Autism Awareness Month alive at the University


People attend the Autism concert at the Music Building on April 4. Autism Awareness Month is continuing through the month of April.

By Rebecca Wood, Staff Writer

Autism Awareness Month is continuing through the month of April, and University programs, such as The Autism Program, highlight services to assist students and families living with autism.

Linda Tortorelli, coordinator of TAP at the University, said it serves as a community resource center for anybody living with or affected by autism, particularly families and professionals.

“We provide visual support learning materials. We do consultations with them,” Tortorelli said. “We also connect them to other resources within the community that could help serve them.”

Tortorelli said there is often a misunderstanding between intelligence expectations versus social expectations for various situations involving students with autism.

“Autism is a developmental disability,” Tortorelli said. “The basis of autism is that it’s a social communication disorder.”

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She said a person with Down syndrome can comprehend social skills. Though people with autism may not have any intellectual disability, the way their brain is wired makes it difficult to learn and to understand social information.

Tortorelli said the goal of TAP is to help others understand how a brain with autism is wired.

“That becomes eye-opening if people don’t understand that,” Tortorelli said.

She added people with autism cannot necessarily read all body languages or understand when other people’s thoughts differ from theirs.

TAP also helps people with autism learn what comes naturally to people without autism.

“As long as they have any kind of verbal language, we can work with them that way,” Tortorelli said.

Kelsey Linnig, director of events for Best Buddies at the University, said the group helps raise awareness about disabilities and leads an advocacy lesson each meeting about interacting with people with disabilities in a respectful way.

“As with all people with disabilities, it is important to remember the worth, value and ability of people with autism,” Linnig said. “So often we hear people say that an individual struggles with autism, and while there are challenges, the pity that comes with saying struggles with is degrading and disrespectful.”

Tortorelli said she wants the University to entertain the concept of neurodiversity more on campus.

“People talk about diversity on campus but we don’t talk about neurodiversity,” Tortorelli said. “They are not less than; they just have a different way of viewing the world.”

She said that if an individual is acting abnormally, people should keep in mind their brains may be wired differently, instead of labeling them as rude or odd.

Linnig said she thinks it is important for the University to continue pushing for the society to be more inclusive of people with intellectual disabilities.

“More than anything, it is important that society is able to move forward and lose the stigmas attached to disabilities and start to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of those with autism,” Linnig said.

Colleen McBrady, president of Best Buddies, said they have an individual who has more severe autism than others. His mother expressed to them that he does not have many friends and typically spends his week and weekend nights at home.

“Since Best Buddies, he is able to expand his social circle by attending the events we hold such as attending Curtis Apple Orchard, sporting events, the Buddy Ball and more,” McBrady said. “His mother told me that the friendship that has been created from Best Buddies has changed his life.”

Linnig said it is important to remember people with autism are not defined by their disability.

“So often an individual’s abilities are remarkable, and if you have a closed mindset you will miss out on getting to know some of the most unique and amazing people,” Linnig said.

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