When we choose autism acceptance, we choose to embrace the personalities of people on the autism spectrum. We send a message saying that ‘No, you do not have to hide who you are.’
April is known as Autism Awareness Month. But, Bridgewater State University students strive for something more than awareness. They want acceptance.
“When we choose autism acceptance, we choose to embrace the personalities of people on the autism spectrum,” said Chinedu Ibiam, ’21, who has autism and helped organize Tuesday’s Autism Acceptance Night. “We send a message saying that ‘No, you do not have to hide who you are.’”
BSU Best Buddies and Program Council planned the event, which culminated in lighting Boyden Hall blue for the month of April. Students cracked glow sticks and observed a moment of silence for Kyle Johnson, a BSU student and Best Buddies member who died a year ago. They also completed a scavenger hunt that taught them about autism.
“How will you use that information? Will you continue to gossip about that quirky kid in your cell bio class?” Chinedu said, challenging students to think of their autistic peers in a new light. “Will you choose to see the person as someone who has hopes and dreams just like you?”
Flynn Dining Commons, located in Tillinghast Hall, featured dimmed lights for people who are light sensitive and a menu suggested by members of Best Buddies, an organization that fosters friendships among people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Chinedu, Program Council’s marketing ambassador, and Sophie Scrimgeour, ’21, Best Buddies’ president, spoke about overcoming bullying related to their autism diagnoses.
Sophie didn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch in eighth grade, so she joined her special education peers. She then volunteered with Special Olympics and became part of Best Buddies.
“Even though the bullying continued through the end of middle school and into high school, these organizations were what kept me motivated and inspired me to keep pushing toward a more inclusive environment for all students,” said Sophie, a severe special education and psychology major from Milford.
At BSU, Sophie learned to live on her own, something she once thought an impossibility in college. Chinedu made close friends and is immersed in science experiments and theater productions.
“College became a whole new ballgame for me,” said Chinedu, a biology major from Randolph minoring in musical theater. “When you’re focused on those things, you can’t afford to focus on what other people think of you.”
Attendees praised the evening for offering hope.
“Inclusion and spreading kindness are two things we as a society really need to work on and do more of,” said Morgan Abrain, ’20, a special education major from Northbridge who dined in Flynn with her Best Buddy, Mia.
At a nearby table, Justin Rosa, an Easton student in BSU's Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative program that integrates young adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities to campus, reflected on the event.
To him, it is important for a simple yet powerful reason:
“Every person matters.”
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