Lottie Brooks: Bringing Autism Awareness & Breaking the Stigma

This week I had the privilege of sitting down with ADAPT President and Special Olympics Wisconsin Representative, Lottie Brooks. We discussed opportunities to promote change and advocate for inclusion through events on campus, in the area, and in our everyday lives. Passionate and well informed, Lottie was more than willing to share her knowledge and experiences with us.

Photo courtesy of Lottie Brooks

HC: How did you first get involved in Autism Advocacy on campus?

LB: The club that I’m in charge of is called “ADAPT,” which stands for Abled and Differently Abled People together. When I first joined ADAPT, I was one of two members, and this was my freshman year. The president said, “Hey I’m going to quit, do you want to be president?” and I thought, “Oh okay, so we’re starting from nothing”. 

HC: What are some of the big things that ADAPT does now? 

LB: We now have an annual fundraiser, usually in March or April, where Kenosha Special Olympics athletes come and play basketball against students who volunteer. It’s a unified event, which means both people with disabilities and people without can participate, and it’s a fundraiser for Special Olympics Wisconsin. This is our main event.

Photo courtesy of Lottie Brooks

HC: What has the organization been working on recently?

LB: October is Down Syndrome Awareness month, so in October we do a campaign of some kind. This past October we brought in a guest speaker with down syndrome and she talked about what it’s like to live with down syndrome. We had a big turnout for the event, so that was really exciting! That was part of the diversity week. Most of what we do is based around an awareness month, but we do little things at our meetings as well, like recently we made Halloween cards for the Kenosha Achievement Center, and we also made Thanksgiving cards for them as well.

HC: What kind of transitions is ADAPT going through right now?

LB: I intern for Special Olympics Wisconsin right now so I have a lot of crossover, which is great. We recently just got approved by Special Olympics Wisconsin to be a recognized chapter of their organization, so we’re in the process of changing over our constitution so that we can be “Special Olympics Club” at Carthage instead of ADAPT.

HC: So you’ll be moving away from ADAPT?

LB: It’s going to be the same idea, but Special Olympics Club reached out to us and said, “You guys are doing the work that Special Olympics Clubs do, do you want to be called Special Olympics Club at Carthage?” and we just feel like more people will join a club called “Special Olympics Club” than “ADAPT”, but everything that we’re doing will stay the same.

HC: What are some ways that people can get involved on campus?

LB: We always have different things to do, like we have our meetings on Monday nights, but we also have ways to get involved without being a member of ADAPT. In March we have the “Spread the word to end the word” campaign, so we’re advocating to eliminate the use of the word "retarded" in any context, including medical because it isn’t relevant. Anyone can use their voice to spread that message, and with autism awareness, you can use the correct terminologies to refer to people with autism.

We also always have volunteer opportunities. We post them on our Facebook page, which is Carthage ADAPT. We’re always listening and looking for new ideas. We’re looking at starting a Buddy Walk on campus next October, so anyone with an idea is always welcome to come to any meetings or reach out to the organization.

HC: Can you say more about the ways that people can use language to be an advocate for autism awareness?

LB: Something that we stand for, as well as pretty much on a national level every organization that represents people with disabilities stands for, is what’s called “People First” language, so when you’re talking about someone with a disability, you would say the person and then their disability. Instead of saying “an autistic person” for example, you would say “a person with autism” because they are a person before they are a person with a disability. That’s something that you can do on a day to day basis.

HC: Okay, I think this is the perfect time to move towards ways that people can take action in their personal lives and break the stigma surrounding people with disabilities

LB: Now that I’ve been working with people with disabilities for 9 or ten years, personally I think the way to break that stigma is exposing yourself to it, as kind of common sense as that sounds, if you work with people with disabilities you’ll realize that they’re just like us. I think it’s important to be an advocate for with people with disabilities because that could have been any of us. It’s not something that they ever chose for their life, so promoting acceptance and inclusion is so important. I think that I’ve benefited more from working with them than they ever have from working with me.

I also think I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot from them about what it means to be the happiest person even in a very difficult situation, so I think it’s very important to find any opportunity to get involved, expose yourself and go to guest speakers. As soon as you hear things from their perspective, you’re far more likely to understand it, and that goes for any group, not just people with disabilities. It’s hard to have a stigma for someone that you know well.

HC: Absolutely. Now is there anything more that you want people to know? Just in general, or about things that the organization has going on here on campus?

LB: Right now is really a slow time of year for us. That’s because everything that we have now has really been created from the ground up, so that’s a big reason that we’re trying to get this buddy walk going, and we’re definitely always open to new ideas and new people joining us at the meetings.

HC: What kinds of opportunities have you had personally through your advocacy and internship with Special Olympics Wisconsin?

LB: I’m in charge of planning the Region Seven Polar Plunge, which includes Kenosha County. I’m running the social media for that and I’m reaching out to high schools and middle schools in the area to get younger people involved because something that Special Olympics really stands for is unity, which is kind of their motto, meaning that life should be inclusive of people with and without disabilities.

Photo courtesy of Lottie Brooks

That’s why I really love Polar Plunges because it’s a whole fun-filled day and you know that you’re raising money to fund athletic events across Wisconsin, and the events promote inclusions and healthcare initiatives for the athletes. They’re a great way to see it isn’t just an obligation, you can have fun and really live that advocacy.

We’re surrounded by opportunities to grow, make connections and make a difference in the lives of those around us. If you’re inspired by Lottie’s activism and the actions of our on-campus organizations, reach out to Carthage ADAPT for more ways to get involved and make a difference.

Rep image courtesy of Lottie Brooks