Congratulations to Dashiell Monder for his recent selection as one of only 19 students nationally to attend the Autism Campus Inclusion Conference, 2013. Please see below for an article Dashiell wrote about the experience for the Rutland Herald.
The following article is provided courtesy of the Rutland Herald. Unlawful reproduction prohibited.
Living to Give: A self-advocate in Washington
DASHIELL MONDER | August 07,2013
I am Dashiell Monder, 21, from Shrewsbury and I am autistic.
I attend Castleton State College, write for the Spartan newspaper and am president of Living for Giving, a fundraising club that helps College Steps, a program that prepares high school students — many who are autistic — for college life.
Recently I went to the Autism Campus Inclusion conference in Washington, D.C., after my case manager Emily de Long from the Community Access Program in Rutland told me about it. She thought it would help me advocate for myself and others with autism. I felt nervous about applying because I was not sure of what the other applicants would think of me and whether I would be accepted.
Sponsored by Ari Ne’eman and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, the conference’s purpose is to speak out for people with all disabilities. Nineteen autistic college students were chosen from all over the country to attend the week-long conference. I was the only one from Vermont.
I went with Matt Marro, my support person from CAP. We left on June 9 and I felt a bit nervous about going to a new place. New situations can be confusing for a person with autism.
When we got to D.C., we met with Elizabeth Synclair of ASAN who took us to our dormitory at Thurston Hall at George Washington University. She had never taken the metro and had some trouble getting around, so I helped guide us to our destination.
I was anxious about meeting the other students because I have never been to a conference like this one.
That first night we had dinner at One Circle Hotel with the guest speaker Irving King Jordan, the first deaf president at Gallaudet College. He spoke about how he became the college’s present despite student protests. He is a role model for people with disabilities. He proves that a person with a disability can do any job.
I met students from Florida, Chicago, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and New York. All went to college and all identified as autistic.
One person I saw was Jim Sinclair, the leader of ACI. Sinclair travels by wheelchair with his cat named Rhapsody, his therapy cat which stayed in a cage underneath his wheelchair. Therapy animals can support the disabled or they can make a calming environment.
During the conference, there was a sensory room with stimulation toys, or stim-toys, beanbag chairs, and other things designed to help autistic students take a breather. This keeps our energy level “normal”. Each student had a stim-toy — mine is a toy car that I like to roll the wheels on. It helps decrease my anxiety and stress.
In high school, I was encouraged to play with stim-toys to help keep my stress level down, but elsewhere it is often discouraged because adults are not supposed to have toys. People without autism “stim” in acceptable ways like twirling their hair, tapping their foot, doodling, and twiddling their thumbs. The stims of autistic people are often misunderstood and less common, and therefore labeled as distracting.
One of the nights we had dinner at a restaurant with too much sensory overload. There was a very loud band, and it was horribly hard to concentrate on the conversation. All the autistic students in the group felt the same way — some even left to get away from the loud noise. Autistic people tend to feel better in a moderate sounding environment; loud noises can give us a headache.
During the week we also did mock activism on real issues like the Keep All Students Safe Act, and brainstormed ideas on how to speak with legislators. Legislators vote on the laws that affect everyone.
We put this into practice when we met Assistant Secretary Kathleen Martinez of the Office of Disability Employment Policy with the U.S. Department of Labor. She is blind and uses the Braille alphabet. It was the first time I’ve seen someone use that style of alphabet. I was amazed how she could read by touch and I felt inspired because she didn’t let the disability get in her way and found a way to succeed.
I also had a meeting at Sen. Bernard Sanders’ and Rep. Peter Welch’s offices. It is important for legislators to hear my story so these acts will be passed into law.
This was an awesome week. My favorite thing was meeting other people with disabilities just like me. When I attended a tiny elementary school, I used to think that I was the only one, but now I know that I am not alone. I learned that I should speak up for other people with disabilities who may not be able to speak for themselves, so I should give them a hand. My opinions about disabilities, rights, advocacy, and myself have changed because of this experience. I am trying to help myself more through self-advocacy.
To know more about me and what I do check out my Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/LivingforGivingclub.
Dashiell Monder is a student at Caslteton State College.