Campus Celebrity: Are You Autism Aware? Club

Name of Club: Are You Autism Aware? (AYAA)

Presidents: Erin French (Senior) & Siobhan McCarthy (Senior)

Active Members: Our Executive Board! Honestly we couldn’t accomplish nearly as much as we would like without them. This includes: Juliana Fetherman (Secretary, Sophomore), Caroline Burns (VP, Junior), Katie Douglas (Mentoring Coordinator, Senior), Blake Galullo (Advertising Chair, Senior), and Jackie Alpert (Social Media Chair, Senior)

Founded on Campus: AYAA was founded in the year 2011 by a SHU alum who graduated in 2013. She started the club because her little brother has autism, and because she believed that the SHU student body was not educated enough on the condition.

What is Autism Awareness Month?:

Siobhan: April is Autism Awareness Month!

Erin: Autism Awareness Month takes place throughout the month of April, but the official World Autism Awareness Day is on April 2. In my opinion, Autism Awareness Month celebrates individuals with autism. This month promotes awareness, inclusion, and self-determination for all individuals with autism. This month encourages individuals with autism that they will be able to achieve the highest possible quality of life.

What does your club do to promote this month?

Siobhan: This month we are hosting a Carnival for Autism on April 12th in the UC. There will be various activities along with cotton candy and popcorn. We will also be selling Autism Awareness merchandise. 

Erin: You’ll see some club members wearing their blue club t-shirt. On Tuesday April 12, the Are You Autism Aware? Club will be hosting a mini carnival in the UC to spread more awareness of autism and to raise money for Autism Speaks, which is a national advocacy organization in the United States that sponsors autism research and conducts awareness and outreach activities. There will be popcorn, cotton candy, and other various activities at the event, and there will also be an opportunity to buy merchandise, such as: bracelets, club t-shirts, and buttons.

What is something rewarding about being about being part of AYAA?

Siobhan: For me, a rewarding part of being involved with AYAA is when we can give to the elementary school, Geraldine Johnson, after we raise money. The kids there are so great and are extremely thankful for anything we give them. To see there reactions, makes it all worth while. 

Erin: It gives me chills sometimes to think about what I’m representing through AYAA. As Co-President of AYAA, I have the opportunity to advocate for a special group of individuals who cannot always advocate for themselves. I feel like their guardian angel, their voice, and I will never stop fighting for them. 

What do you plan to do with it in the future?

Siobhan: We have a lot of great ideas planned for the future, like starting a charity softball game to raise awareness for Autism.

Erin: I’m not entirely sure what next year’s executive board has up their sleeves, but I’m certain that it will be amazing! I know that they would love to put together a charity softball game. As for me, I’ll be graduating in May, but I plan on taking AYAA with me as I continue to work towards my Master’s degree in SHU’s education program. I want to be a middle school Spanish teacher, but my dream would be to teach basic Spanish to students who have various disabilities and special needs, including autism.

Name one experience that has had an impact on your life:

Siobhan: An experience that has really impacted my life is the mentoring program we run through AYAA. These students have taught me so much and seeing them is defiantly the highlight of my week. 

Erin: I’ve worked with children with autism as a camp counselor at my town’s YMCA camp for the last six years. Every child has been uniquely different and has touched my heart in different way. One of the girls’ names is Gabriella; she is unable to talk and uses an iPad to communicate with people. I was going through a very difficult time the summer after my freshman year and she brought so much light and happiness into my life every day. She helped me through that dark time and she became one of my best friends. Experiences like this one made me want to be the President of AYAA one day.