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.
One night was all it took. My usual routine in college was to wake up, eat breakfast, go to school, and prepare myself for any fun, if not unexpected events that may come my way that day. Tonight was the exception that changed everything. I received an email from Autism Speaks that a famous movie Director Todd Graff (Bandslam) wanted me to help him with his screenplay for an upcoming motion picture called Joyful Noise! I thought to myself, “This may be one of the greatest moments of my life!”
So as a senior in college I had the chance to tie disability advocacy and love of theatre together by helping analyze a character with Asperger’ s syndrome for Mr. Graff ‘s movie, Joyful Noise. The following week I was reading over a screenplay and giving my thoughts and analysis of the character. A few weeks later I was having lunch with Mr. Graff to discuss the character in more detail and I was invited back to help with the casting of the character Walter Hill, a young man with Asperger syndrome. Then, last Monday, almost a year and a half later after the movie was filmed and largely marketed I got to see the Premiere of the movie at Gruman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood!
How did I get this lucky? How was this happening to me? This opportunity has touched my heart in a way that I can’t even explain. Without giving away any spoilers for Joyful Noise, which is now out in wide release everywhere co-stars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. Then there is the character I helped with Walter Hill (played by Dexter Darden). While reading the screenplay and then watching the film I couldn’t help but feel I saw a piece of myself in his character. I saw his struggle, could relate to his situation and could feel his pain. I then transcended into the whole theme of the movie which is about a Gospel Choir and this is when I fell in love. The music, the relate ability, I felt like I belonged. Like a part of me forever had changed because of the overall kindness of one man to give an adult with autism a joyful opportunity of a lifetime.
As a die-hard movie buff today I know that many people in the movie business would sometimes turn away from taking the time to present these opportunities but this wasn’t one of those times. I became a kid again; the kid that saw the kindness that could come from people. It made me learn that maybe if I wasn’t seeing the kindness in others than I had to just continue on my path to be that man, like Mr. Graff, who is looking at ways for a change for the better by presenting joyful opportunities for people like me.
The two biggest loves in my life have always been musical theater and basketball. When I was 6, my first love came to me. It started when I was going to Camp Tikvah; a special needs summer camp for learning disabled children at the JCC in Tenafly, N.J. At the end of the summer, the campers were teamed up to sing a song, usually to an audience full of parents. This was my first moment I ever got to sing with a group in front of a large audience. Our counselors would hold our hands while we would sing, encouraging us all to sing as loud and as clear as we could. When it was done I remember the tears that flowed down my eyes, being completely shocked and scared of what was happening.
You see, 2 years before at 4 and a half I was first diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, a form of autism. During this time I dealt with many different sensory difficulties in regards to sound and touch. As you can imagine, because of the cheers and the sounds coming from that audience that day made me feel so uneasy, I didn’t know what to do…
On the way though something spectacular happened… I enjoyed where I was. No matter how frustrating, I remember how much I practiced my lines before and how much fun I had doing it. This is where I got my hook. It was on that stage that day I knew that my love of what I was doing would conquer whatever my struggles may have been. My brain was telling me no but my heart was telling me yes and that was enough for me. Even though communicating this to others was difficult my parents sensed it in me to give me another shot. Next summer I surprised myself by singing my heart out (most of it was yelling but I would take it). Everything started to connect itself it seemed after that. I contribute a great deal of where I am today to my early therapy in regards to speech, social interaction, body communication, and overall confidence to these days.
In college, my drama days ended at a halt based on not being able to find a balance for my school work and theatre. I understood these limitations though. School came first. I had the opportunity to bring some elements back later though when public speaking about my life with autism. A great deal of these two areas went hand in hand for me which led me to becoming involved in disability advocacy from then till this day.
I’m always amazed by random acts of kindness in today’s society. When I was younger I felt like these moments were more consistent and more genuine. As a college graduate who is running through the gauntlet trying to find work, I bask in the opportunity of having these moments. The opportunity Todd Graff offered me now almost a year ago was kindness in one of its truest forms. I had the chance to do something I had only ever dreamed about doing which I never believed could be possible. Thanks Todd for making a dream come true!
As for the movie, it definitely is a crowd pleaser. The set pieces and musical numbers are dynamic. The acting is electric especially in regards to the chemistry between Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton on screen. In regards to the autism community, there are several autism related topics that are brought into focus that will leave very few dry eyes. All aside, by the end of the movie you’re almost guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face (and if you stay through the credits you’ll see a special thank you credit that I received too).
So, in the end, what I got from this movie was to learn that kindness, acceptance, love, and yes, joyful opportunities can make any dark corners shine bright for individuals with autism and without alike. I hope we can share this message with others.
Frank Nappi has taught high school English and Creative Writing for over twenty years. His debut novel, “Echoes From The Infantry,” received national attention, including MWSA’s silver medal for outstanding fiction for 2006. His follow-up novel, “The Legend of Mickey Tussler,” garnered rave reviews as well, including a screenplay adaptation of the touching story which aired nationwide in September and is being released on DVD January 10th. Frank lives on Long Island with his wife Julia and their two sons, Nicholas and Anthony and continues to support groups such as Autism Speaks, Best Buddies, and Challenger Baseball.
I am pleased to announce that January 10th marks the official release of the DVD “A Mile in His Shoes,” starring Dean Cain. “A Mile in His Shoes” is the heartwarming film adaptation of my novel “The Legend of Mickey Tussler.” The story, which is being re-released by Skyhorse Publishing in April to coincide with Autism Awareness Month, chronicles the struggle for acceptance and ultimate redemption of a seventeen year old baseball player with Aspergers. The story is being celebrated as one that goes where no baseball novel has ever gone before. Sure, there is plenty of good old fashioned hardball, lots of baseball jargon and feel good descriptions that every baseball fan can appreciate. But this story is one that has never been told before. Set in the minor leagues in the late 1940s, this remarkable tale tells the story of a pitching phenom who must deal with a different set of circumstances, heretofore unexamined in books such as this. In short, young Tussler despite notable baseball prowess, suffers from what we now identify as autism. The book follows the fortunes of the team and their new teammate Mickey, who continues to have a fair amount of trouble adjusting to his new situation while away from the routine and comforts of life back home. It is at these moments that the reader gets a real glimpse into the world as seen through the eyes of an autistic person. It is not the safe, predictable place that most of us enjoy. Rather, it is a frightening, oftentimes emotionally debilitating prison of sorts, replete with all kinds of treacherous pitfalls that the boy is unable to navigate. The book has been called an excellent reminder that we all need to be mindful of special needs individuals when they cross our path. Perhaps New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez said it best when he proclaimed, “I see all kinds of challenges facing kids today, and this book does a very good job of treating gifted kids and teenagers with sensitivity and understanding in coping with and meeting these challenges.”
While the film is not completely faithful to the book, the director manages to successfully maintain many of the overarching themes I tried to allow “the game” to serve as the vehicle through which these messages are established; that anything worth accomplishing requires hard work and determination, the power of teamwork, and that challenges can be overcome. For more information about the remarkable story of Mickey Tussler, including endorsements and reviews, please visit www.franknappi.com
On Saturday January 7th Autism America Radio welcomes special guests, bloggers Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith and the creators of the new music therapy App SingFit.
Join hosts Matthew Asner and Nick Geber for two hours of talk and interviews this Saturday 6:00 to 8:00 PM ET on Sirius/XM Family Talk Channel 131! People wishing to participate should call 800-679-7650 During the show or Tweet their questions to @Autismamericar.
Listen online at http://www.live365.com/stations/autismamerica?play or as a podcast on iTunes! You can also visit Autism America Radio on Facebook!
This by is Ann Gibbons, Executive Director, National Capital
Sometimes I get discouraged. The slow progress of research and discovery; the painstaking process my son goes through when learning a new skill; the number of times we parents have to reach out to each other to steady one another on an often rocky road. But a couple things happened recently that made me sit up and cheer at my desk.
I read a note from my boss, Mark Roithmayr, who celebrated the opening of a national autism diagnostic and treatment center to serve families across Albania. It will also support regional development through the Autism Speaks’ Global Autism Public Health Initiative.
“We are one organization among many,” Mark wrote. “We are largely supported by families – those who walk and fundraise, one dollar at a time, to change the world. It’s working.”
Now spin the globe half a world away and land in Pasadena, Maryland. Here we met the seventh grade students at the Chesapeake Bay Middle School and their teacher, Yvonne Embrey. Pasadena is a small town—12,000 residents—in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay. It is not a wealthy town by American standards, but it is an incredible place. Yvonne wrote us last April: ”My 7th grade students at Chesapeake Bay Middle School are doing a fundraiser for autism as a service learning activity. In class, the students learned basic information about autism and two students spoke to the whole group of 120 students about their autistic brothers. The students gathered pledges and completed a walkathon on April 27 at Chesapeake High School.” This was just the beginning of a yearlong dedication to learning about autism and working for our mission. By year end, the students have raised over $16,000 for Autism Speaks.
The folks in Pasadena, Maryland did not have to support our cause…but they did. And their acts of kindness are felt here, at home, in the families struggling in their homes in their own school district; and in the homes on the other side of the globe. It is time to listen, as our motto reads; and we are listening, together.
Max Braverman is an autistic character in the show. The creator, Jason Katims, has a son with Asperger’s/autism. Alex talks with the cast about autism, acting, and NBC’s hit show Parenthood!
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Autism America Radio welcomes special guests, Los Angeles Times Reporter- Alan Zarembo and Education Lawyer and advocate- Valerie Vanaman. Join hosts Matthew Asner and Nick Geber for two hours of talk and interviews this Saturday 6:00 to 8:00 PM ET on Sirius/XM Family Talk Channel 131!
People wishing to participate should call 800-679-7650 During the show or Tweet their questions to @Autismamericar. Listen online at http://www.live365.com/stations/autismamerica?play or as a podcast on iTunes! You can also visit Autism America Radio on Facebook!
Special Guests, Lisa AleXander, mother of jailed Neli Latson, and Justin Kanew and Zev Glassenberg from The Amazing Race!
Join hosts Matthew Asner and Nick Geber for two hours of talk and interviews this Saturday 6:00 to 8:00 PM ET on Sirius/XM Family Talk Channel 131! People wishing to participate should call 800-679-6750
During the show or Tweet their questions to @Autismamericar. Listen online at http://www.live365.com/stations/autismamerica?play or as a podcast on iTunes! You can also visit Autism America Radio on Facebook!
This post is by Mark Roithmayr, President of Autism Speaks.
It is before dawn and I am about to depart Albania. What we have learned about autism, Autism Speaks, Albania, and our role in the world is almost too overwhelming and humbling to put into words.
I was there to celebrate the opening of the Albanian Children Foundation’s Regional Centre for Autism, dedicated to helping children with developmental disabilities to receive a diagnosis, appropriate treatment and services.
Liri Berisha, M.D., and her husband the Prime Minister, Mr. Sali Berisha, took every opportunity to note that without Autism Speaks and Suzanne and Bob Wright, none of this would be possible. What a statement! As I looked at the new Centre I was in awe of all they had accomplished in a country the size of Albania. What an amazing accomplishment – and the hope they are now providing to the autism community in Albania was palpable.
In between attending events and dinners, my wife and I visited Albania’s first autism center that has been seeing families the past two years. We witnessed the wonders of the first children receiving ABA therapy in Albania and the success they have had. We met with the therapists, administrators, and Ministers who are now developing the nation’s first National Autism Strategy. And then, in the new Centre, we presented to parents who literally had tears in their eyes because of the hope that is now becoming reality for their children.
The day Suzanne got the UN to unanimously approve the creation of a World Autism Awareness Day made all of this possible. One of our many achievements is making autism a global initiative. Our Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative is moving this forward at an amazingly rapid pace. We are moving nations and bettering the lives of children and families around the globe – and not by ourselves, but by helping other countries to learn from our experiences and providing guidance to create their own programs.
We are one organization among many. We are largely supported by families – those who walk and fundraise, one dollar at a time, to change the world. It’s working.
Tonight Autism Speaks and the New York Center for Autism (NYCA) will host “A Funny Affair for Autism” at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Proceeds will benefit Autism Speaks and NYCA. The event will honor Tommy Hilfiger and will feature Seth Meyers and Bill Hader.
This evening is Co-Chaired by Laura & Harry Slatkin and Suzanne & Bob Wright with Dee Hilfiger serving as Honorary Chair. Jonathan Adler & Simon Doonan, Sir Elton John, Ralph Rucci, Adam Sandler, Robert & Michelle Smigel and Vera Wang & Arthur Becker are the event Vice-Chairs.
The event will feature a unique auction of Christmas trees and menorahs designed by Jonathan Adler, Godiva, Tommy Hilfiger, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” Isaac Mizrahi, Adam Sandler, Martha Stewart and Tiffany & Co.
In early November, we launched our latest “Odds” PSAs with the Ad Council. Created pro bono by BBDO, the PSAs feature fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger and NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray, who both generously donated their time to help further the cause of autism awareness. Viewers are taken on voyages through Hilfiger and McMurray’s lives that highlight the extraordinary statistical odds they each overcame on the road to success compared to the startling one in 110 odds of having a child diagnosed with autism. The PSAs end by encouraging parents to visit autismspeaks.org/signs to learn the signs of autism and to seek early intervention if a delay is suspected.
Here’s What We Are Laughing At Today!
t&a: wedding dance (the ORIGINAL youtube surprise wedding dance)
Bieber After the Dentist