April 25, 2009

Huntington, WV Walk For Autism 2009

Each year, the Huntington Area Autism Society (HAAS), Autism Services Center (ASC) and the WV Autism Training Center (ATC) at Marshall University combine efforts to host a Walk For Autism.

Some photos from the event held Saturday at Ritter Park:

Each year interest and participation grows, and 2009 was no exception. More than 500 people participated in the event, which also included biking and running categories.

Below: Elaine Harvey, President of HAAS and former board member of the national Autism Society of America greets the crowd, along with Tim Irr from WSAZ (left) and regional radio legend JB Miller.

Elaine was nominated for, and won, the Herald-Dispatch 2008 Volunteer of The Year Award for her work on behalf of the autism community.

Below: Ruth Sullivan, founding member and the first elected President of the Autism Society of America inspired the crowd before the walk.

The parent of an individual with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and a professional in the field, the pioneering work carried out by Ruth during the past 45 years played a significant role in the development of many of the services available nationwide today.

Below: Barbara Cottrill, Executive Director of the WV ATC, talking to a Walk participant before lining up for the 3.1 mile trek.

Barbara's work at the Autism Training Center has significantly improved educational services available to children with an ASD in West Virginia, and the Family Focus PBS model through which the ATC works is a national model for best practice methods. Barbara is currently a Co-Chair for the Autism Society of America's Panel of Professional Advisors.

Below: ASC Executive Director Mike Grady, with his grandson Grady. The Autism Services Center recently celebrated it's 30th year of service delivery in West Virginia.

In addition to specializing in service delivery to individuals with ASD, the Autism Services Center provides case management and direct services of the highest quality to hundreds of individuals diagnosed with various developmental disabilities living in the southwest region of the state.

Below: The ATC's College Program was well represented. Justin Kaunitz and Keshia Peterson stopped for a photo just prior to the finish line.

Below: Some folks just enjoy having their picture taken, even if they are sweaty!

Jason Deusenberry (left), an employee of Autism Services Center and soon-to-be graduate of Marshall University's Counseling program, with Marc Ellison at the finish line of the 3 mile hike.

April 22, 2009

The Sky Is The Limit!

"Maybe my story at least shows people that even if institutions put this bar up and won't help you and give you an environment where you can be comfortable, at least with enough work and luck you can still do well." ~ Alex Goodenough, 17, and a student at Cambridge.

Read his inspirational story of resilience here.

April 16, 2009

Susan Boyle Reminds Us

For several years during the 1980s and 1990s, a significant portion of my career was spent developing supported employment sites for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. On those occasions the job site worked out, the result was usually magical; most times, however, combating the stigma that existed in the business community over hiring employees with disabilities was disheartening.

Humans are rather finicky. We tend to make quick judgements about people when they walk at a different pace than the majority. We become cynical about capabilities when one's suit has an imperfect fit. We're sometimes jaded about people who talk with an unusual cadence, or who forget to look us in the eye during conversation.

All too often, those quick judgements cause us to devalue others.

That perception is not only wrong, it allows us to close the door on amazing talent and potential.

Susan Boyle reminds us: allow for opportunity. Creativity, talent, ability and desire have nothing to do with the package in which it's contained.

See what I mean by clicking here.

Thanks to my friend Brad, for the link.

April 2, 2009

Autism Awareness Day

Sometime in the early '90s, at a national conference in North Carolina, I attended a discussion on autism presented by a panel of individuals, each diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It was the first-ever attempt this conference made to develop such a panel, and I was eager to hear the perspectives of the individuals.

During the Q&A session, an audience member walked to the mic and asked this simple question: "If you could take a magic pill today and wake up tomorrow without the symptoms of autism, would you take the pill?"

Of course they would, I thought. Who wouldn't?

"No, I wouldn't take the pill," was the answer. And not by just one panel member; each of them clearly and with great passion explained why they would pass on any treatment that would remove the condition from their lives.

"Autism is a part of my life, and helped shape me into the person I am today. Without it, I'd be a different person, with different perspectives and different insights. I'd be someone different than me, and I sort of like the me I am now."

It was exactly the answer this young professional needed to hear. Perhaps it's not the condition that requires a cure: perhaps the cure lies in acceptance, the removal of stigma, and in understanding and support. Maybe the best approach is for those of us living off the spectrum to effectively adapt and change our own presumptions about autism, and in doing so put ourselves in a better position to support folks living with an ASD.

Be aware.