This guest post is written by Lauren Kobrick, an Autism Speaks 2013 Summer Intern and Vice President of the Autism Speaks U Chapter at the University of Michigan. Autism Speaks U, an initiative of Autism Speaks is designed to support college students, faculty and staff in their awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts.
I played Little League softball for years, beginning at the age of five. I loved everything about it – hitting a home run, the camaraderie within my team, and playing catch with my dad before games. It was freshman year of high school when I first learned that children with developmental disabilities, such as autism, were not allowed to play Little League where I lived. There were no resources for them to be part of a team, much less have a catch with their dad before a game. Through my efforts, and the efforts of others, my town , Roslyn, New York created “Challenger Little League,” a designated baseball league for children with autism and developmental disabilities. I became one of five volunteers in the program, and by the time I graduated high school, the program expanded to 70 children and 100 volunteers. Throughout my years of involvement, I became passionate about autism awareness and the idea of “equality.” Why could I play softball in little league and in high school, but these children did not have the same opportunity?
Seven years later, my passion is even greater than before. At the University of Michigan, where I am currently studying public policy with a concentration in education policy, I have done extensive research about how children with autism are included, or not included, in national education reforms. I also serve as the Vice President of Autism Speaks U University of Michigan. What I love most about my chapter is the dedication to the cause. We have 75 active members and every person involved genuinely wants to be there. We have members with backgrounds in math, psychology, sports business, pre-law, and pre-med, but we all come together to raise awareness for autism around our campus of over 60,000 people. Our biggest success has come from our annual basketball tournament which raised over $3,000 for Autism Speaks.
All of these past experiences along with my future goals led me to apply for an internship at Autism Speaks. Since my freshman year of high school, I have grappled with the issue of how to raise awareness on a broader scale. Autism Speaks, which hosts annual events throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico and currently has more than 70 Autism Speaks U chapters at colleges and universities across the country, is a leading example of the importance of awareness on an international scale.
During my time as an intern I hope to learn more about how my chapter can reach a bigger audience that includes all 60,000 people on campus. I also hope to bring back to my chapter a new perspective on the difference we are making. Working at Autism Speaks has made me realize that the money we raise is directly benefiting families and children with autism whether it is through lobbying for autism insurance reform at both the state and federal level or funding research into the causes, treatment and prevention of autism. Autism Speaks seeks to provide resources for families everywhere, similar to the resources my community hoped to provide children who wanted to play baseball.
For me, “Autism Speaks” means my contribution to ensure equal opportunities and equal rights for children with autism. It is my hope that I can return to my chapter with the resources, tools and information I have learned this summer and help all discover their own definition of Autism Speaks.