This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started an Autism Speaks U Chapter: Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.
As a college student, I can definitely tell you that I go through my own long list of challenges. As someone with pervasive development disorder- not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), a form of autism, those challenges have seemed a bit longer and harder to deal with in comparison to my peers. I’ve always been that individual who, when I see a problem, I wanted it fixed. Not that all problems can be fixed, but if I was in a situation where I know I could change something, I would be the person who did something about it. Recently I have seen myself go through a great deal of struggles both in friendships and work-related incidents because of my difficulty in not seeing the views of others from their perspective. My “Blind Side” as I’ve called it, has put me in some of the most difficult struggles throughout my college experience.
Many people have different names for this theory such as “Mind Blindness” and “Tunnel Vision.” Overall it can be defined as the difficulty of being unaware of what others are thinking. Basically, not understanding the perspective of someone else, not being able to put yourself in their shoes, not being empathetic. This has led some of my peers to believe that I’m self centered, that regardless of what I’m doing, it’s about me and everyone else has to live with it. I can remember from a self evaluation during my junior year by one of my faculty advisors, I was called out for being “disrespectful to others feelings” and “not a team player.” Sophomore year my Resident Director where I was a Resident Assistant called me out “for being stuck” and for “wanting to do things in the same manner.” On the other hand these experiences glaringly pointed out, that although I have raised the awareness on my campus of what autism is, and put a face on what a student with autism looks like, many people haven’t a clue of what it entails or how it manifests or affects students. I’ve never used my disability as a scapegoat for whatever tendencies I have or may go through but what do you do? Follow my own advice? Autism is never a disability unless you let it become one. I take criticism as an indication of what I could work on to become stronger as a person, but in this situation I’ve never felt so blind.
I can’t see where I’m going and I keep going through walls, regardless if I go left, regardless if I go right, regardless if I just go straight down the middle, that wall is hitting me as hard as I’m hitting it. The problem with hitting these walls is that even when you pick yourself up, you still have to go through the pain for making those first few mistakes. Now, if you hit enough of these walls, why would you even consider going through the same pain regardless of how sweet it would be to break through them.
I may be blind for a little while longer, but I won’t back down despite the limitations. They told Michael Jordan he couldn’t fly and he did. They told Jackie Robinson he would never play major league baseball and he did. Although these seem like extreme examples, we all need those to inspire us to be the best we can be. To help myself moving forward I have mainly asked my peers to communicate. I’m a very detailed oriented person so whenever I get feedback, I like to write it down and take time to reflect on what it truly means and how I can go about a positive outcome. Frankly, regardless if I have a blind side, everyone has those “blind spots,” which if no one ever gave them advice on they may never grow. I’m far from perfect but I’m more than less because I’m here, doing what I need to do to better myself and hopefully through these blogs, helping others as well.
This guest post is by Maressa Criscito, the Co-President and Co-Founder of the Autism Speaks U Chapter at the University of Michigan. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.
Alexandra Lewisohn and I started our Autism Speaks U chapter during the summer of 2009. It was during this time that we began researching student organizations related to autism spectrum disorders at the University of Michigan, and to our surprise, there were none. Due to personal connections with autism, as well as our desire to raise awareness and funds for this cause, we took it upon ourselves to create a successful and active student organization for autism spectrum disorders. After much research, both online and via word-of-mouth, we realized the dedication that Autism Speaks had to raising awareness and funds for autism research, while advocating for the autism community. Their dedication was definitely paralleled to ours. After contacting both the national and local Autism Speaks staff, we began our journey to create a student organization at the University of Michigan in fall of 2009.
Our chapter aims to further the mission of Autism Speaks by engaging the campus community to support this important cause. We strive to create a community that will educate, support, and enhance the lives of those affected by autism. Students join our organization to take part in fundraising events, volunteer opportunities, and/or to just become involved in raising autism awareness around campus and the Ann Arbor community. Previous fundraising activities include bake sales, local bar nights, and a restaurant week that took place in May 2010. Active members also have the option to volunteer with children on the spectrum once a month at the Judson Center, a local community center in the Ann Arbor area. We also promote numerous awareness events such as, “Wear Blue for Autism Awareness Day.” This year, Autism Speaks U at the University of Michigan has grown immensely, now having over 200 members and the support from many others.
On October 23, 2010, we hosted our first basketball tournament and basketball knockout event, raising almost $800 and attracting sponsors from local bars, restaurants and Grublife. All of the food, beverages and prizes were donated! Prizes included DEADMAU5 tickets, gift certificates to high-end restaurants (such as Melange and Zingerman’s), other gift certificates to local restaurants, University of Michigan apparel stores, and Autism Speaks U gear. The basketball tournament involved 4-on-4 half-court basketball games that were played up to 11. It was $10 per person to register for the tournament and each team could have a maximum of 5 players per team. There were a total of 16 teams participating in the basketball tournament. We also had a basketball knockout game where about 20 individuals formed a single file line at the free throw line and shot foul shots. This game continued until 1 winner was left and was $5 per person to play. In order to get support and involvement from the community, we posted flyers around campus, as well as sent e-mails to other student organizations and Greek Life on campus. It was truly a great event that we hope to expand even more so in the following years!
If you are involved with Autism Speaks U on your campus and would like your story to be featured on the Autism Speaks blog, please send it to AutismSpeaksU@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.
California State University-Northridge’s volunteer program called Unified We Serve is partnering with Autism Speaks U for their campus-wide challenge to support those affected by autism. Their challenge, which is called Unified4Autism, is aiming to get 50 different school teams (both students and faculty) to participate in fundraising or awareness events throughout the year. They will also be forming a college Walk team at their local Walk Now For Autism Speaks event.
California State University-Northridge’s (CSUN) events range from loose change campaigns, to hot dog fundraisers to jewelry parties. One of their most recent events had the poplar band LMFAO perform where they had a booth selling glow sticks to benefit Autism Speaks. In addition to spreading autism awareness, the event raised $1,693. Phillip Hain, the LA Walk Director, attended the check presentation on campus. To read more, click here.
CSUN’s United Sorority and Fraternity Council (USFC) organized an “Art for Change” event, which was a puzzle piece art campaign that raised $400 by having students donate pocket change. Marielos Renderos, activities director for the USFC, helped organize this event and coordinate with each organization within the USFC to submit a piece of art, for a total of 12 pieces. Click here to read more about students bringing autism awareness through art.
Autism Speaks U is a program designed to engage college students across the country in autism awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts. Its new website offers a wide range of tools to empower students to establish Autism Speaks U chapters, organize events, and encourage their peers to get involved. College students, faculty and alumni can get involved with Autism Speaks U by visiting www.autismspeaks.org/u.