During my Master or Arts in Teaching program at the University of Puget Sound I was afforded the opportunity to spend two weeks in a classroom of children with autism along with a couple of my fellow peers. Most of the time we were asked to observe. I watched the daily routines and interactions that the teacher and aides had with the students, witnessed their learning activities, calming modalities, interactive reading lessons with props, and such. And, I witnessed the parents’ loving embrace of their children at the end of the school day. But it is when we were asked to do a research experiment, that I was finally able to truly interact with some of the children. Coming from a fine arts background, I decided to have the students create a self-portrait and see what I could learn through observation. I was able to nestle out a space in the classroom, set up a mirror, a cup of crayons, some drawing paper, and a place for a few of the students to sit with me, one at a time. The children were limited to select only a few colors from the cup. And, then they were asked to draw a self-portrait. They were told that they didn’t have to use the mirror, that it could rather be a portrait that could express more of who they think they are on the inside than the outside.
A memory of one child in particular has stood the test of time with me, throughout my nearly 20 years of teaching kids. He chose his colors, drew an oval shape for the head, two eyes and a nose and then drew a body, like a bust. He drew two yellow busses that sat at either side of the figure towards the bottom of the paper. He then began to color in the figure. But when he got to the mouth, he took dark colors and proceeded to block off the mouth with horizontal and then vertical strokes, back and forth, repetitively, in the shape of a rectangle. The block was textured, layered and significant. I still have this picture in my Master’s portfolio. It struck me, because it’s one thing to understand that people with autism have varying degrees of affect and the ability to express themselves verbally. But, this child was clearly aware that he was being guarded from speaking. Whether that guard was derived from internal, external sources or a combination thereof is a question that still looms in my mind.
The children I was able to observe and interact with during that two-week period expressed themselves, if even without word formulation that we see accepted or expected in society. They expressed their thoughts and feelings, showed and received love. And, isnt’ that what truly matters in life? I just wonder about any pain, in light of the image I saw drawn before me, that may have been felt for not having the opportunity or ability to speak and be fully understood.
Autism Speaks is a world-renowned organization. that began in February of 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism, to “change the future for all who struggle with an autism spectrum disorder.” It is with the incredibly generous support of their longtime friend Bernie Marcus who by donating $25 million enabled them to initially launch their dream. Since then, Autism Speaks has become the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, “dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a possible cure for autism.” They “strive to raise public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society: and… work to bring hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder.”
Join Autism Speaks on Thursday, October 8th for its first ever Autism Speaks to Los Angeles Celebrity Chef Gala. It will be a must-attend event hosted by late night comedian Conan O’Brien featuring over 100 of the world’s finest chefs. This one-of-a-kind evening will honor Co-Founders Suzanne and Bob Wright and commemorate the 10th anniversary of Autism Speaks.
Through the Celebrity Chef Galas thus far, Autism Speaks has raised nearly $8 million dollars for their continued research, awareness and advocacy initiatives. Sponsors include Toyota, ION Media Networks, Discovery Communications, NBC Universal, Google, Univision, Tommy Cares and Pepper Gate Footwear. And, they continue to need love and support.
October’s Los Angeles gala will commence with award-winning chefs presenting hors d’oeurves during an hour-long cocktail reception. Following cocktails, some of the world’s finest chefs including Giada De Laurentiis, Antonia Lofaso and Betty Fraser will prepare and serve four-course meals tableside exclusively for their guests.
It is set to be a spectacular evening fueled by realizing the hopes of the organization to “bring the autism community together as one strong voice to urge the government and private sector to listen to [our] concerns and take action to address this urgent global health crises.” It is Autism Speaks belief that in “working together the missing pieces of the puzzle may be found.”
Attending Autism Speaks to Los Angeles Celebrity Chef Gala will not only tantalize your taste buds, it will enable a crucial organization the ability to continue to do their ever so important work.
Autism Speaks to Los Angeles Celebrity Chef Gala Hosted by Conan O’Brien
Venue Name: Barker Hangar, Santa Monica Airport
Venue Address: 3021 Airport Avenue #203, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Event Date/Times: Thursday, October 8, 2015, 6:30 PM
Tickets Prices: Ticket prices range from $1,750 to $100,000.