STEM Council’s Autism Awareness Event

Sanjana Sathrasala and Gagana Borra

“Autism Soccer Awareness Event here!” exclaimed hard to miss signs in front of Canton’s Phase Three. The event’s infectious spirit spread as excited kids and volunteers filled the area. The Autism Society of Michigan at the University of Michigan partnered with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program of P-CEP to increase awareness to people in the community regarding autism.

Natalie Pasiczynk, student and founder of the Autism Society at the University of Michigan, talked about her personal connection to Autism and was inspired to start this organization because of her brother, who is autistic.

“We are from the University of Michigan, and we work with the Autism Society in Michigan there to put together events like these. We just bring in families from the area and put together some fun activities. This is nice because there aren’t as many kids and they can go at their own pace. It’s more flexible because you don’t have a 100 kids here,” said Pasiczynk.

Harshita Jalluri, Canton senior and co-president of STEM Council, contacted the Autism Society and organized the event with them. “We partnered with University of Michigan to advertise this event to all the autistic kids,” said Jalluri.

Canton’s Phase Three was split into two main events, a craft station in the orchestra room and a soccer playing station in the gym. “This event is for autistic kids age 7- 10 come and play soccer games. There is also a craft session. We sit down and make candy canes with pipe cleaners and holiday decorations,” said Jalluri.

One of these kids enjoying the holiday craft station was Brian Goforth. He proudly showed off his newly made decorations to his mom as volunteers helped him add finishing touches. Brian’s mom, Paula Goforth, was particularly pleased with the event, saying, “I think it’s really nice to have a special event for kids with special needs that is adapted to their abilities, and it gives them something to do and interact with other kids. Brian was very excited to come. I do think he’s enjoying his time here.”

Besides the kids at the event, student volunteers were having just as great of an experience. Laial Baltaji, volunteer and senior at Plymouth High School, said, “I think it’s just a really great way for us to get involved in the community more than just our school because you have these autistic kids that are coming, and it’s a good way for them to have fun and be surrounded by other people who don’t have autism and to feel like they’re normal kids. It’s more than them just  coming and playing games. They’re treated like normal kids and they’re treated like we can do this, we can have fun. They can pretty much do anything.”

The turnout for volunteering at the event was plentiful as John Magoulick, STEM teacher at Canton High School and STEM Council adviser, said that he had to turn down students interested in volunteering. “It was really cool how many volunteers we got; the STEM academy as a whole I think produced over 40 volunteers for this event,” said Magoulick.

Overall, the event was a success as kids and volunteers ran around, playing soccer and making crafts, with smiles on their faces. As autism awareness grows each and every single day, Pasiczynk wants everyone to “celebrate the differences people have neurologically rather than just try and constantly tell them to conform in a certain way.” For more information on the Autism Society of Michigan, visit www.autism-mi.org.