April is National Autism Awareness Month

Autism Awareness

I met one of my best friends, Sarah, on the first day of kindergarten,” said Elizabeth Nichols, a senior at Auburn University. “In most ways, Sarah is just like you and me – she loves to laugh, sing, have fun. She is kind, funny, and perceptive. Breakfast dates are our favorite things. We love to talk about school, Disney World, movies, and our friends. In some ways, Sarah is a little different from me because Sarah has autism.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated one in 68 children in the United States are identified with autism spectrum disorder.

This April is Autism Awareness Month, but it’s more common to encounter someone who has misconceptions about autism than someone unaware of it. Autism is vastly misunderstood and difficult to define, since the spectrum describes a wide range of symptoms that vary in type and severity.

Autism Puzzle Pieces“Over the years, I have learned how much autism can vary from one person to another,” said Shelby Segrest, a special education major. “There is no specific formula for talking or hanging out with someone who has autism. Just like how I am different from my roommate, all people who have autism are different.”

The number of individuals diagnosed has increased by nearly 120 percent since 2000, making it the fastest-growing developmental disability and an urgent public health care need. This increase may also be attributed to the broadening of the diagnostic characteristics of the disorder, as well as broadened public awareness campaigns like Autism Awareness Month.

The first National Autism Awareness Month occurred in April of 1970. Nearly 50 years later, April is still celebrated as a time to raise awareness around the differences of those on the spectrum and educate the public on Autism. Julia MuppetPBS Kids recently introduced Julia, a Sesame Street Muppet with autism, and even the White House lit up blue to honor autism awareness.

“Other people can get involved by simply looking around themselves,” said Nichols. “People with autism are just people too. They are at your school, your church, or the grocery store. The next time you see a family with a child with autism or a person who may have autism, say hello. Be friendly. Treat them like you would want to be treated! Just know that they may interact with the world a little bit differently from you.”

Both Segrest and Nichols advocate for using “people-first” language, which puts the individual before their disability when talking about someone with autism.

“Using people-first language is HUGE. This means that, instead of saying ‘the autistic girl,’ you can say ‘the girl with autism.’ If we define a person by their disability, we are looking at them based on what they can’t do rather than what they CAN do,” said Segrest.

At Auburn University, there are many resources and organizations that provide opportunities for students to get involved. Best Buddies LogoBest Buddies, BraveHearts, Special Olympics, Miracle League and the Exceptional Foundations are all examples of programs where you can meet friends with autism.

There are also special events held throughout the year. Alpha Xi Delta, a social sorority at Auburn, often holds benefit nights or fundraising events for their philanthropy, Autism Speaks. A Freshman Leadership Group, All for Inclusion, began the “Amazing Auburn Program,” a special event held in the spring that highlights the talents and abilities of those with intellectual development disorders (IDD) rather than their disabilities. Even the current Miss Auburn, Ashley Moates, ran on a platform of making dreams come true for those with IDD.

“I’m pretty biased, but Best Buddies does an incredible job of getting people in the community with IDD connected to students at Auburn.” said Segrest. “As a college buddy at Auburn, you have an amazing opportunity to became a best friend to someone. My buddy is someone I see every week. She brings me so much joy and we have the best times together.”

Elizabeth Nichols can also speak to the positive impact of a friend with autism.

“Living life with Sarah as my friend has taught me so much. Autism allows her to interact with the world in a different way than many of us. Sarah has taught me what real love and empathy looks like. She knows how to see beyond the exterior down to the good in everyone. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Sarah,” said Nichols.

No matter how you choose to raise awareness and show support, Autism Awareness Month is a great time to get started. To learn more, visit http://www.autism-society.org/get-involved/national-autism-awarenes….

This article originally appeared on the Auburn Family blog.

Stress-Relieving Strategies for Students

Stress is an inevitable part of life, especially when you’re attending an academically challenging institution like Auburn University. With the end of the semester quickly approaching, many students are already beginning to experience some finals week stress. Parking at the library is now nonexistent, coffee shops become crowded, and finding a quiet study spot in the student center is like discovering a rare gem!

Stress is impossible to eliminate, but you can learn to manage it. So before pulling an all-nighter or panicking about every possible worst-case scenario, read these tips from students on how to keep stress at a minimum:

1. Get enough sleep.

Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night. Although spending the night in RBD reviewing study guides seems like the productive thing to do, the reality is that sleep does more good for a tired brain and body. Sleep is the best way to take a break and recharge for your next study session. It helps avoid both mental and physical fatigue, so it’s easier to retain information.

“Definitely take a nap.” – Paige Purvis

2. Step away from the desk.

Sitting in the same spot for hours on end won’t boost your brain power! Studies have shown that being active causes the brain to release endorphins, which improves your mood and overall happiness. Try visiting the Rec and Wellness Center on campus for a study break that can help take your mind off the status of your GPA.

“Go out on a run.” – Melissa Bryant

“Having a dance party always helps me.” – Lauren Gaines

Take your dog for a walk.” – Julie Tewell

3. Eat a healthy snack or meal.

Fuel your mind and body before you begin studying. Try eating a balanced diet with fresh foods. Healthy food improves your ability to think clearly, concentrate, and feel energetic when you need it most. Most importantly, avoid eating too much caffeine, sugar or junk food. Even if you’re in a rush getting to class, don’t skip a meal just to save time! That way, hunger pains are one less thing to worry about.

“Grocery shopping makes me feel relaxed” – Meagan Richardson

“Find some good snacks to eat” – Crandall Hinton

4. Focus on your friends.

Spending time with study partners or pals to keep you company in RBD is always a great idea. Good friends can encourage and motivate you to get work done, as long as they are careful not to distract too much. It can also help to have someone that understands the material and can help explain when studying gets tough.

“To reduce stress, I like to play foosball or video games with my friends.” – Patrick Snell

“I like getting coffee or wings with my pals when I’m stressed.” – Nicole Bianca.

5. Find an escape.

For many students, going back to one of their favorite hobbies may help reduce stress from a long day in the library. Listening to music, especially classical, while studying is especially known to give your brain a boost.

“Hot baths always make me feel relaxed.” – Kohler Constantine

“I like to play the piano or cross-stitch. Call me a grandma, but I ain’t joking!” – Elizabeth Cummings

“Watch the Office or Parks and Rec whilst eating candy snuggled in a blanket.” – Lindsey Guin

It’s important to remember that stress exists for a reason. You can either choose to let it be your downfall or use it to drive you to improve your work!

How do you de-stress from school? Tell us in the comments below!

This article originally appeared on Auburn Family.

Making an IMPACT at Auburn University

IMPACT is well known around campus as the largest community service organization, with more than 60 project coordinators and 16 project sites.

However, many students at Auburn University simply don’t realize the incredible impact that the student volunteers have on the Auburn and Opelika communities.

“Many project sites have told us that if it weren’t for Impact volunteers and project coordinators coming every day of the week, they wouldn’t be able to keep their doors open,” said Kennon Pouncey, IMPACT president.

Pouncey has worked with IMPACT for four years as a volunteer, project coordinator and now president of the student-run organization. The biomedical sciences major encourages all Auburn students to give back to the Auburn community through local service.

“Each organization has such a big impact contribution to Auburn as a city, and we’re so proud to keep those places going and just offer our support by being present and volunteering with whatever they might need help with that day,” said Pouncey.

IMPACT Project Coordinators

Project coordinators work project sites in the Auburn/Opelika area and serve as a liaison between the site and volunteers to create student volunteer opportunities. They lead groups of volunteers to their prospective site on a weekly basis, as well as participate in special projects throughout the year such as the Joyland Daycare Easter Egg Hunt or Azalea Retirement Home Prom.

“This is my third year doing IMPACT, and I’ve really enjoyed every year doing it. It’s just a really cool way to get out of your Auburn bubble with your studies and friends and go out to a new community to meet people and help others,” said Project Coordinator Blair Englebert.

IMPACT Project Coordinators
IMPACT Project Coordinators

“I get to see the people that make up our organization and see the sacrifices that they make every week to be able to go to their project site, report their volunteer hours and all the work that goes in behind the scenes,” said Pouncey. “I think our project coordinators are some of the best students on Auburn’s campus because they have the biggest hearts of most people that I know. As president, I just get to see that and am so blessed by that on a weekly basis.”

“We talk about Auburn being one big family, and in my perspective, that’s what IMPACT is. It’s taking students and putting them out into the community, and giving the love that we see every day on Auburn’s campus,” said Project Coordinator Nick McAllister.

Volunteering with IMPACT

With a diverse schedule of times and locations to choose from, fitting volunteer hours into a student’s busy academic week shouldn’t be a problem. All they need before meeting at the intramural fields for a project site is a signed waiver and the willingness to work. The community also benefits from this method of volunteering, as it receives exposure to new volunteers each week. It can also enjoy the work of students that have specifically chosen to be there and want to be serving.

“The beauty of IMPACT is that already we’ve done all the work setting those times up. You don’t have to sign up in advance, you just go whenever it works best for you,” said Pouncey.

IMPACT’s project sites include non-profit organizations such as the BigHouse Foundation, Boys and Girls Club, Community Market, Humane Society, Storybook Farm and Salvation Army. Many sites are volunteer dependent, so every helping hand makes a huge difference.

The newest project, the Jason Dufner Foundation, is a program that works takes place in the Auburn Arena each Thursday.

IMPACT Executive Officers
IMPACT Executive Officers

“Students that might not get a meal until they come back to school on Monday are given these bags so that they will have food over the weekend. IMPACT’s part in that is helping to bag up those things and just making that food bagging process go even faster,” said Pouncey.

So how is IMPACT different than any other organization on campus?

“IMPACT is unique in that it offers students a way to give back one of the only things they have, and that’s time. We don’t often have much money or many resources to give to people around us, but we do have time,” said Pouncey. “The best way we can spend our time is by giving back to those in our community that really need it and can benefit from it, and that’s what IMPACT strives to do.”

This post originally appeared on the Auburn Family blog.