As we continue to live through the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been more and more difficult to find the silver linings and easier and easier to get bogged down by the dark clouds of bad news. But, even though it may seem like the whole world is frowning together right now, that is, thankfully, not the case. Here are five amazingly feel-good stories from the autism community that will turn those anxious butterflies in your stomach into happy flutters.
1. A teen in San Antonio is raising money for Autism Awareness through entrepreneurship.
Al Ortiz, a teen living with ASD in San Antonio, made headlines at the beginning of May when he decided to take action to spread the word about Autism Awareness with a line of keychains. Fox San Antonio shared Al’s story—and the incredible fact that 30 percent of the proceeds from his keychains will go to the San Antonio Autism Treatment Center (the rest will go to another very worthy cause—Al’s college fund).
“I plan to study engineering, just like my father," the 18-year-old explained. “We’re still learning about autism right now, to this day, we still are," Ortiz said.
You can order Al’s keychains on his mom’s Facebook, where he’s selling them for $10 each. He’s already made sales around the world and says each keychain takes him about 30 minutes to make by hand.
_2. A nine-year-old girl living with ASD went viral for perfectly explaining autism in her own words. _
Kimberly, an amazing nine-year-old girl from Holtsville, New York, went viral in May with a special—and deeply personal—video message about her own experiences living with autism.
Kimberly made the video for Autism Awareness Month in April, when she had the idea to use the occasion to help explain to her class what living with ASD is like for her. Kimberly’s former special education teacher, Debra Furey, made sure the media heard about her student’s incredible (and incredibly educational) video.
"Kimmy is an absolutely incredible little girl who happens to have an autism diagnosis. She wants nothing more than for her peers to accept and understand her. She made a video to share her message of acceptance with the world," Kimberly’s mom, Denise, explained.
If the video seems too precocious for a nine-year-old to have made on her own, believe that it’s all Kimberly—with one tiny tweak suggested by her mom.
"The only change I asked her to make was to change the word 'normal' to 'neurotypical.' I don't like her seeing herself as abnormal or broken in some way,” Denise explained. “I decided the rest should stay as is. It's her voice. It's her way of taking control of her life and trying to make it better. Not just for herself, but others as well.”
Link to Kimberly’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpSVbGpMqrM
_3. A balloon artist with autism is saying thank you to essential workers in a truly unique way. _
Eddie Lin, a 22-year-old balloon artist from New Jersey, is giving back to essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic in an adorable and unique way: With amazing balloon art creations.
Eddie, who was diagnosed with autism when he was just three years old, has become known for his balloon art and has even been dubbed the “'Ausome Balloon Creator.” During COVID-19, Eddie has been taking requests from family members of essential workers to create unique balloon art for their loved ones during this difficult time. Eddie’s mom, Jenny Lin, even got involved with the project, offering curbside pick-up for the donated creations.
Talk about a creative way to give back!
4. A Tennis program for students with Autism is acing its coronavirus virtual program
Love Serving Autism, a nonprofit organization that provides specialized therapeutic tennis lessons to children and adults with ASD, didn’t let the coronavirus shut it down. Instead, the organization moved its programming to a virtual platform—and totally smashed it.
In April, the group started offering its program via Zoom, with lessons modified for home instruction. During the in-person classes, students meet up in 14 locations around Florida to participate in exercises like running, jumping, stretching, hitting, and balancing. The classes are designed to offer students physical and cognitive developmental tools, as well as providing them with opportunities to build self-esteem and practice peer interaction and socialization.
“We really emphasize a lot of gross motor skills while also teaching fine motor skills, which is a lot of hand-eye coordination like racket dribbling,” Lisa Pugliese, Love Serving Autism’s founder and a certified tennis professional, said. “We teach social skills and language skills by working on character development. We try to engage them on a social level.”
We LOVE it (and, unlike in tennis, we mean love in the best way possible).
_5. A 20-year-old with autism and epilepsy has discovered—and starting sharing—his talent for art thanks to the coronavirus. _
Kyle Hubbard, a 20-year-old from Syracuse living with autism and epilepsy, has discovered a hidden talent during the coronavirus pandemic—and now he’s sharing it with the world.
Before the pandemic, Kyle would head to work at Oswego Industries, where he would sort mail and work on various projects before heading to the gym and then home to cook dinner. When quarantine and stay-at-home orders forced his Oswego program to go on pause and his gym to temporarily shut down, however, Kyle looked for new ways to fill his days.
“When he was back home it was a huge transition. He didn’t know what to do. We were trying to keep him busy and I asked him if he wanted to head down into the basement to paint a picture for his mentor. I thought we would just play around and he really showed me something,” his mom, Missy Hubbard, explained.
Missy helped Kyle explore his creative side with art and scoured Pinterest for inspiration about ways to integrate new textures to his work, beyond the typical paintbrush, including using tools like Q-tips, cotton balls, wine corks, bubble wrap, and forks. Kyle started posting his creations to Facebook and demand took off from there. Kyle started sharing his art with supporters and friends—with a little help from his mom, of course.
“He would tell me who he wanted to give them to and on Saturdays, that would be our outing. We would put our masks on and he would tell me where we were going and we would drop them off,” Missy said.