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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The 17 Best Unpopular Opinions From The Minds Of Millennials

Yes, dogs should be allowed in more places and kids in less.
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There are those opinions that are almost fact because everyone agrees with them. Waking up early is horrible. Music is life. Sleep is wonderful. These are all facts of life.

But then there are those opinions that hardly anyone agrees with. These ones -- from Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit -- are those types of opinions that are better left unsaid. Some of these are funny. Some are thought-provoking. All of them are the 17 best unpopular opinions around.

1. My favorite pizza is Hawaiian pizza.

2. Binge watching television is not fun and actually difficult to do.

3. I love puns... Dad jokes FTW.

4. Milk in the cup first... THEN the bloody tea.

5. I wish dogs were allowed more places and kids were allowed fewer places.

6. "Space Jam" was a sh*t movie.

7. Saying "money cannot buy happiness" is just wrong.

8. People keep saying light is the most important thing in photographing. I honestly think the camera is more important.

9. Bacon is extremely overrated.

10. Literally, anything is better than going to the gym.

11. Alternative pets are for weird people.

12. Google doodles are annoying.

13. It is okay to not have an opinion on something.

14. It's weird when grown adults are obsessed with Disney.

15. This is how to eat a Kit Kat bar.

16. Mind your own business.

17. There is such a thing as an ugly baby.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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You Are Not Defined By Others, Only You Can Determine Who You Are

When asked who I was, I realized that I could not list all of the things that have shaped me throughout my life.

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In college classrooms, I frequently get asked about who I am, and what has shaped me into the person that I have become. I have often been questioning my personal identity and the aspects of my life that make me unique. While this intense reflection on who I am can seem frustrating and useless, it has given me a greater sense of myself and a deeper understanding of my place in society.

I was assigned the "Who Am I" poem, which is an assignment that allows students to reflect on their own identity, and the pieces that have helped shape them into the person that they are today. These poems are a great way to encourage self-reflection and either look at the broader aspects of your life or focus on a specific idea to discover your identity. Each statement begins with the powerful words "I am.." which allows you to define yourself in your own words and can allow others to recognize aspects of themselves that are similar to you.

I am sharing my "Who Am I" poem, in the hopes that you will reflect on your own identity and realize you unique you truly are.

Who Am I?

I am a military child, the daughter of an Active Duty soldier and an honorably discharged civilian.

I am the older sister with fiery red hair who is fiercely defensive of her younger brother and little cousins.

I am a member of a small family and am split between a Catholic, conservative side and a liberal, non-religious side. My family is my rock, and I am fiercely loyal to those I love.

I come from large Thanksgiving dinners around my grandmother's table, and putting dried apple slices into homemade butternut squash soup.

I love driving down winding roads and being surrounded by the colors of fall and nature.

I am a lifelong learner through years of cultural experience, media exposure, and the experiences of friends, family, and strangers I meet.

I am a woman who has traveled to over thirty countries across the globe.

I come from walking around in markets and bargaining to get the best price on what I want.

I am a bubble of energy and a force to be reckoned with who has trained with the police academy for self-defense.

I am a certified yoga teacher who strives to share her passion and energy of the mental and physical healing properties with others.

I am a dedicated listener, and try not to say everything that comes into my head.

I am half-Jewish, half-Catholic, and continuously questioning about my religious identity because I am unsure where I fit.

I am a mix of many European cultures but embraced my Irish heritage when I kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland.

I am a strong advocate for what I believe in and stand up for those who cannot do it for themselves.

I am a writer, who strives to share her opinions and beliefs with others so that they can create their own.

I am a person who believes in the freedom to choose who you want to be, not be defined by stereotypes or social norms.

I am myself, and there is no one else I'd rather be.

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