World Autism Awareness Day is April 2.
But Land O’ Lakes High International Baccalaureate students Sydney Crenshaw and Sajni Shah have been raising awareness about autism throughout the school year.
They began their project, Action For Autism, as members of the school club HOSA – Future Health Professionals, which is an international competition based on medicine and health care related topics.
The duo is competing in the Community Awareness Division, which means they set forth to educate the community on a topic of their choice. They chose Autism Spectrum Disorder because they are passionate about embracing neurodiversity and contributing to the awareness of this “disorder” that still comes with a stigma.
“In my experience, when I meet autistic people or children, I treat them like anyone else, but that’s not always the case,” said Crenshaw, who is a junior. “It’s not a visible condition, so most people don’t even know this person has autism because they can act in a variety of ways when they’re on the spectrum.
“Not a lot of people show they have autism, and we’ve seen that a lot, but autism isn’t something you should treat differently,” Crenshaw added. “Autistic people are people.”
Shah says people on the autism spectrum should have the same chances and opportunities as their “neurotypical counterparts.”
That’s why Shah is working to increase awareness about autism.
“A lot of people with autism don’t receive accommodations they need to thrive in society the way you or I might,” said Shah, who is a senior. “That’s frustrating to see because they are very smart people.
“I hope to make these kids feel seen and important and raise awareness that autism is not a stigma and never has to be,” she added. “These kids, given the same chances and opportunities, can be productive and live great lives.”
So far, the students, through Action For Autism, have organized multiple events, interviewed an autistic person and occupational therapist for their YouTube channel, and received $600 in grant money. Using that money, they created other fundraisers, such as selling Autism Awareness bracelets and bags, as well as created posters and fliers with autism facts and hung them around the school and community.
They also have worked with the Light The Torch Campaign, which helps raise money for the Special Olympics.
“Mainly speaking of autism, I’ve seen how it affects children, and adults, in all very different ways,” Shah said. “There is not one way it affects people, so we just want to understand the patterns and more about it, that way if more people are aware and understanding, then people will understand autism better.”
Both students work with several organizations that help with special needs people, including Special Olympics and Council for Exceptional Children.
Shah also worked at Dream Oaks Camp in Bradenton, which works with children with special needs and chronic illnesses from the ages of 7 to 17.
“Working at Dream Oaks Camp inspired me to work with more people with special needs and autism,” Shah said. “What started as a part-time job grew into a project and something more that I want to continue to do.”
Dr. Louis Florence, the teacher who oversees the HOSA club, isn’t overly familiar with the duo’s project or its specifics — there’s 108 members in HOSA and Florence’s job is just to manage the kids and be as hands-off as possible — but he does know that students such as Crenshaw and Shah will bring their very best to their projects.
“We’re talking about some of the smartest people around that are interested in working or serving in the medical field,” Florence said. “They’re really self-starters, which is amazing, and they’re students who are excited about the medical field, but can become anything, from doctors to other health care professionals.”
Crenshaw and Shah’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
“Sanji is awesome and the vice president of the group,” Florence said. “Sydney is awesome, too. Two very high-quality individuals that already have the drive to go out and make a difference in the medical field, and in this case, helping autism awareness.
“These two are great, shining examples of the type of kids who join this club and love to see all the work they do for their yearlong projects.”
Plus, the students’ devotion to autism awareness is prodigious.
“I know just how much I love these kids — they’re so much fun,” Crenshaw said. “I personally do it because autistic people are still people — I’ve said that a lot, but it’s true!”
Action For Autism
Details: Land O’ Lakes High International Baccalaureate students Sydney Crenshaw and Sajni Shah created this program as part of an international competition through the school club, HOSA – Future Health Professionals. The students chose to educate the community on the topic of autism spectrum disorder. They are passionate about embracing neurodiversity and contributing to the awareness of autism. Their campaign included organizing multiple events, interviewing an autistic person and occupational therapist for their YouTube channel, receiving $600 in grant money and raising additional money for the Special Olympics.
To donate, email or Venmo @sajni_shah12.
For more information or to follow Action for Autism on social media, visit https://linktr.ee/actionforautism.
Published March 29, 2023