UD Seal

Inclusion. The blog for the Center for Disability Studies.

New outlooks on autism

By Katie Johnson

Share

The author’s “alternative Breaker” colleagues. She joins them in the bottom row, extreme right.

What does it mean to be an ally? That’s something I asked my fellow University of Delaware colleagues multiple times over spring break and something nearly 600 UD students all over the country have been thinking about. They and I are a part of an organization called University of Delaware alternative Breaks (UDaB).

UDaB is a student-run organization at UD that coordinates service-based learning experiences across the country that focus on social issues. Our 20 trips this spring break emphasized working with communities rather than for them. UDaB considers listening to be the first step in becoming an ally, and focuses on education and reflection as a means of moving people to becoming more active citizens in their own communities. It’s about so much more than just a week of service!

I was honored to lead the trip to Camp Royall, an overnight, recreational, outdoors camp for school-aged individuals with autism in North Carolina. Beforehand, for six weeks, my co-site leader Lauren and I had prepped our 19 “alternative Breakers”, many of whom had never interacted closely with someone on the spectrum, with weekly meetings relating to social justice, privilege and steps to becoming effective allies in relation to the autistic community. From assignments researching articles and blogs of individuals with ASD, watching TedTalks on neurodiversity, and completing checklists and watching videos designed to examine privilege and oppression in relation to disability, our colleagues readied themselves for a week outside their comfort zone.

At the camp, our 12-hour days and two-hour reflection sessions left our fellow student colleagues bombarded with the realities and complexities of autism as a social issue. Mark, assistant director of Camp Royall, trained our participants about the interconnected nature of social categorizations like race, class, gender and ability level, the value of unconditional positive regard, and the need to understand and appreciate all forms of communication. While the focus of Camp Royall is to provide a safe space specifically to meet the needs of individuals with ASD, Mark reminded us that this sanctuary is so much more than for people with autism; it’s a space for all aspects of diversity. It is truly a place where all people are not just accepted but celebrated!

With this being my second UDaB trip to Camp Royall, I’ve begun to more deeply reflect on Camp Royall as a sanctuary. So many of our campers have incredibly difficult and unknowable lives, where they are often not accepted in their own communities, sometimes restrained or abused in schools or at home, and face a variety of difficulties simply because of how others view and react towards them. My colleagues from UD also have begun to understand what it means to celebrate people for who they are, to step into another’s shoes, to examine people’s strengths when society often focuses on the weaknesses, and to question our role in effecting change. Many of our “alternative Breakers” changed their outlook on autism and society’s role in the challenges people face.

Back at UD, all 21 of us feel we’ve been impacted by our experience directly working with this community, and believe we’re ready to be more informed and engaged citizens and allies with the autistic community. Lauren and I hope our peers will continue to question the world around them and their role in creating more inclusive and celebratory communities.

About the Author

Katie Johnson is an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware, pursuing a degree in Public Policy with a minor in Disability Studies. While completing her undergraduate program, Katie will also be pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in nonprofit management. Her course of study reflects her interest in disability advocacy in order to improve the quality of services and meaningful inclusion of individuals with disabilities. While new to the scene, Katie expects her blog posts will reflect her engagement as a scholar, her interest in public policy, as well as her personal relationships with close friends and peers with disabilities. She is fascinated with how to improve aspects of living for people with disabilities in terms of accessibility, inclusive education and employment, community based living, racial disparity and so much more.

Read full author bio

Comments

  • I have a son with autism in Delaware. He is now 46 and when diagnosed there was NO program for him. 5 parents got together and created the Delaware Autism Program. Today, legislators and school boards KNOW a child with autism going to that program costs big bucks. Now, they tell these young parents to permit their kids to go to public or charter schools…its a joke. Our children are mocked, laughed at and never get the one on one the need to succeed. Inclusion is not for everyone (only the higher functioning), my son is severally autistic and could never sit in a classroom. The problem in Delaware is the legislature who do nothing to create group homes for those 21 yrs old. We have a waiting list in the hundreds waiting for a group home and live with elderly parents stressed to the max. DHSS has cut social workers, case management and now outsource those jobs to workers with no benefits. the turnover is extreme. Abuse and neglect is rampant. The U of D could help us by understanding the plight of the parents who know the truth about the abuse and do something to bring it to the legislatures and government officials.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Center for Disabilities Studies • University of Delaware
461 Wyoming Road • Newark, DE 19716 • USA
Phone: 302-831-6974 • TDD: 302-831-4689