Thank You Seton Hall! Featured Article and Video for Seton Hall Magazine.

Seton Hall The Magazine Issue

Just wanted to give my Alma-Mater Seton Hall a shout out for featuring me in there Annual Seton Hall Magazine Issue. In addition they posted a short video of my experience at Seton Hall along with my pursuit of a Masters Degree in Strategic Communication.

You can also checkout the entire Seton Hall Magazine here.

What I’ve Learned About Autism

Quite recently I took the liberty of making a list of some of the things I have learned about autism through reflection. I then narrowed it down to 10 of my quotes that I feel best express  my understanding of the subject. They are as follows:

  1. Autism can’t define me, only I can define autism.
  2. Give advice to others in the autistic community through your own experiences.
  3. If someone calls you “awkward,” just know that it means you’re “unique” and a lot better than “ordinary”.
  4. I’m great at several things and broken in none.
  5. Ignorance is all around us but awareness is around the corner if we want it to be.
  6. Feeling sorry for myself will get me nowhere.
  7. We need to stop labeling and instead integrate, “people with people” in our communities who have different needs.
  8. Inclusion in schools will never mean I’m secluded from an education.
  9. Autism is not a disease, rather a disability that every day I strive to become an A-bility.
  10. Communication never takes a vacation.

As someone diagnosed with Autism at a very early age, I know the, “conversation” doesn’t end here. What are your thoughts on this list? Feel free to comment below!

*Note: I wrote this blog via Autism Speaks Official Blog.*

Autism By The Numbers

*I wrote this blog via Autism Speaks Official Blog a few months ago. As a Graduate Student at Seton Hall University, I’m always curious to hear people’s opinions based on statistics for adults with autism. What are your thoughts?*

A big part of our autism movement is surrounded by the numbers. No matter the organization, a standard that seems to be advertised is in regards to the prevalence of autism in today’s society. It seems like any brochure you open these days will tell you that….

  • 1 in 110 will be diagnosed with autism.
  • 1 in 70 boys will be diagnosed with autism.
  • A new case is diagnosed almost every 15 minutes.

Over the past couple of months I have transitioned to focusing more on the numbers for adults with autism. The problem is we still have a great deal to decode. I have looked through countless websites to try to find a standard but it’s been very challenging. I then decided to just focus on one area which was how many individuals with autism go to college/receive a college degree.

Parents often ask me how someone with autism can prepare for college and how many individuals with autism actually attend college. The number I usually tell them is that 1 in 1040 students was the norm of how many individuals on the autism spectrum attended my alma mater, Seton Hall University (5 autistic individuals out of 5200) because that’s all I know. My hope is that the more we learn about these numbers the more we will be able to assess how much funding should be provided for adult support in the schools. We already have estimates for unemployment (autism spectrum disorder ranges anywhere from 75-98% per diagnosis on the spectrum) adults still living at home (about 80%) or adults who will be on the spectrum in the next decade (estimated around 500,000).

Do you think numbers for “Autism in College” should be addressed more? What are your thoughts on the steps needed to see this become a reality?

Speaking About Autism on Jersey City Television

I had the opportunity to be the keynote speaker at an Autism Awareness Event in my hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey. It was truly a honor to speak as this was one of my first public speaking opportunities I’ve had on the subject of autism. This led to a summer which ultimately led me to pursue motivational speaking as a career. Hope you enjoy!

The NBA and Autism

Me and NBA Legend Dikembe Mutumbo at Autism Speaks, "Tip Off For a Cure" Event

*Yesterday, the National Basketball Association reached a tentative agreement which will allow them to begin playing basketball on Christmas Day. As a huge basketball supporter, this news was the highlight of my day. It also brought back a lot of great memories I’ve had about the NBA. Last year I had the opportunity to go to The Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies where I got to interview and meet several NBA Legends such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Oscar Robertson, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen. 

It also reminded me of one of my first ever blog posts I’ve written. It was at an event called “Tip Off For a Cure” which was an event sponsored through Autism Speaks to raise money for their organization. I had the opportunity to do a guest blog for them and because of yesterday’s news I wanted to share it with all of you. Hope you enjoy!*

 

Autism and basketball have successfully been linked in the news before.  An example, three years ago, was when the entire world was introduced to a high school water-boy, turned ESPY Winner, Jason Mcelwain.

And on Wednesday, April 14, Autism Speaks got into the action as they hosted an event called “Tip Off for a Cure” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s spectacular Temple of Dendur.  The Temple, bathed in blue lights for the evening, (in keeping with the  Autism Speaks Light it Up Blue  campaign theme)  served as the background for a  fundraising dinner gala  benefiting  Autism Speaks & The Gillen Brewer School of New York City. The prior year‘s event, called “Kick Off for a Cure” was retooled with a NBA theme. This year, with major sponsorship from the National Basketball Association foundation “NBA Cares,” the event was chaired by NBA Commissioner David Stern.  Commissioner Stern spoke and brought many members of the NBA family.

This star-studded event, filled with many NBA Legends such as Dikembe Mutumbo, Earl Monroe, Bob Lanier Jr., Gail Goodrich, John Starks, Albert King, Darryl Dawkins and Butch Beard was highlighted by the presence of one of the special honorees of the night, former NY Knicks, NBA player turned US Senator from New Jersey, Bill Bradley. I was privileged to talk to several of the former NBA players about their interest, motivations and participation in the event and the cause.

“Autism is an Issue that needs to be looked into. Every little bit counts,” former NY Nets player Cliff Robinson said, when discussing his reasons for attending “NBA Cares” events. “They asked me to come out and I couldn’t say no.”

Along with the NBA Players, many prominent business figures were in attendance. Present were Vice Chairman & Global Head of Mergers and Acquisitions at Morgan Stanley Robert A. Kindler and President, CEO and Director of Alcoa Klaus Kleinfield.

While basketball and autism were the two dominant themes of the night, hearing some of the main speakers such as Marv Albert, Suzanne and Bob Wright and especially, Taylor Crowe, made the night truly magical. Taylor Crowe, Bill Bradley’s cousin, who is on the autism spectrum, spoke about his life and his struggles growing up on the autism spectrum. Taylor, who confidently walked to the podium when he was asked to speak by David Stern, addressed the audience for 15 minutes about his life experiences. “You are only doomed if you give up”, Taylor said in relation to his struggles with autism during the years.

No one summed it up better than Autism Speaks co-founder Suzanne Wright: “Autism is on the run because Autism Speaks is after it.”, she continued “Michael Jordan once said, ‘Obstacles don’t have to stop you.’ If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it and that is exactly what we do at Autism Speaks.”

I had a lot of great discussions with the guests and wanted to post some of these people’s thoughts so you can see the importance of what Autism Speaks is doing.

The only people who are doomed are those who give up” – Taylor Crowe:  28-year-old honoree, who has autism

Autism is an issue that needs to be looked into. Every little bit counts.” – former NJ Nets player Clifford Robinson

Autism is one of those epidemics that is attacking the fabric of our society right now.” – former NY Knicks and Houston Rockets player Dikembe Mutumbo:

I have a daughter, an 11 year old with Downs Syndrome so this is something I really appreciate and can get into. I reap the benefits from functions like this and to see the kids and see how independent they are its awesome, it’s awesome! I don’t know what it is, but these kids have so much more going on that I wish we could see it the way they see it.  This is my first event and I’m enjoying it.” - former Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz player Darryl Dawkins

A friend of mine has a son who has autism, and as far as my connection with the organization I’m here because the NBA gave me a call and its definitely an issue that really needs to be looked at. New York is a great city, and a very charitable city and what a better place to raise money and to raise awareness for autism than to have it in this beautiful museum, it makes it even better.” - former NY Knicks player John Starks.

Everyone shared former Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks player, Bob Lanier Jr.’s enthusiasm when he spoke about how excited he was to be at the event: “Well, I traveled a long way to come here because I believe in the cause. David Stern is chairing this event and has been a difference maker all around the world.  Our great athletes are are here to support a wonderful cause and trying to raise not only  awareness about it, because it is not something a lot of us know about. It affects a lot of boys at a very young age. Trying to figure it all out  – got to raise awareness, raise funds and utilize resources and that is what the NBA does really well. I’ve been doing stuff  all around the world for NBA Cares. By raising awareness and using the resources  of NBA Cares, our  brand and our players, we can help draw attention to these needy causes.”

Felipe Lopez of the Orlando Magic commented: “You can look around and see all the top-notch people that are around.  We have to support it – it is a great cause. I am more than thrilled to be part of this event it as an ambassador for NBA cares. I was informed about a month ago about this event and was very excited to attend.  NBA tries to be in programs to help. We always  have to fight to make other peoples lives better. I think it’s a situation where we have to come together and we make it better.”

Rory Sparrow, former Lakers player said, “Autism is one of the major concerns in my country. Autism is so interesting. This interests me, what causes it and ways to prevent it.”

Former NBA all-star Dikembe Mutombo is no stranger to charitable causes.  He built the $30 million, 300-bed Biamba Maria Mutombo Hospital for children back in his home country of Congo. He said, “Autism is something that is a concern for all of us. For so long no one wanted to talk about it; now this being a big issue in our society. We, as parents, need to learn more. As a global ambassador for NBA Cares, I am speaking about concerns facing our youth. Since so many NBA players have children with autism, it is personal issue for us. We are feeling it at home, not just from the outside. But autism is treatable, especially when it is diagnosed early on.”

In response to the question, ”Do you believe with the help of a group like Autism Speaks fundraising and raising awareness, can there someday be a cure for autism? He responded with a resounding, “Why not! We have to find a cure. 1 in 110 kids are affected. Maybe we can do better if we put our minds and money behind the cause, and we can do it.”

At the end of the night, as icing on the cake, it was announced that the event had raised more than a million dollars. What a great atmosphere and a great success!  One theme dominated the night – The NBA and NBA Cares truly care about the issue of autism and will be with Autism Speaks every step of the way!

My Child Doesn’t Speak. Will He Ever?

“My 5 year old son was just diagnosed with PDD-NOS and has no speech. Will he ever be able to speak?” 

While the young mother stood before me in tears, I felt trapped; trapped because I couldn’t tell her that everything was going to be alright.

I couldn’t rely on my own experience to give her an answer. There was no answer. Time felt slow for a while. When I look back at my life, that 6 year old boy, going into first grade with so much anger, and so many emotions, it was almost too much. I knew back then I was mad. I was lashing out because I didn’t know how to communicate in an appropriate manner. That was almost 16 years ago. I was that 6 year old  again. What would it take for her son to be able to speak one day? Would he be as lucky as me?

So, I surprised myself. I hugged her. I hugged this complete stranger for what probably ended up being 5 minutes. No words were said. I could only hear her sobbing and I almost joined her several times. I  knew I couldn’t answer  her question, but by telling her about my journey, I could give her hope. I reflected back to  the journey that I had had led me to where I am today. The therapies, the special need classrooms, the accommodations, the hate, the ignorance, the awareness, the drama, the acceptance, the struggle, the tears, the heartache, the strength, the friends, my mom, my dad, and above all else the love that has made my journey worth every second. After we hugged I told her my story. I told her about that 6 year old boy and how he became who I was today. 15 minutes later tears of uncertainty had become tears of hope for not only her but for  her son.

This is why I talk  to parents. Each time I share my story I pray that I’m making an impact on a parent, a family, a friend, etc. for the future of the autism movement. I may not be a scientist, or an expert in the field. I just know what it’s like to grow up–and thrive with autism. So, if you have autism, tell your story.

It’s time for all of us to listen.

Obama Signs! 3 more years for The Combating Autism Act!

Success! Today President Obama signed legislation which will allow three more years of funding for The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA). This will give about 693 million more towards autism research, advocacy, treatment and services.

CARA was recently in jeopardy of not being passed but based on the efforts of Congress, especially Senator Robert Menendez, Senator Mike Enzi, and Representatives Mike Doyle and Chris Smith who sponsored the bill, autism’s voice still speaks.

As an individual with autism, hearing this news makes me optimistic about the future. With the rates of autism in America growing bigger by the day, funding is indeed necessary.

Congratulations to everyone in The Autism Community on this wonderful accomplishment!

Telling a Story

This is my speech from my Effective Presentation’s course. We were asked to tell a story about our lives that means a great deal to us. This is my story.

When I got to college, I remember seeing myself in a different light. While I was growing up, I never imagined the possibility of getting to college so to be there was a great occasion.

What most don’t know about me is that I was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified when I was 4 years old. PDD-NOS as some people like to call it is a form of autism. Autism is a condition that limits communication and early on I was told that it was highly unlikely that I would ever reach college.

Despite my diagnosis, I’ve always had to strive to be better to “Make a Difference” in my life and that’s what I try to do everyday in my life. I even wear a “Make a Difference” wristband which I’m wearing today to remind myself that hard work and commitment towards my goals was what I needed more than anything to get to where I am.

Almost 4 and half years ago one of my dreams came true when I was accepted to my first college. I remember getting my acceptance letter from Farleigh Dickinson University and remembering how it had finally happened. Something that was believed to be a fantasy by most became a reality to at least me for that moment. Several weeks later however I would receive an acceptance letter from Seton Hall University and that’s when I was set. My first choice for college was right in front of me and something I had dreamed of was finally a part of my destiny.

Now having graduated Seton Hall and having established the first Student Government sanctioned club on campus dealing with student disabilities, “Student Disability Awareness” I have become a disability advocate. Autism today is a disability that affects 1 in 110 individuals and 1 in 87 boys.  I know I have only one story to tell but I also want to share my story to help those who have to run through the same hurdles that I had too, and that I still have too. If I could give any advice from today is that you learn to accept others no matter what disability, race, sexual orientation, etc. because we all are the same on the inside no matter what difficulties we go through.