April is Autism Awareness Month and every April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. A friend of mine, Brianne Buckman- Kalechstein, is helping to spread the word with such fierce determination, passion and success that I feel compelled to share her story.
Brianne has a 7 year-old son. He is smart, gets A's in Math, he is musical, a dancer, a great singer, and he also has Autism. Three years ago Brianne decided to not only get involved in Autism Awareness Month, but to further its cause by promoting the idea of "Autism Acceptance." Her son is very high functioning and when asked why she is campaigning for "Autism Awareness/Acceptance," Brianne shared that her son doesn’t always fit in and the look on peoples’ faces as she explains her son’s behaviour is upsetting. She wants others to understand that “Autism is a spectrum (that now includes Aspergers) and that the diagnosis has changed. No longer does it mean that a child is always non-verbal, requiring a modified curriculum and has limited prospects in adult life”.
Brianne is a teacher and dancer herself and she is using her skills to educate the public about what Autism really means. Her hope is that in the future, people with Autism will be accepted and respected and that “society will come to understand that Autism is something that someone has, but it is not who they are.” Brianne’s goal is to help create a world where children and adults with Autism will be able to explain their needs without being judged, just as those with many other challenges or disabilities are able to do.
It all started in April 2013 when Brianne took photos of dance students at ten different studios, all wearing blue T-shirts, the official colour of Autism Awareness Day. As part of this, each studio made donations to either Kerry’s Place Autism Services or Autism Ontario. Upon reflection of this well received initiative, as a teacher, she felt that there was something missing; the students' true understanding as to why they were wearing these T-shirts.
For Autism Awareness Month 2014, Brianne wrote a poem titled, "Believe in Me" to help spread her message about Autism Acceptance. This time she read her poem and spoke with students at several drama schools. The students created tableaus of 'Acceptance' based on her poem. Using the hashtag #dramaSchoolsUnite, photos and videos of the tableaus were tweeted under the auspices of "Drama Schools Unite for Autism Acceptance."
For this year's Autism Awareness Month Brianne reached out to the Maple Leafs Foundation ( MLSE ) and with their support, she single handedly organized, choreographed and brought to life a flash mob of a 150 dance students and teachers, all wearing 'Autism Acceptance' T-shirts, donated by the Raptors, through NBACares. On March 30th, 2015 Brianne's voice was seen and heard by thousands, as her flash mob performed in Maple Leaf Square in front of the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, just before the Raptor's Game. During the game all dancers and families, sitting together in a sea of blue, could be seen by thousands both at the game and on the Scoreboard. On April 2nd, Autism Awareness Day, Brianne’s message was heard again, but this time, the Raptors and NBACares tweeted out the video of Brianne's inspirational flash mob. And if that wasn’t enough, a portion of all ticket purchases by the dancers and their families were given to Camp Aim, a camp for children with special needs.
When I asked Brianne what is in store for next year, all she would tell me is that something even bigger is in the works and in the meantime her family is cheering on the Raptors #WeTheNorth!
Well, I must say that I’m very proud to know a mom like Brianne, who is dedicating her time to support, not just her own son, but to all children growing up with challenges and gifts that fall under the spectrum of Autism.
In the spirit of basketball, I call what Brianne is doing a Slam Dunk!