For the last three years, Jeremy Maher ’17 has been meeting regularly with a fellow Emerson student who helps him navigate social situations, such as going to clubs and making small talk, as well as academic demands like homework.
Maher, a Visual and Media Arts major, is on the autism spectrum. He lives on campus, has a good group of friends, and credits his mentor with making his Emerson experience “way better.”
He also wants more people to understand the truth about autism.
“I think there are a lot of stereotypes about it, and it’s often represented incorrectly in the media,” Maher said, giving as an example Sugar Motta, a character on Glee who blamed her insensitivity on self-diagnosed Asperger’s syndrome. “I think people learning about the reality of what autism is is really important.”
Community members will have a chance to learn more about autism throughout the month of April, when Emerson College celebrates Autism Awareness Month with a full slate of events that aim to educate, entertain, and enlighten. The campaign is sponsored by the Student Accessibility Services Office, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department.
For the past two years, Emerson has participated in Light It Up Blue, a one-day event prompted by the organization Autism Speaks, during which the marquees of the Cutler Majestic Theatre and Paramount Center displayed autism awareness messages and information booths were set up in the Little Building.
This year, the College is moving beyond the one-day event and dedicating all of April to awareness, said Diane Paxton, director of the Student Accessibility Services Offices. The marquees will call attention to autism awareness throughout the month, and will be backed up by TED talks, film screenings, a FACE Lab open house, and an Autism Awareness Kickoff Event on Monday, April 4.
“We want to basically be generating a conversation,” Paxton said. “The last two times they’ve had the table in the Little Building, it was actually really busy because a lot of students who dropped by know someone on the spectrum.”
There’s a good chance they know a fellow Emerson student on the spectrum. The number of students diagnosed with autism who are attending the College has been climbing, Paxton said.
To make those students feel at home at Emerson, Student Accessibility Services offers a number of programs, including the peer mentoring program Jeremy Maher uses, and training sessions for campus departments and offices, Paxton said.
At the Facial Affective and Communicative Expressions (FACE) Lab, researchers led by Ruth Grossman, associate professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department, use technology to study how young people on the autism spectrum “perceive and produce non-verbal expression.” Starting this spring, young adults on the spectrum from the Northeast Arc’s Spotlight Program will intern in the FACE Lab.
“We’re trying to open up the lab for those kinds of experiences, so young adults on the spectrum can gain some research experience, gain some job skills, and for students on campus who are involved in autism research to work side by side with someone on the spectrum, rather than just meet them for a few hours [during a study],” Grossman said.
The FACE Lab will be open to the Emerson community on Tuesday, April 12, when people can learn how the research is conducted and what the applications are for people with autism.
Along with the illuminated marquees, Emerson’s Common Ground podcast will be recording sessions about autism throughout the month. Other events include:
TED Talks and Discussion – Saturday, April 2, 7:00 pm, Paramount Center, sixth-floor common room. Food will be served. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Autism Awareness Kickoff Event – Monday, April 4, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Little Building lobby. DSO graduate assistants will host an information table, where students are invited to play “Know, Want to Know, Learned,” to learn more about autism.
TED Talks and Discussion – Tuesday, April 5, 9:00 pm, Little Building, tenth floor. Open to all on-campus students. The Little Building residence assistants will show TED Talks related to autism and moderate a discussion. Contact email@example.com.
Mozart and the Whale Screening – Monday, April 11, 6:00 pm, Piano Row, fifth floor. The Piano Row RAs will screen the film and moderate a discussion. Pizza will be served. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
FACE Lab Open House – Tuesday, April 12, 1:00-3:00 pm, Transportation Building, 8 Park Plaza, second floor. Learn about different technologies and tasks used to study how people with autism navigate social communication.
How to Dance in Ohio Screening – Thursday, April 14, 7:00 pm, at the Somerville Theatre. The ReelAbilities Film Festival is screening a movie about autism. Emerson students can get free tickets by contacting Student Accessibility Services at 617-824-8592, or Diversity and Inclusion at 617-824-8528.