Charisse Wright, speech-language pathologist in the Department of Otolaryngology at Baylor College of Medicine, knows first-hand the impact a good friend can have in the life of a child living with autism.
“My son, who is on the spectrum, has endured a lot of bullying, which I think stems from a lack of understanding about autism. Research shows that about 50 percent of bullies will stop the negative behavior if they are confronted or a third party intervenes, so I wanted to create a community event where people can learn more about how to do that and how to support those with autism,” Wright said.
Wright hosted the first Be a Hero, Be a Friend event on Saturday, April 27, in Pearland. The event created a unique opportunity for attendees, both adults and children, to experience and better understand what it feels like to live with autism, including how it feels to struggle to communicate verbally, have disorders with sensory processing, and how to empathize more with people who are on the spectrum.
“We had activities that are designed to put people into situations where they are deprived of a certain sense or ability that those on the spectrum regularly deal with and experience,” Wright said.
For example, to illustrate how it feels not to use verbal language to communicate, the event featured an activation that requires the attendee to communicate with a picture exchange. Another simulation involved the attendee wearing 3D glasses and having a range of stimuli aimed toward them, such as having a strobe light on while listening to someone talk through a voice changing device while simultaneously trying to follow directions on how to draw shapes or other objects.
“I think it’s important to have these experiences because it gives you a new perspective beyond doctor’s visits or what you can read online. I think it also helps us, as parents, to better understand what our children are trying to communicate to us by stepping into their shoes a little bit,” she said.
The event was free to attendees, provided a range of autism resources and featured a superhero theme to demonstrate to kids how much power they can have by being a friend. Additionally, attendees were able to interact with occupational therapists, ABA therapists, special education advocates and other supports and specialists in the field.
“I hope this event will spark increased interest from our community for future events, and one day I hope I’ll be able to translate Be a Hero, Be a Friend into an official non-profit,” Wrights said.
-By Allison Mickey