There is much wisdom to be drawn from Muhammad Ali- such as believe in yourself, stand up for justice, help others, and work hard at your craft. But there is also a surprising lesson to be drawn from his life story— learn to appreciate neurodiversity and neuroplasticity, as did Ali’s legendary trainer and friend, Angelo Dundee.
By Camilla Bixler
Sixteen years ago a local autism conference at San Francisco State University changed the course of my life. The first session, an autism overview, was good for beginners, but as the parent of a young adult with high functioning autism, I was hardly an autism novice. It was the panel of autistic adults that followed that was life-altering. While we had heard Temple Grandin speak, our family didn’t know any adults on the spectrum. Our son had no role models for successful adult living.
So that day I was riveted by six middle-aged spectrum adults telling their stories: a gentle artist, a handyman, a support group leader, a funny sometime-teacher, a man struggling with homelessness, a Zen monk. As they offered me a glimpse into my son’s future, I thought that we have something important to offer each other. Others at the conference agreed and Autism Asperger Spectrum Coalition for Education, Networking and Development was born.
AASCEND is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that is a respectful and collaborative partnership of Asperger’s and high-functioning autistic adults, family and friends, educators and autism service professionals working together as peers for mutual support and action. Half of our board is on the spectrum, the other half is neurotypical. One co-chair identifies as being on the spectrum, the other is NT. Many of us have been together for sixteen years and we have become a community.
We believe the AASCEND Collaborative Model in which neurodiverse and neurotypical adults join forces as equal partners, empowers us all. Through an organizational structure of monthly informational meetings, social events and special programs such as the Job Club, Life on the Autism Spectrum TV show and the Greenland Expedition, AASCEND has created a vibrant community that can be replicated.
AASCEND is a grassroots organization that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of those living on or with the autism spectrum. We want to foster the belief that people get stronger by helping each other and forge social connections by doing meaningful work together as peers.
We invite others to join the Spectrum Community by AASCEND on Linkedin and participate in the national conversation about employment. Add employment-ready candidates to the pool.
After 16 years, 160 meetings, 42 social events, multiple presentations, and 8 conferences AASCEND has a strong record of success. Our members have written books, become autism speakers, consultants and advocates. By inspiring and supporting one another, AASCEND members have initiated: a Job Club with SFSU graduate students assisting ; the Spectrum Employment Community on Linkedin; Life on the Autism Spectrum, a public access TV show; AutSit, an online meditation group; We Gotta Dance, a monthly dance at the Arc of San Francisco; Conquering Heights, a trans-Sierra ski expedition; Friends Like Me, a free social and recreational program for adults with developmental disabilities and autism; Connections, a social group at Cal Poly University. A Greenland Ski Expedition is being planned. Our monthly events are free and open to all.
On October 8, AASCEND will host a conference in partnership San Francisco State University’s Autism Spectrum Studies Department. Spectrum Leadership 2016: Adult Autism Advances will feature Dr. Hackie Reitman, Sondra Williams, Ultra Testing, Eric Zimmerman of the Buddy Project and other national and local leaders. We hope you will join us.
Sixteen years ago our family didn’t have any adult friends on the autism spectrum, now we have a whole roomful of them.
AASCEND’s Michael Bernick was recently a guest on our show, Exploring Different Brains. Click here to check it out!
Camilla Bixler has taught English as a Second Language at City College of San Francisco and abroad for 40 years. She also trained Chinese English teachers in Lanzou, China. She is the mother of an adult son on the spectrum, born in 1981 before much was known about the autism. She and her husband became founding and sustaining board members of Star Academy, a school for students with complex learning needs. Camilla later started the Asperger’s Teen and Young Adult Club and the monthly, We Gotta Dance, to provide social opportunities for the community. In 2000, she became a founding member of AASCEND for autism spectrum and neurotypical adult collaboration.