Autism Awareness Month

Autism Awareness Month

My experience in Special Olympics and understanding autism
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In honor of Autism Awareness Month (April!), I am going to share with you my experience with the Young Athletes Program at Merrimack College. The Young Athletes Program is run to prepare children between the ages of two and seven for the Special Olympics. The children have intellectual disabilities including autism and down syndrome. We work on different motor skills every week, and it gives the children a chance to play and learn while giving their families a time to take a break and mingle with other parents they can relate too. I chose Young Athletes Program for my service learning requirement in a diversity class, and I am so glad that I did. Not only has my experience been fun, but it has challenged me and taught me so much about disabilities.

What drew me to the program was that I would be getting to work with young children, which I’ll do anything to play with cute little kids. But, I also wanted to get myself out of my comfort zone. I do not have a lot of experience with special needs, besides what I have learned from my mother who is a special education teacher. I knew that I would learn a lot more about disabilities, patience, and children in general. I was most nervous about unintentionally doing something to make a child uncomfortable and dealing with challenges I was not used to.

What I thought was absolutely amazing was that my buddy can follow directions best if they are written out for him or spelt out by the person talking. Instead of saying, kick the ball, I usually need to write it on a whiteboard or spell “K-I-C-K!” Not to mention he is 5 years old, and he can read and process when his mom spells out phrases quickly. That is amazing!

Being surrounded by other kids, I got to work with several other buddies in the program. One of the most valuable things I learned is how wide the autism spectrum is. I have always been super interested in how the brain works for different people. When it comes to autism, I find it so fascinating that each and every child with autism is so different, and how their brains work differently from each other. Many people do not realize that there are several forms of autism with a huge variety of characteristics, signs, and abilities.

According to Autism Society, Autism, or more specifically Spectrum Disorder, is defined as follows:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause of autism, but increased awareness and early diagnosis/intervention and access to appropriate services/supports lead to significantly improved outcomes. Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities. Again, a person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few, or many others besides.

In my experience, I have been able to see this play out. Some of the children cannot understand social cues. Some of them have echolalia (repeating what others say to them). Some are higher functioning. Some are lower functioning. Some of them are sensitive to certain sounds or stimulation. Some are nonverbal. I would never be able to list out all the unique aspects of people with autism. I think that being able to understand that every child is so different is helpful to me because I understand the difficulty of getting accommodations and making sure these children are getting the love and support they need to grow up like any kid should be able to. I also am more aware of the signs and I am able to put myself in their shoes.

I want to be an elementary teacher when I am older, and I know that this experience will help me a lot in the future when I am working in inclusion classrooms. In general, by working with people with intellectual disabilities, I now am more aware of autism and how to go about working with people in everyday life.

Autism is a wide spectrum, which can make it very difficult to understand. I think Autism Awareness Month is the perfect opportunity for people to learn more about it and help raise awareness. Read more about it, take part in fundraisers, or find some way to get involved. Addtionally, I highly recommend that any Merrimack students join Young Athletes Program and that any other people find a chance to volunteer with Special Olympics or another program for people with autism.

Cover Image Credit: NJEA

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8 Struggles Of Being 21 And Looking 12

The struggle is real, my friends.
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“You'll appreciate it when you're older." Do you know how many times my mom has told me this? Too many to count. Every time I complain about looking young that is the response I get. I know she's right, I will love looking young when I'm in my 40s. However, looking young is a real struggle in your 20s. Here's what we have to deal with:

1. Everyone thinks your younger sister or brother is the older one.

True story: someone actually thought my younger sister was my mom once. I've really gotten used to this but it still sucks.

2. You ALWAYS get carded.

Every. Single. Time. Since I know I look young, I never even bothered with a fake ID my first couple of years of college because I knew it would never work. If I'm being completely honest, I was nervous when I turned 21 that the bartender would think my real driver's license was a fake.

3. People look at your driver's license for an awkward amount of time.

So no one has actually thought my real driver's license is fake but that doesn't stop them from doing a double take and giving me *that look.* The look that says, “Wow, you don't look that old." And sometimes people will just flat out say that. The best part is this doesn't just happen when you're purchasing alcohol. This has happened to me at the movie theater.

SEE ALSO: 10 Things People Who Look 12 Hate Hearing

4. People will give you *that look* when they see you drinking alcohol.

You just want to turn around and scream “I'M 21, IT'S LEGAL. STOP JUDGING ME."

5. People are shocked to find out you're in college.

If I had a dollar for every time someone had a shocked expression on their face after I told them I'm a junior in college I could pay off all of my student loan debt. It's funny because when random people ask me how school is going, I pretty much assume they think I'm in high school and the shocked look on their face when I start to talk about my college classes confirms I'm right.

6. For some reason wearing your hair in a ponytail makes you look younger.

I don't understand this one but it's true. Especially if I don't have any makeup on I could honestly pass for a child.

7. Meeting an actual 12-year-old who looks older than you.

We all know one. That random 12-year-old who looks extremely mature for her age and you get angry because life isn't fair.

8. Being handed a kids' menu.

This is my personal favorite. It happens more often than it should. The best part of this is it's your turn to give someone a look. The look that says, "You've got to be kidding me".

Looking young is a real struggle and I don't think everyone realizes it. However, with all the struggles that come with looking young, we still take advantage of it. Have you ever gone to a museum or event where if you're under a certain age you get in for a discounted price? Yeah? Well, that's when I bet you wish you were us. And kids' meals are way cheaper than regular meals so there have definitely been a couple times when I've kept that kids' menu.

So, all in all, it's not the worst thing in the world but it's definitely a struggle.

Cover Image Credit: Jenna Collins

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How Growing Up In A Culturally Diverse Environment Changed Me

We are all human.

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I can proudly say that I am from Montgomery County, Maryland, more specifically from the city of Gaithersburg. According to a 2018 study by WalletHub, three of the top 10 culturally diverse cities in the United States are located in Montgomery County. Those cities include Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Silver Spring.

I have lived in Montgomery County ever since the day I was born. Growing up in such a culturally and economically diverse area has educated me with the value of accepting differences. Since I was exposed to an assortment of cultures at such a young age, I hardly ever noticed differences among my peers and I. The everyday exposure to various cultures taught me to embrace diversity and look beyond appearances such as the color of someone's skin. I was able to open my eyes to other ideas, lifestyles, and backgrounds.

Ever since I was a child, I was not only taught to welcome different cultures and ethnic groups, but I was always surrounded by them. From my elementary to high school years, every classroom was filled with racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. Coming from someone apart of the Caucasian race, I was often the minority in school. Not everyone is as fortunate to experience such a multicultural society.

Since being from Montgomery County, I have grown up as a person with an open mind and strong values. Diversity has not only taught me to be more mindful but has also helped me become more of a respectful person. Learning about other cultures and backgrounds is essential to help societies strive, but experiencing it firsthand is something that no one can teach you.

After being in countless culturally diverse situations, I have been provided with many lifelong advantages. I was taught to be inclusive, fair, and understanding. I am able to be comfortable and accepting of all cultures and religions. After growing up in such a culturally diverse environment, I now develop culture shock when I'm not surrounded by diversity.

Our world is filled with numerous different kinds of cultures, ethnic groups, and religions. Being raised in a diverse environment has prepared me for what the real world looks like and taught me exactly what equality means. As I was growing up, I was always taught to be nonjudgemental of others and to embrace all individuals for who they are.

Diversity molds our identities. Every individual is unique, but each of us shares at least one trait — we are all human. Who would rather experience a homogeneous society, when they could constantly be learning about other cultures and building diverse relationships? When growing up, I never realized how impacted and truly thankful I would be to of had the opportunities to experience diversity each day. So here is a long overdue thank you to my parents for choosing to raise me in such an incredibly diverse place all of my life.

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