This guest post is written by Madison White, founder and former president of the Autism Speaks U chapter at Stonehill College. The collegiate chapter was established in September 2011 and the first in Massachusetts. The chapter was awarded the tittle of best new campus club in 2011-2012.
Siblings of children on the autism spectrum often have an extremely unique and powerful connection with other individuals and families affected by autism. I am one of those siblings, and because of that, my outlook on life is much different then what it would be if I did not have a sister with aspergers. To grow up in a home with a child diagnosed with autism can be challenging, but without those challenges, I would not be the person I am today. Once I left for college and was no longer living under the same roof as my sister, I soon realized what I wanted to do with my life. I plan on becoming a clinical psychologist for children on the autism spectrum and their families. It is not only the child that needs support and guidance; it’s the family members also.
I decided to start an Autism Speaks U Chapter at Stonehill College after working at a summer camp for children with autism. I shared my idea with some classmates and was astonished by how many people were eager to get involved and start spreading the word. Stonehill was the first college in Massachusetts to start a chapter, which was established in the fall of 2011. It was not surprising to hear how many members of the chapter had a connection to autism, including friends, siblings or volunteer work they were involved in. Our chapter currently has 25 active members, but the amount of support we have received from the whole student body has made us feel like a club made of hundreds of students.
We kicked off our year by teaming up with the men’s soccer team, who dedicated their senior day game to autism awareness. Throughout the rest of the year we co-hosted a dance performance to help raise awareness and lit up the campus blue for autism awareness month. Additionally, we were fortunate enough to have Mark Roithmayr, the President of Autism Speaks, as a guest speaker. Thanks to our dedication and efforts throughout the school year, our chapter was awarded the tittle of best new club on campus.
When walking through campus, the large amount of awareness that has been raised is obvious. Flyers are hung in buildings, autism facts placed on tables in the cafeteria, students sporting Autism Speaks U t-shirts, and it’s hard to miss the biggest building on campus lit up blue. In the near future we plan on continuing our efforts by reaching out to individuals on the spectrum outside the Stonehill community, collaborating with other clubs on campus and further educating students on autism.
Within one year the Autism Speaks U chapter has had a significant impact on the Stonehill community and will continue to. Autism Speaks U has not only brought together individuals connected with autism, but has also brought the whole Stonehill community closer together. We look forward to seeing how the club grows over the years, and the impact we will continue to have.