A s co-pr esidents of Penn Speaks for Autism , we recognize the importance of the discussion brought about in the recently published column by Xeno Washburne and Amber Blaylock. We sincerely appreciate that these two authors articulated their views about this controversial topic concerning the autistic community. Further, we would have gladly contributed our views on how PSFA supports Penn students with autism or those who wish to get involved in the autistic community if the current board was approached by the authors beforehand. However, on behalf of the dedicated general body members and executive board of PSFA, we would like to clarify our club’s overall mission to the community at Penn and in greater Philadelphia.
First and foremost, we are not affiliated with Autism Speaks, and we are comprised of diverse students with varying viewpoints. We are an independent, student-run organization at Penn that offers a welcoming and safe environment for all those who care and support autistic individuals. In fact, the central mission of our group, as displayed on our website, is “to provide the University of Pennsylvania and surrounding areas with support for and information on autism through volunteer opportunities, awareness events, and fundraisers.” We have multiple programs that welcome all participants on and off the spectrum to engage in meaningful social or educational events. In addition to our monthly family workshops and weekly after-school autistic support program at the Henry C. Lea School, we have recently begun hosting young adult meet ups, such as game nights and ice cream socials , where anyone aged 18 to 25 with or without autism can come and socialize together. Thus, not only are we hoping to provide opportunities for children with autism, but also older adults with autism who perhaps receive less attention.
We were specifically called on in the column to “listen to autistic voices, seek out autistic members and to stop using the imagery and icons of Autism Speaks,” and we assert that none of these accusations are justified. By participating in activities fairs and holding GBMs regularly, we try our best to recruit diverse members, including individuals with autism. That being said, we do not specifically single out Penn students with autism, as we leave it up to the individual to take part in our organization. In regard to the imagery and icons that we use, according to the Autism Society, the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon is the most recognized symbol of the autism community. Additionally, concerning our name choice, the founding board members chose it for the purpose of expressing our value in advocacy. While there has been discussion of changing our name amongst our executive board, we have been reluctant to modify our name due to the connections we have made with autism organizations and families throughout Philadelphia.
We encourage interested Penn students to learn more about us directly by attending our monthly GBMs or volunteer programs. In order to truly understand what Penn Speaks for Autism does and stands for, we feel that direct communication with us is key. Speaking on behalf of our executive board, we are always open to new feedback and perspectives to help us better learn about and support the ASD comm unity.
Blake Mergler is a College junior studying biological basis of behavior. Carla Hernandez is a College senior studying cognitive neuroscience. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.
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