One of the lessons that I am so thankful my parents instilled in me when I was growing up was the importance of giving back. Some of the most profound and impactful memories in my life are of times when I was assisting others and I would like to incorporate this aspect of my life into Something Gold, Something Blue and share some of the social causes/charities that are near and dear to my heart. I hope that these posts will inspire you to find those causes that mean the most to you and to share your experiences with others.
For me to fully explain my passion for this event, I think we need to go back about 10 years to my senior year of high school….I was so fortunate to be introduced to Alex when he and I were matched to work together during my PALS (Peer Assistance and Leadership) program/class. This program was developed to have high school junior and seniors mentor younger students in the district and give back to the community. Alex was in junior high and we often played basketball, did puzzles and worked on some educational worksheets/homework his teacher recommended us working on that day. I met with Alex once a week for a semester and I guarantee you I took so much more away from that experience than he did. Alex was autistic and was non-verbal. Working with him taught me how to communicate in different ways and to learn his different cues. He taught me that you don’t have to speak to get your message across. He taught me that we all see the world with different lenses, “headphones”/listening capabilities and sensory abilities.
If you are unfamiliar with Autism, it is a condition “for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” (Source: AutismSpeaks.org)
From my experience, I would sum up Autism as a condition where those affected feel the world differently than we do. I think this is a very simplistic definition and I don’t know that experts would agree, but this definition is how I like to approach those who fall on the Spectrum (the Spectrum or Autism Spectrum is a common term used to show the uniqueness of the condition – some individuals are highly functioning and others require supervision and will never be able to live on their own. Be sure to check out AutismSpeaks.org for more information on the condition. I think they explain it better than I can.) Individuals on the Spectrum often have a heightened sensory response. Noises are often amplified from what a non-spectrum individual would hear. Lights are often brighter, touch is felt more deeply, etc., and their behavior often reflects the impact of these inputs.
Needless to say, this one experience taught me to love in a different way and peaked my interest about Autism. I continued by journey to understand/empathize with those living with Autism while I was in college; I volunteered at an Autism center where the participants would come for after school programs and learn strategies to understand emotions and behaviors of others. I even wrote a research paper on the topic for a writing class – what can I say, the topic fascinates me?
Full disclosure – I am by no means a medical professional nor do I have an extensive research background on Autism. The information contained in this post are stories of personal experiences with the condition and I share them to encourage all of you to learn more about the condition and, potentially, change your perception of those living with Autism.
I could go on and on about the memories I have of working with individuals who have disabilities and the smiles that it has brought to my face, but I should really start talking about the event in Houston that I am so excited to attend – ReelAbilities. In it’s fifth year, ReelAbilities is a free, city-wide arts festival taking place in February that celebrates the lives, stories, and talents of people living with disabilities. There is a film festival, live music jam, series of thought leadership talks, and traveling seminars in Houston schools and businesses, all with the purpose of promoting inclusion and and generating awareness about the art made by people living with various levels of ability.
ReelAbilities started in New York City in 2007 and has now spread to 14 cities, including Houston. What is so neat is that ReelAbilities is that it is the largest festival of it’s kind and it is revolutionary – using the arts as a medium to both educate and change perceptions about individuals with disabilities. Last year, ReelAbilities drew more than 10,000 people to the events across Houston, where people heard from amazing speakers from across the world to hear their stories and I am sure so much more than I could put into words.
Some of the events for 2017 include,
- January 30th through March 31st – ReelArt: The Art of Celebration
- February 14th – Theater District Screening of the ReelAbilities Short films with the Houston Ballet
- February 16th – ReelPeople: UpAbilities (where presentations from thought leaders on mental and physical disabilities on topics of inclusion will occur)
- February 23rd – ReelMusic: An All-Inclusive Jazz and Blues Jam
For a complete listing of events, please check out the ReelAbilities website.
To make this a “no-barriers” experience, all ReelAbilities: Houston Film and Arts Festival events are free and open to the public, but space is limited. For more information and to reserve tickets, visit ReelAbilitiesHouston.org. If you get the chance to attend, I would highly encourage it. I can’t tell you how much my life has been changed by learning more about those who are affected by disabilities.
P.S. If you have not seen the Special Books by Special Kids Facebook page, I challenge you to watch one video and not tear up. The individuals featured have such positive outlooks on life…and the videos are a daily reminder for me of how blessed I truly am and whatever little crud I am going through pales in comparison.
Photographs provided by ReelAbilities to assist in writing this post.