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Community Grants Announced! Spotlight on 2012 Recipient

In conjunction with the announcement of the recipients of the 2013 Family Services Community Grants, we wanted to highlight the success of a 2012 recipient. “Keeping it Real,” a program of NYU Steinhardt’s ASD Nest Support Project, works with successful self-advocates with ASD to develop self-advocacy and strength-based modules for students with ASD, beginning in the younger grades.

This is a post by Kristie Patten Koenig, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Occupational Therapy,  New York University.

What does “Keeping it Real” mean for autism supports and services? If we are going to keep it real about autism, we must have autistic individuals take the lead in educating others about their experience and  partner with self-advocates to encourage a strength-based approach that doesn’t center on remediating weaknesses.  Many of us acquired our professional skills at a time when identifying what was wrong with the person and then attempting to fix it was the primary focus.  We at NYU Steinhardt’s ASD Nest Support Project feel that in order to  “Keep it Real”, professionals must partner with self-advocates to develop materials that support students’ strengths and use these strengths to address challenges. Self-advocates need to be in positions to serve as  positive role models for middle and high school students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
The Autism Speaks Family Services Community Grants program helped support the development of three strength based modules that foster critical skills n adolescents with ASD. Our team from NYU included Dr. Kristie Patten Koenig, Aaron Lanou, Director of Professional Development  and Lauren Hough Coach Consultant, both special educators and staff of NYU Steinhardt’s ASD Nest Support Project.  Our NYU team then partnered with 1) Jesse Saperstein, a noted public speaker, to develop an anti-bullying module; 2) Dr. Stephen Shore, a special education professor,  to help foster use of students strengths and Interests and 3) Zosia Zaks, a rehabilitation counselor, who developed a self -advocacy curriculum. 

In partnership with the New York City’s Department of Education and the ASD Nest Program, self –advocates worked with middle schools to field test their materials and develop curricula that can be used by parents, teachers, and related service providers.  As part of the project, self-advocates traveled  to participating ASD Nest schools educating teachers, staff, and middle school students, both on and off the spectrum, on how to incorporate lessons of anti-bullying, self-advocacy, and the use of individual strengths and talents into the classroom and everyday school setting.  Students and staff met the self-advocates with enthusiasm, with the recognition that we were all learning from the experts. Dr. Shore “kept it strong” by encouraging students’ to embrace their passions in order to succeed academically, socially and in the world beyond middle school. Zosia “kept it true” by helping students recognize their strengths and advocate for their right to live a self-determined life. Finally Jesse, called on the power of compassion and “keeping it kind” to end bullying and take a stand in our schools. You can get to know these powerful role models and access their modules at

Click here to learn more about the Family Services Community Grants program! 

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.