Iris Grace is a five year old diagnosed with autism who picked up a paintbrush last year and has been making waves ever since. “It was her first painting I noticed a difference in her painting compared to how you … Continue reading
Jack Rogerson was diagnosed with autism as a toddler and written off by many medical professionals as low-functioning and limited to special education schooling. He was a hyperactive child who could not express affection and could barely speak but his … Continue reading
Ari Ne’eman, An Inspiration
Ari Ne’eman is the President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and also serves on the National Council on Disability as appointed by President Obama. He strives to empower people with autism and sheds much needed light on the importance of celebrating the neurological diversity of people with disabilities. As someone who was diagnosed with autism at an early age, he has a real passion and dedication for this movement to shift the perception of “disabilities as weakness.”
Ne’eman grew up in New Jersey and was verbally advanced as a child, though struggled, like many autistic children, to be socially accepted. After being moved to a special education high school, he felt stifled and didn’t feel like he was being challenged enough. Ne’eman used his talents and passion for advocacy to return to mainstream schooling and immediately founded ASAN before moving forward to study Political Science at the University of Maryland.
Now at age 26, Ne’eman has a wide variety of accomplishments under his belt that rival those of most peers his age. However, it was not achieved without hardship and criticism. Before officially joining the Council on Disability his nomination was placed on hold by advocates who claimed that he didn’t have enough sympathy for others on the ASD spectrum and didn’t have the drive.
In a recent lecture at Cornell University, Ne’eman says, “It’s about changing the conversation from creating a world without autistic people, to creating one where autistic people are respected and enjoy the equality of opportunity.”
Students at Cornell welcomed this view and are now working on their own initiatives to promote neurodiversity within their own campus because they understand it to be part of a larger social justice movement. If Cornell University, an Ivy League college, can recognize the importance of including neurodiversity within their campus, then perhaps more colleges will begin to follow suit. It is definitely a move in the right direction.
Also part of Ne’eman’s initiative for change, ASAN partnered with Freddie Mac, a leading mortgage and finance company, to promote and fill four paid internship opportunities for recent graduates and current students on the autism spectrum. This opportunity allows them to gain invaluable experience and enter the workforce in a successful environment and one that definitely welcomes diversity. Launched in May 2012, Freddie Mac’s diversity initiatives have proven to be an asset to their company. Diversity Learning and Recruiting Manager, Stephanie Roemer adds, “Our interns are terrific workers who are not easily distracted.”
ICare4Autism also has a strong focus on integrating autistic people and promoting neurodiversity within higher education and ultimately the workforce through our own workforce initiatives, i.e., working with high school kids and young adults towards this end. Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Founder and CEO of ICare4Autism spoke on neurodiversity and deficit views at the AUTISM CONNECT conference hosted by Fordham University November 8th of last year where he stressed the importance of understanding Autistics as individuals with strengths and differences rather than individuals carrying a disease.
That being said, we are proud and honored to have such a strong advocate as Ne’eman as a guest speaker for our 2014 International Autism Conference hosted right here in New York City this upcoming June. We hope you will be just as inspired as we are!
For more information on this conference and how you can hear him speak for yourself, click here
For more information on ASAN, click here
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Gina Gill, a 9-year-old girl with autism from San Diego, has struggled with socializing and self-confidence for most of her life. Fortunately, Gina has been able to boost her self esteem by learning how to surf: her teacher being a 5-year-old golden retriever name Ricochet. Continue reading
The heartwarming story of a boy and his dog is an American tale told time and time again, but never quite like this. Seven months ago, Friends of DeKalb Animal Rescue in Georgia found an emaciated, abused puppy, naming her Xena the Warrior puppy after her miraculous recovery. Little did they know, Xena would be a bit of a miracle herself. Xena’s pictures were so astonishing that she quickly became a celebrity, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars for the rescue group. At a fundraiser for the animal rescue, Xena picked a pal—running straight to a little boy named Johnny. Johnny is an autistic boy who is verbal, but has always been very withdrawn and uncomfortable with others. Their grand introduction was puppy-love-at-first-sight. Johnny’s family adopted Xena once she was healthy enough to bring home. According to Johnny’s parents, Xena brought about a change in Johnny almost instantly—encouraging him to talk often and excitedly. Johnny asked his mom to make a video of him and Xena for Autism Awareness month, which he learned is also Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month. In the video, Johnny is wonderfully spoken, sending a message about understanding saying, “Spread the word to be nice to animals and nice to kids like me.”
Animal assisted therapy is a popular approach to coping with autism, but rarely is it associated with communication skills and habits like Johnny’s transformation. Perhaps Johnny and Xena’s instant connection had something to do with Xena’s marginalization. Some animal assisted therapy programs are also animal rescue and rehabilitation centers, like Merlin’s Kids. In these programs, like with Johnny’s story, the support is mutual and the affects are astonishing. To see Johnny’s video, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LEG2CqTxHzw. Do Share your opinion on animal assisted therapy or stories of your children with animals!
Last night, the You & I gallery in Kennewick, WA displayed the work of 20-year-old Austin Saget, who is an austic. Saget is in his final year of high school and the exhibition featured his senior project. His interest in photography began 5 years ago when his neighbors gave him a film camera. This same neighbor acted as a mentor for Saget , fostering his interest and supporting his outlet. Saget photographs primarily landscape and architectural patterns. Brooke Yunt, co-owner of You & I gallery, describes Saget’s work passionately saying, “This kid has natural talent oozing from his work.”
Saget’s is yet another beautiful success story of coping with ASD. With the encouragement of his community, Saget has found a form of expression that is satisfying and tapped into his talents. At Shema Kolainu we encourage arts education and believe in fostering the individual talents of our children.
For more details about Austin Saget’s exhibition: