Autism Awareness Day - Sharing Some Special Stories / by Jennifer Evans

Autism Awareness Day Have you noticed a lot of people wearing BLUE today?  That's because people, businesses and landmarks are donning the color all around the world to raise awareness.  Today (April 2, 2016) marks the eighth annual World Autism Awareness Day.  Autism organizations around the world celebrate the day with unique fundraising and awareness-raising events.

This year I had the opportunity to get involved in one of these amazing projects.  The Stories of Autism Project is a network of professional photographers with the mission is to increase awareness, acceptance, and inclusion of people with autism spectrum disorders through fine art portraits and stories.

Several months ago I was contacted by Maria McQuay, one of the coaches of the Jersey Hammerheads (a swim team for children with autism).  She asked if I would be interested in participating in this project by photographing her son Michael as well as the team.

I'm proud to be one of the 17 photographers who donated their time and talent to the project this year.  Here are the photos and stories that are featured in the project. [columns] [column6]

Michael was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was 6. Michael is 19 years old and he is currently attending MiddlesexCounty College as a Liberal Arts major. He hopes to achieve an Associates Degree.
Michael is such an amazing young man and an inspiration to so many. When he was first diagnosed we were not given any hope that he would flourish the way he has. We never gave up on our son! We knew we had to advocate for him and more importantly educate ourselves regarding what he was entitled to. Michael is more than his diagnosis.
Autism is just a part of who he is! He is a son,grandson, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, friend, animal lover and aSpecial Olympics National Gold Medal winner in swimming. He has always loved swimming and we were fortunate to begin our ownSpecial Olympics swim team called the Jersey Hammerheads which he is a part of. He wanted to continue swimming so he tried out for atypical swim team called Rutgers Scarlet and he made the team! He has been doing really well and all of the coaches at Scarlet are great with Michael!
As I stated before, Michael has a passion for animals. Last summer he was given a great opportunity to work at the Turtle BackZoo in West Orange, NJ. This is where Michael is most comfortable besides the water. He loved working at the petting zoo feeding and taking care of all the farm animals. He hopes to return this summer.
We were so grateful he had this opportunity to show people that despite having a disABILITY he can succeed and contribute to society.All of our children need to be given an opportunity to show what they can do!
Maria, mother of Michael East Brunswick, NJ

Jersey Hammerheads Autism [/column6] [column6] Stories of Autism [/column6] [column6]

Jersey HammerheadsSpecial Olympics Swim Team
The Jersey Hammerheads is a swim team for the Special Olympics of NJ.The unique thing about this team is that 97% of the athletes have an Autism SpectrumDisorder. Although these amazing athletes have a disability it does not hinder them from wanting to participate in sports and be part of team. They all work very hard at practices to be the best that they can be despite their disability.
Special Olympics of NJ has given ourathletes an opportunity to display how talented and committed they are. As one of the four coaches for this team I can truly say we are all so proud of every member of. They all work hard and they never give up. But more importantly they support one another. The true meaning of sportsmanship! What really matters is that they are all having fun and they are part of a team. Our athletes matter and should be included not excluded because of their disABILITY!
Go Hammerheads! East Brunswick, NJ

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If you have a moment, I encourage you to visit the Stories of Autism website, there are some truly amazing stories to read!  Oh, and if you aren't already, wear something blue today!