood because he has difficulty communicating with others. He lives in the world of a six-year old and still watches Disney movies (his favorite being Peter Pan), Sesame Street and Winnie the Pooh.  One of the truly amazing things about my brother is his ability to complete a 500-piece puzzle in twenty minutes – something I would never be able to do. He will never fail to impress me with his unique gift and now that I’ve gone to college and live 6000 miles away from home, I miss him dearly.

Caroline hikes to the big Campanile to raise autism awareness.

Coming to the University of California, Berkeley was by far the best decision I have ever made. As soon as I got here I knew that I wanted to get involved on campus, so I looked into various student organizations and tried to find one that promoted autism awareness or raised money for scientific research. No such club or organization existed. I thought to myself: of all the hundreds of student organizations that Berkeley has to offer, how is it that not a single one addresses the problem of autism, something that affects 1 in 110 people?

Consequently, some friends and I took the initiative and our chapter of Autism Speaks U at Berkeley was officially founded on March 9th2011. Now we have over 30 active members and have begun to establish a firm presence on campus as of this academic year. The UC Berkeley community has been very supportive of our efforts and during Autism Awareness Month this year we held an awareness campaign and small-scale fundraiser in the Unit 2 Residence Halls. Our biggest achievement so far has been lighting up the Campanile blue on Autism Awareness Day, which we hope to do again in April 2012.

Campanile Lit Up Blue.

Right now we are in the process of planning a benefit concert to be held on November 19, of this year. We are also trying to establish a mentoring program with the Berkeley Unified School District, where members of our chapter would volunteer with children and young adults on the spectrum. Furthermore, we are in the early phases of planning a large-scale walk event on UC Berkeley’s campus, which will be held on April 72012, during Autism Awareness Month.

This year we have a very strong team of officers who are all contributing incredible amounts of time and effort to our cause. It means so much to me that my friends have been so supportive of what I am so passionate about, and I honestly appreciate their help and support more than they will ever know. I know that this year we’re going to go far and it’s all because of them: thank you, guys.

To get involved with Autism Speaks U and/or the UC Berkeley collegiate chapter, contact autismspeaksu@autismspeaks.org.  

LIVE Facebook Q&A for College Students!

September 19, 2011 Leave a comment

The Autism Speaks U team will be hosting a LIVE Facebook Q&A for our chapters and student leaders this Wednesday, September 21 at 8pm EST/5pm PST.

To join the chat, click here 

This is the perfect time for Autism Speaks U newbies or veterans to ask our team questions about the program, what awareness and fundraising events to host in Fall and how to start/maintain a chapter.

We look forward to chatting with you!

To see how you can get involved with the program, visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U.

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