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Posts Tagged ‘College Students’

Autism Speaks U Spotlight: University of Michigan

November 1, 2010 4 comments

Autism Speaks UThis 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.

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Who To Tell About Being Autistic?

October 18, 2010 20 comments

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.

I can’t help but take this blog post personally, because I think now more than ever I have questioned telling other individuals about being autistic. In one of my previous posts, I talked about how I came out about being autistic during my freshman year of college almost 4 years ago. In high school, I had no worries at all about being autistic because no one was there to judge; everyone had a disability and I was with people I could relate to.

“Autism can’t define you, only you can define autism.” That’s what I said. And while it’s true, I still fight for my rights to be treated  just like everyone else. I wish this could be described as a fairy tale ending; you see someone against all odds prevail in the end; however, the road blocks along the way have been staggering. The example below will hopefully summarize my point….

I had recently been seeing an individual at my university, who had no idea that I was autistic. This wasn’t because I was holding back, merely something that had never come up. She didn’t know that I was autistic and we were doing great. Then something happened, something that I really didn’t understand till just today.

A few weeks back I appeared on Caucus NJ, on a segment called “Breakthroughs in Autism,” with Steve Adubato. On the air I discussed my life growing up with autism. As any person who ever is on TV would tell you, it’s a very exciting time. Once the episode aired I was telling my friends, my parents, pretty much anyone in an ears length of me. However, one person who saw the show happened to be the girl that I had been seeing. As soon as she saw the clip, things had changed dramatically. Every time we met our conversations would become more distant and less frequent and finally, what ended up being great turned into something of pity.

“I think we should see other people.”

“Uh…..Why?”

“I think you should be around people more like yourself.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know, people who are more like you.”

“People more like me?”

“Yes.”

“Enlighten me please.”

“You know…people who know who you are.”

“And what people would those be?

(pause)

“Well?”

“I’m so sorry…”

I could tell you that it wasn’t about having autism, but it would be a lie. I could tell you that I went back to my apartment, cried and asked what I did to deserve this. But, honestly, I’ve been there before and will certainly be there again. My best friend freshman year even called me out on it, “Why didn’t you tell me you were autistic? Aren’t we friends?” On the other side of this dilemma, I have been called out about not being autistic enough. “He functions so well, he couldn’t have autism.” I’ve been associated with several autism organizations that have considered me, “misdiagnosed” because I didn’t show enough, “autistic tendencies” and therefore “not autistic.” Autism can’t define you, but apparently others can definitely define you as autistic.

So I guess the answer to this topic “who to tell about being autistic?” really comes down to how secure you are about being who you are. You don’t have to go up to every new person you see and say, “Hi, I’m ____ and I have autism,” but if you do feel like mentioning it, don’t be afraid. I don’t want to come off as insensitive in this post to those who I know don’t have a choice on whether or not to tell people about being autistic when its apparent to some. My advice stays the same, security in yourself as an individual is the best way to approach life and build your confidence. Everyone is unique in their own way. The people who I mentioned in my post have been ignorant and the only way to defeat ignorance is by awareness. Be proud of who you are. As a matter of fact, love who you are. Everything happens for a reason and if you ever need a hand, please know that you are not alone.

(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. Thanks everyone!)

Living in the College Dorms with Autism

October 4, 2010 7 comments

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.

One issue, in my opinion, that isn’t addressed enough on college campuses, is accommodations within the residence halls for those with disabilities. Yes, from time to time you will see a residence hall with an elevator, maybe bed shakers for those who are hearing impaired, but does that make a residence hall “disability friendly?” I don’t think so. A disability friendly residence hall should be accommodating to all disabilities, especially autism.

For people just starting college, living away in a dorm can be a difficult transition. For an individual with autism who is affected drastically by change it can make that transition almost impossible. The argument to this, is that those affected by autism who actually attend college are just a small enough quota where it doesn’t really matter. The thing is, most accommodations for those with autism in the dorms just rely on having a good and understanding friend. It’s easy in college to fall into a pattern of anti-social tendencies when work builds up on you.

I have seen this from every angle imaginable. My freshman year in the dorms, I was a resident. During my sophomore and half of my junior year, I was a Resident Assistant (RA) who helped residents while living in the dorms. Living in the residence halls wasn’t much of a difficulty for me, but that was because I had great friends early on who supported me in everything that I did. Being able to socially get my way through that first year, where I was seen as enough of a leader to be one of the only autistic RA’s not only in New Jersey, but in the country.

So what can autistic individuals living in the dorms do to make themselves ready for the transition? Firstly, strongly consider requesting a single room. Most colleges are very willing to give someone with a registered disability a single. I have lived alone and have loved the benefits. Mainly, the best benefit is that you have your own place to unwind. You don’t have to worry about whether you get along with other individuals. The pros outweigh the cons in most cases.

Secondly, make sure you get yourself out there. Most residence halls have programs within the first couple of weeks of school to get people meeting your fellow peers. Most residence halls will also have a peer support group for those with disabilities where you can interact with others who have similar difficulties within the dorms. We also live in a technology related world, so if you don’t feel comfortable with face to face conversations, virtual communication (Facebook, instant messaging, texting) is a great way to practice your social capabilities. Just make sure it doesn’t become a habit, if you are never leaving your room!

Take some time to meet with the director of your dorm. If you are open with them about having a disability, they can’t turn you away, and have to give you proper accommodations. You need to force yourself out of your comfort zone because that’s where the most progress can be made.

Now, this is a process. There is no game plan to every disability. You have to create your own plan of attack. Independence is not learned overnight either, so take the steps needed to make your own personal plan and then follow through.

(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. Thanks everyone!)

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