Month: July 2012

Autism: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

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When it comes to children who have autism, sometimes you just need to take a closer look and gain some perspective. It’s then that you can begin to recognize their many gifts and experience the amazing joy that they bring to those around them.

My 6-year-old son is on the autism spectrum. He is a piano prodigy and I frequently post his videos to my YouTube account. One day this past April, a video of him playing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” went viral.Our family appeared on NBC’s Today Show, Mr. Joel personally reached out to my family and Ethan’s story was told worldwide.

That YouTube video received over 1,296,700 hits. Ninety-nine percent of the video comments were positive, such as, “Made tears come to my eyes watching this amazing young God-gifted talented young man!”

Then, of course, there was the other 1 percent. There’s always that 1 percent.

True, the negative 1 percent of comments mostly involved my camerawork — as in, “You’re an idiot (or moron or simpleton or dummy or… choose your adjective) to hold the camera portrait instead of landscape.” (Guilty as charged! Lesson more than learned.)

But then I read this comment: “[Autism] is not a gift, it’s autism. And autism is bad.”

Music is his gift

“Music is one of the few things where he doesn’t have to try twice as hard to get half as much.”

Music is in my son’s soul. Music is part of him. Music speaks to him — and through him. Music allows him to transcend the obstacles in his life. Music is one of the few things where he doesn’t have to try twice as hard to get half as much. Music is his gift, and it’s a priceless gift. Priceless for him, priceless for me and priceless for (almost) everyone who watched his video.

My son — my child with autism spectrum disorder — brought smiles and joy to literally millions of people across the globe! He united us all in the span of a four minute and fifty-five second video.

Yet, this random strange man who watched my son play “Piano Man” said his gift isn’t really a gift at all. It’s autism, and autism is bad.

(Just to note: This random strange man did not like my son’s video, but he did click “Like” on the “How to make a V10 Lamborghini sound with your mouth” and “Shortcut to big muscles” videos. Um, yeah. We won’t be meeting at The Plaza Hotel for afternoon tea any time soon.)


You want bad, random video commenter? Here’s bad. Bad is a 6-year-old senselessly murdered in a Colorado movie theater. Bad is to search 18 years for a kidnapped child, and to one day learn of the horror she endured while confined. Bad is to watch a child dragged into the ocean by a riptide and simply vanish. Bad is a day where you wake up — and your child does not because her life was claimed by SIDS.

When you think about those truly bad things, my son’s condition pales in comparison. My son brings more joy, light, laughter and, of course, music into my life than I deserve. For me, his autism is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s just a gift we have to manage. And that’s not bad. It’s not bad at all.

by Allison Ziering Walmark


Why Do I Do This?

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Why do I do this? I am a husband and father of an autistic son and his two neurotypical brothers; each of whom provide my wife and me with endless pride and profound joy, each in their own unique ways.  I decided in March this year, as World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month approached, that I wanted to write some things down and share them with whoever wanted to read my observations.  I also wanted the opportunity to share some of the many things that I’ve found; things that pique my interest as a parent and an advocate for Autism Awareness. 

autism awareness ribbon

There are many, many tragic stories in the news and on the Internet about children and adults on the Autism Spectrum who have been lost, been disparaged, or forgotten; we all know about these stories for they are countless and unending.  There are, however,  just as many stories of inspiration and encouragement.  These are what interest me more because they speak to the spirit of the person on the Spectrum, as well as those who care for them.  A parent of someone on the Autism Spectrum has experienced many trials and tribulations, as well as a myriad of emotions.  There are days when we all need to be inspired, myself included; whether it is my own son’s story or someone else’s son or daughter. 

I used to participate in Autism Speaks‘ blog/message boards in years past but eventually found that forum to be overwhelming; too many ‘experts’ in their own minds, and too many posts nitpicking and putting others down.  Entirely too toxic an environment that often drowned out many reasoned, civil comments.  So I stopped, and moved onto this blog eventually. 

I get a chance to read others’ blogs when I am on WordPress; at least I try to.  Sometimes my work computer is slow or wonky; state-issued desktops that still run Windows XP that I can’t upgrade.  When I do get to read posts, it reminds me of how lucky my wife and I are, comparatively speaking: Mike is verbal, not on meds, and is making progress.  Though it has not always been this way, it is good to get the perspective of others on another section of the Spectrum.  It also reaffirms my drive to deliver (I hope) news of hope and encouragement, to myself if for no one else. 

I also get absolutely Pavlovian when I get a new ‘follow’ or a ‘like’ to one of my posts: it is wonderful to receive positive affirmation.  There are days when I don’t feel like writing or posting, but when a follow, a like, or a comment is posted, it just gets me going again.  Like autistics, neurotypical people crave communication. 

Am I on the Spectrum? Unlike other autism bloggers, I am not on the Spectrum, although truth be told, there are some social situations that I can relate to on that level.  I do respect many bloggers who are on the Spectrum, especially teens and young adults, because they provide insight into what my son may encounter on his journey. 

I am not a ‘celebrity’ follower per se; I post stories about athletes, actors and other celebrities because they have a venue that I will never have: access to thousands of fans and followers.  They are better equipped to spread awareness than I will ever be.  Their fans on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media literally hang on every word they write.  The autism community applauded Holly Robinson Peete’s open letter to 50 Cent, but when I sent a tweet to her about doing the same to confront Joe Scarborough, that went unanswered.  I suppose we choose our battles, and can only do what we can do; I just feel that those with the opportunity and resources to champion the autism community should do so at every turn.

Why do I do this? I do this because it is my responsibility, it is a calling of sorts.  It is my way of communicating with others about Autism, and hopefully provide some added nourishment to keep fighting for our children.  I do this because it is good for my soul. 

Engage – Enable – Expand – Express – Embrace  are things we should do every day.

We aspire toward Acceptance, Advocacy, Achievement and Excellence.

Thanks for indulging me.  -Ed

Sean Green: Minor League Pitcher, Major League Heart

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From left: Sean Green; his son, Owen ; his wife, Christina and his daughter, Olivia Green.

BRIDGEWATER — Sean Green has played for 16 different professional baseball clubs, but at home he is part of a two-person team committed to something far more significant than wins and losses.

Green, a former New York Mets relief pitcher now with the Somerset Patriots, and his wife Christina are active volunteers in autism-related events and foundations. The younger of the couple’s two children, 3½-year-old Owen, was diagnosed with autism last July.

“We have a strong faith, and we know that Owen is autistic for a reason,” Christina said. “We feel fortunate to be able to walk this walk with him. We’re going to figure it out together. We know that Owen is going to succeed in a lot of areas. We just have to find his strengths.”

The entire Green family recently joined other members of the Patriots as guests at Camp Okee Sunokee, a summer program run by the Somerset County Park Commission for six- to 14-year-olds who suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome – a form of autism – and learning disabilities. Autism affects one in every 88 children.

“There has been a real big learning curve for us,” Sean said. “It’s one of those things where each kid with autism is completely different (from another). There is no way of knowing what it’s going to be like for Owen 10 years down the road or even one year down the road.”

Owen’s early diagnosis did not come as a surprise to the Greens, who began researching possible causes for his delayed speech and lack of social interaction. The reserved personality lies in stark contrast to that of couple’s highly outgoing 6-year-old daughter Olivia, though the siblings still have formed a strong bond.

“It’s tough because there are a lot of times when he gets upset and you don’t know why,” Sean said. “But he is just a blast to be around. It’s amazing once you start thinking the way he is thinking.”

For the camp’s organizer, SCPC Therapeutic Recreation manager Dina Trunzo, amazement comes from watching the interaction that occurs on the most anticipated day of the six-week-long calendar.

“Because all the kids are from Somerset County or the surrounding areas, these players are their heroes,” Trunzo said. “The guys are natural at it. They’re playing with them and joking with them. There is high-fiving and fist pumps – things that are not an impromptu part of their lives.”

From an educational standpoint, the visit to Camp Okee Sunokee was just as beneficial for the Greens as it was for the 40 enrollees who practiced baseball as a way of improving motor skills and self-esteem.

“The managers at the camp had a great grasp on what autism is and how to make things special for the kids,” Christina said. “The kids all felt such a bond with each other, and Sean and I are around enough autistic kids to know that is hard to do. The counselors understand that this sets them up for real-life situations. It was very eye-opening for us.”

It wasn’t the first significant autism-support experience for the Greens, who also are involved with the “Beading to Beat Autism” cause (www. started by a young girl with an autistic brother from a family based near the Greens’ offseason home in Louisville, Ky.

“We feel blessed to be in a situation where Owen can get the proper therapy,” said Sean, who debuted with the 2006 Seattle Mariners and pitched for the 2009-10 Mets. “We try to reach out as much as we can. There are a lot of good resources on the Internet, but talking to other parents who have gone through it really helped us. ”

Tattoos For Autism

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NASHUA – When Kyle Leblanc, 19, and his sister Alicia, 23, from Billerica, Mass, entered Mayhem Ink on Saturday, they had no idea a benefit for autism was happening.

“It was a nice surprise,” Alicia Leblanc said. “I think it’s wonderful that they are doing something like this. They need to do more things like this.”

Kyle, who said he’s “wanted to get (a tattoo) for a long time,” was getting his first tattoo, a Celtic cross in honor of his grandfather who passed away last month. His sister was getting the same tattoo.

The Leblancs were happy to say that their tattoos would help raise money for autism.

Elizabeth McMeniman is the mother of 5-year-old Nathan, who has autism. For the second year in a row, McMeniman partnered with Mayhem Ink owner John Martein to raise money for the event and to raise awareness about those with autism.

“It’s tough to have,” McMeniman said of autism. “Sometimes kids can’t go in stores because they’ll yell and people will look at you and make faces. It’s good to educate the public about it.”

In addition to the tattoo fundraiser, McMeniman and her family take part in the Walk for Autism Speaks, on a team named for her son.

They’ve seen some success, as last year’s tattoo event raised around $1,000 dollars, with 28 getting tattooed.

“We try to make it fun, and not so tattoo parlor-like,” McMeniman said.

The event was also kid friendly, with fake tattoos for children who attended with their parents.

There were also different raffles people could enter, including tickets to Canobie Lake Park and sports memorabilia from the Red Sox, Manchester Monarchs and Portland Seadogs. They were also raffling off a sky-diving package.

For Karen Butterfield, of Merrimack, she said this was the perfect time and place for her to get a tattoo.

“I’ve never had a tattoo before and this gave me a reason to get one,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield, along with her husband and two daughters, were all there to get the same tattoo, the iconic puzzle piece that represents autism, in honor of her 18-year-old son.

“It’s been a long road, and I wanted to have something with meaning,” Butterfield said of the new tattoo on her ankle.

She said she plans to come back every year the event is held and will get a new puzzle piece to fit into the last one until it wraps around her ankle. Each puzzle piece will be one of the different colors.

Marla Haddard, of Groton, Mass., has two children with autism, and she got a puzzle-piece tattoo on her ankle in honor of them.

“It’s important for people to understand. (People with autism) can have a tough time in public, and this can help (provide) support for research and grants for families who may need them,” Haddard said of the event.

Mayhem Ink was happy to host the benefit for autism, and has done so before for breast cancer and cystic fibrosis.

“I’m happy to do any benefit as long as it’s for a good cause,” Matrien said. “We do it at least three times a year for people.”

Matrien said he would likely continue to do the benefit in the future.

Autism Is Changing The World

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How Autism is Changing the World for Everybody

How Autism is Changing the World for Everybody

There’s not much doubt that autism, along with Asperger Syndrome, is finally becoming accepted as a normal part of the human fabric. Even if some people still see autism as a condition that needs to be “treated,” it’s increasingly obvious that people on the autism spectrum are finding ways to succeed in our neurotypical-based society.

Not only that, but autistic people are changing the nature of our society as well — in many ways, for the better.

The image above was drawn by Stephen Wilshire, a British architectural artist who has been diagnosed with autism. He is known for his ability to draw a detailed landscape from memory after just seeing it once.

To better understand how it is that autism has come to impact so significantly on mainstream culture, we spoke to two experts on the matter, Steve Silberman and Andrea Kuszewski. Silberman is a longtime contributing editor at Wired and is currently at work on his upcoming book, Neurotribes: Thinking Smarter About People Who Think Differently. And Kuszewski is a consultant and behavioral therapist for children who are on the autism spectrum, and an expert in finding alternative learning strategies for gifted kids. We also talked to other people whose lives have been touched by autism.

How Autism is Changing the World for EverybodyThrough our conversations with Silberman and Kuszewski, it became clear that autism has played a significant role in crafting much of what we consider to be modern culture — from the music and books we read, to the technological devices we all take for granted. The acceptance of radically different ways of thinking, it turns out, can be seen as an integral part of a rich and diverse overarching culture.

Not the way it used to be

Today, talk of autism is normal, and most of us are familiar with it. But as recently as two to three decades ago, kids on the spectrum were mercilessly teased as being nerds or geeks. While many today wear those labels as points of pride, it was certainly not the case back then — they were used as put-downs, a way of calling out kids who had a hard time socializing — and who at the same time exhibited a kind of smartness that caused them to be alienated from the “normal” kids.

A major turning point in this story came with the release of Rain Man in 1988 — a movie that did as much harm as good. On the one hand, Rain Man spread misconceptions, but on the other hand, it made many people aware of autism for the first time. While painting an overly severe depiction of the condition, Rain Man served as a catalyst for a huge shift in the mainstream understanding of autism.

How Autism is Changing the World for Everybody In fact, as Silberman tells io9, most pediatricians hadn’t even heard of autism prior to the film’s release. It was once seen as a rather arcane disease that didn’t deserve mention in most textbooks — but one that was thought to be related to childhood schizophrenia.

“After Rain Man, we started to realize that autism is common,” said Silberman, “and that society was going to have to deal with it — that we were going to have to accept these other kinds of humans.”

More than two decades later, the socio-cultural landscape surrounding autism has shifted. The rising acceptance of neurodiversity has represented a seminal cultural adjustment in the early parts of the 21st century.

Indeed, as Kuszewski tells io9, we’re now starting to notice it almost everywhere — and at the same time, there’s less of a stigma surrounding it. “If anything,” she says, “it’s slightly trendy to have Asperger’s.”

And with nearly 1 in 88 people diagnosed today, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Silberman quotes Jonathan Lethem, describing it as the “defining room tone of our time.”

Moreover, there may actually be many more who go undiagnosed. “It’s very important to remember that people who get diagnosed are a minority in a very broad field of people who are kind of only talked about jokingly,” he says. “There may be broad autism phenotypes — people who have traits — but would probably not earn or seek a diagnosis.” Many of these people, notes Silberman, could use the support. “This is not some kind of yuppie flu,” he adds.

The autistic aesthetic

The signs of autism’s reach are beginning to been seen virtually everywhere. People on the spectrum are driving the creation of alternative forms of expression, new businesses and institutions, and cutting-edge technologies. “And not only do they make these things comfortable for themselves,” noted Silberman, “they’re useful for all of us.”

Silberman is right. A quick roster of known or suspected autistic artists who have made an impact in arts and culture includes such seminal figures as Stanley Kubrick, Andy Warhol, David Byrne, Brian Eno, Satoshi Tajiri (creator of Pokémon) and many others. Their contributions have become an indelible part of the zeitgeist.

They’re also making an impact in tech media, or what Silberman refers to as the geek landscape. Geek entertainment sites such as Wired and BoingBoing “are built for neurotypicals, but serve the aesthetic of autistic people as well.”

Indeed, it’s hardly a secret to admit that autistic kids and adults are drawn to technology — science fiction in particular — and fascinatingly, it has almost always been that way. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was the fixation on rocket ships and flying to the Moon that convinced pediatricians that there was something deeply wrong with these kids — that their unworldly and impractical obsessions were signs of a deep psychological malaise.

“But fast forward to today and what do we find, but that we’re actually doing it,” noted Silberman.

There’s no understating the importance of the autistic aesthetic to the rise and popularity of science fiction and similar genres. The elaborate, technically accurate science fiction universe is an autistic playground.

Autistic people are also changing the way in which existing art and culture is appreciated. A prime example are the so-called sensory friendly showings of movies and Broadway shows. These are special showings in which the sound is turned down, the lights are up, and children are free to walk around (which must also be a welcome relief for people with ADHD). These shows are incredibly popular and often sell out — a possible indication that neurotypicals are also keen to take advantage.

The Rise of Maker Culture

One area in which autistic people are making an impact is maker culture. “Many on the spectrum love to take apart and then rebuild or change or hack mechanical devices,” said Silberman. It’s resulted in a convergence of geeks and the popularization of tech culture.

A good example of this is John Elder Robison, author of Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. Robison is fascinated by both computers and mechanical devices. Once a guitar technician for Kiss, he now runs a very high-end body shop for sports cars.

“What you see is that kids with autism and Aspergers love this culture,” said Silberman, “it totally plays to their strengths.”

Kuszewski agrees. She recently relocated her office to the Bay Area to work on an education program based on a hacker space model — and she’s getting considerable interest. When working with clients, she has found that they’re “really hyper” into one specific niche area, including such things as resistors, trains, math, stats, probabilities, and virtually anything technical. “They have these really deep interests,” she noted, “and they geek out over it and it’s like their whole world.”

And the sentiment is infectious. “I started to respect the people that were totally into something obscure and technical and completely proud of it, said Kuszewski, “I admired how they were so willing to put their obsessive nerdiness on display.” Working with these kids, she started to find it hard not get excited about even the most arcane things. “You get so thrilled over such tiny little things.”

One young man who certainly qualifies for this camp is 15 year-old Joey Hudy, a talented young man with ADD, ADHD and Asperger’s. Struggling at school and finding it hard to make friends, Hudy credits maker culture with changing his life.

“I now have a career that I like,” he tells io9, “I am inspired by a lot of other people — and now I only make.” He tells us about how lonely he was a year ago, without any goals or friends. Since discovering the maker movement, he has become more self-confident and happy. “I found the place where I belong,” he says, “All my maker friends are like family.”

And since getting involved in maker culture, Joey hasn’t done badly at all. He recently returned from the White House, where he got to show off his Marshmallow Cannon to President Obama. He also has his very own maker kit on the market. And he’s subsequently developed talents for programming, soldering, building, and designing.

We ask Hudy what people who don’t have autism can learn from maker culture. “Same thing that I have: Everything,” he says.

Hudy, like so many kids his age, is finding a way to adapt to a neurotypical world, and in the process, is helping to change the overarching cultural landscape.

Indeed, as Kuszewski tells us, kids like Hudy didn’t have a way to meet others like them. “Now, with the internet, you’re able to form these clubs and groups with people to share online,” she said. Realizing that you’re not alone and don’t have to hide is confidence building. And what’s more, it’s not just an “autistic thing” — the ability to share highly technical information, and to not feel embarrassed or ashamed about it, is starting to be accepted by the larger population.

And these subcultures are trickling into the mainstream. Take Burlington, Ontario’s McKay family, for example. In a family of six athletic overachievers (mom and dad included), parents Justine and Jason struggled to accommodate their 10-year-old son Nathan, who had very little interest in sports. After coming to the realization that Nathan enjoyed tinkering with gadgets and electronic devices, they enrolled him in a robotics program. Unsure at first about what they were doing, his parents quickly realized that there didn’t need to be a stigma attached to “nerdy” things.

“Ebots provided Nathan with an environment where he was part of the group, a group that shared a passion for robotics,” Justine tells io9. She also started to notice positive changes in Nathan as well, such as a genuine excitement for class and a newfound confidence. “This makes being smart cool,” she says, “It gave Nathan a place to be himself and be comfortable about it.”

Thoughtful communication at a distance

For a group of people who supposedly suffer from a “social communications disorder,” autistics like Joey Hudy have shown a great desire to be social and share in their achievements with others — at least when they’re given the right tools.

Silberman observes that mobile devices, tablets, and texting have largely become assistive technologies for non-neurotypical people — even though they’re not limited in application to a specific niche at all. These are cheap, general-use devices that are perfectly well suited for both autistics and neurotypical people. And best of all, they allow people with autism to consider their thoughts before they speak.

“And given that neurotypicals use these devices in pretty much the same way, you end up with a culture that’s very much amenable to how autistics prefer to work,” said Silberman, “and you’ve largely got a culture much like the one we see now.”

Today’s superstars

But perhaps nowhere is the influence of people on the autism spectrum felt more widely than in the tech sector. “So many startups and businesses are based around” these people, notes Kuszewski.

How Autism is Changing the World for Everybody

According to Gawker’s Ryan Tate, notable entrepreneurs on the spectrum include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Craigslist’s Craig Newmark, and Bittorrent’s Bram Cohen. And as Tate points out, autistic characteristics such as obsessiveness, impaired social interaction, and clumsiness can be beneficial in the tech sector. It’s quite possible that these “impairments” are likely behind their success.

And these entrepreneurs are being celebrated as superstars and role models. “They’ve become this well accepted, superhero-type, rather than the person who was picked on in high school,” noted Kuszewski.

A force for diversity

Modern culture is clearly being defined and influenced by our willingness to celebrate and learn from those who think and act differently — a clear sign that tolerance, accommodation, and understanding benefits all of us.

But not only that, the rise of autistic culture shows how important it is to have alternative psychological modalities as a part of the cultural fabric. In an age when economic globalization and other factors threaten to homogenize human culture, it’s good to know that different minds can still give rise to new ideas.

Scarborough ‘Apologizes’ To Autism Community

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Oh the power of parents, caregivers, and decent people of conscience!  Like 50Cent before him, MSNBC personality Joe Scarborough has issued an apology of sorts to the Autism community.  I was personally offended by his comment effectively linking autism to violence, and sent an email yesterday to MSNBC President Phil Griffin asking for network action.  Not that I feel I had any real impact on this outcome, but it feels good to take action on behalf of our children have the desired outcome result.  I know that little blogs like this one, various news services and social media like Facebook and Twitter have made their contributions toward uniting and promoting the Autism community, and this Scarborough affair is a testament to the that unity.  It is clear that MSNBC and Scarborough has started to feel the pressure being applied by the Autism community.  It would be even ‘more eloquent’ to actually say “I’m sorry” but in the realm of politicians and pundits, a ‘clarification’ is a mea culpa; if someone who speaks for a living has to clarify his words, it is clear the words were a mistake.  To all members of the Spectrum who work hard every day to take a step forward, this is the heart of Autism Awareness: this is Autism Activism.  Keep the pressure on! -Ed

Joe Scarborough Apologizes for Making Autism Link to James Holmes, Alleged Aurora Shooter

The MSNBC host, who has a son with Aspergers, came under fire for what some considered distasteful stereotypes of people with autism.

Joe Scarborough is asking for a mea culpa.

Joe Scarborough
The former Congressman and host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe has received criticism for remarks he made on Monday’s show, in which he said that as soon as he heard that James Holmes, the alleged gunman responsible for the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, was a young, white male from the suburbs, he thought that Holmes was one “these people that are somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale.”

On Tuesday, Scarborough issued a clarification to Dan Abrams’ site, Mediaite:

“The growing Autism epidemic is a tremendous burden for children, parents and loved ones to endure,” he wrote to the website. “My call for increased funding and awareness for Autism and other mental health conditions was meant to support the efforts of those who work every day to improve the lives of Americans impacted. Those suggesting that I was linking all violent behavior to Autism missed my larger point and overlooked the fact that I have a wonderful, loving son with Aspergers. Perhaps I could have made my point more eloquently.

“I look forward to continuing my work with wonderful organizations like Autism Speaks to provide badly needed support to millions of Americans who struggle with Autism every day,” he added.

Scarborough has a son with Aspergers, and has been involved with charities benefiting the disease. In 2005, he hosted Robert Kennedy Jr. in a segment in which they discussed the disease, and the largely debunked notion that childhood vaccines could have caused an uptick in the number of kids with autism.

Meet The Young Profs of Rowan University

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Rowan University’s Young Profs Camp Gives Students With Autism Chance To Learn At Their Own Pace

rowan young profs

Grant Lazarovici of Cherry Hill participates in a hands-on science experiment at Rowan University’s Young Profs camp.

GLASSBORO — For parents, it’s the chance to see their children thrive and enjoy life. For educators, it’s an opportunity to see hard work and dedication pay off.

Rowan University

And for the nearly three dozen preteens and teens involved in Rowan University’s second annual Young Profs Exploration Camp, it’s the chance to learn and have fun, all at their own pace.

The camp began on Monday morning, which introduced 29 students with high-functioning autism, Asperger Syndrome or ADHD from Gloucester, Camden and Burlington counties to professors from the college, who are providing fun, hands-on lessons to the students.

“There are more and more students with Aspergers attending Rowan, so we decided to start the camp last year,” said John Woodruff, Rowan University’s disability coordinator.

Last year, the camp hosted 15 students. One moved away, but 10 others returned to camp this year, in addition to 19 new campers, Woodruff said.

“It’s a chance to meet other students like themselves,” Woodruff said. “For some on the autism spectrum, working as a team can be uncomfortable. It’s an opportunity to build social skills for someone who doesn’t go to camp or who wants to do something challenging.”

On Monday, students laughed and smiled while launching bottle rockets in the open field adjacent to Rowan Hall.

West Deptford seventh-grader Kayla Baylor, a return camper, launched her rocket 222 feet on the campus. She said she was excited to come back to Rowan this summer to participate in Young Profs again.

“It’s fun and I’ve made a lot of friends,” Baylor said. “I like the staff. It’s nice, both the activities and friends.”

Baylor said she is looking forward to more educational activities throughout the week, along with the family day on Friday, which signals the close of camp.

Students will also participate in a scavenger hunt, see science experiments come to life, tour the campus radio and television stations, along with dabbling in the arts.

Most of the camp counselors are current Rowan students, or recent graduates. These students keep in touch with the campers year-round, and invite them to other events and activities throughout the year.

Civil and Environmental Engineering student Andrea McFarland returned to camp this summer, spending Monday afternoon showing the students the effects of a chemical reaction in a soda bottle. She said she enjoys seeing the students become engaged in science.

“It’s rewarding and pretty exciting to see them get excited and to get excited about what I enjoy,” she said.

McFarland’s colleague Stephanie Moore joined the camp program this year, saying she is happy to see students work far beyond their limitations.

“I love it. It gives kids something different to do,” Moore said. “It’s incredible to see their drive. They’re not just students with autism. They can do anything they set their minds to.”