VICKI GENTEMPO OFMANI, CONTINUING THE LEGACY OF HER STUDENT, DANNY FIDDLE…

Vicki Gentempo Ofmani is a Founding member of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation (DJFF) Board of Trustees and she recently discussed with John Goldfarb, DJFF intern about her role in the development of DJFF:

John: How did you become a a Founding Trustee on the DJFF Board?

Vicki: I was Danny’s first teacher at the Forum School in New Jersey. When I was asked to join the Board by Linda Walder and Fred Fiddle (co-founder’s of DJFF), I was flattered and honored and when they told me the that the organization would be the first one in the United States to focus exclusively on young adults and adults living with Autism, I was completely committed. Joining this dynamic organization was aligned with my own interests and on a personal level, to this day, continues to give me purpose.

John: Would you please tell me about your “day” job:

Vicki: I am the Supervisor of Instruction and Structured Learning Coordinator at the Forum School in Waldwick, New Jersey. I act as Assistant Director of the school. My career has always been in Special Education, primarily working with learners living with Autism and related challenges. My job at this point is to coordinate learning experiences for students ages 16-21 and to also oversee the behavioral components of their educational programs. I also coordinate all of the teacher assistants that work in each of the Forum School classrooms (the Forum School serves children ages 3-21 years old).

John: Who are your mentors?

Vicki: I have a few…Linda Walder, Founder and President of the DJFF is one of them because she has taken a personal tragedy and turned it into a highly respected and leading organization that benefits people living with Autism everywhere. Dr. Steve Krapes, the former Director of the Forum School has been a role model and has guided and enhanced my understanding about teaching students with different challenges and I am extremely grateful to him for his 25 years of mentorship that truly shaped my career.

John: What a advice would you give parents who are raising a child living with Autism?

Vicki: I think being accepting that everyone is different is key. Acceptance will lead to understanding the needs of your child and then you will be able to help your child be the best he or she can be. It will also lead to providing the supports that will enhance your child’s life by enabling them to be part of the community.

John: What do you think the future holds for people living with Autism?

Vicki: I think it holds as much promise as it does for anyone else. For each of my students, their choices will depend on their interests, some may need more support than others but each should be able to attain goals and

Vicki Gentempo Ofmani, Founding Trustee of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation

Vicki Gentempo Ofmani,
Founding Trustee of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation

live fulfilling lives. This is the legacy of my student Danny Fiddle, and the DJFF Foundation created in his memory and honor, for all people living with Autism to reach their personal best.

John Goldfarb Interviews Jim Scancarella, Founding Board of Trustees Member of DJFF

Founding Trustee and Vice President of the Board, Jim is a dedicated volunteer and leader

Founding Trustee and Vice President of the Board, Jim is a dedicated volunteer and leader

Jim Scancarella is the Vice President of the Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Board of Trustees. John Goldfarb, our blog editor had the opportunity to talk with Jim recently.  

John: How did you become a founding Board of Trustees member and Vice President of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation?

Jim: My son Jimmy and Danny were at the Forum School in New Jersey together and our families met over 18 years ago. When The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation was established over a dozen years ago, Linda (Linda J. Walder , Founder of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation) asked me to serve on the Board of Trustees. I wanted to give back something to all these beautiful kids and young adults and believed in Linda’s pioneering focus on adults living with Autism. At the time, we were the only organization in the United States to have a specific mission focused on adults.

John: What do you do as Vice President of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation?

Jim: I typically do some fundraising, I attend meetings, assist with going to look at various projects that we’re considering collaborations with and whatever else is requested of me.

John: How does the Board of Trustees decide on projects The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation will develop and support?

Jim: There are constantly new and ongoing projects that Linda spearheads. Then these are reviewed by our Board of Trustees. Our mission and vision of developing, advocating for and funding projects to benefit adults on the spectrum is based on the social entrepreneurial spirit of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation and founded in our goal to open as many doors as possible for all adults living with Autism. We have always remained focused on our mission and all we do reflects this.

John: What is your personal connection to Autism?

Jim: My son Jimmy, who is 22 is Autistic, he is on the autistic spectrum.

John: How has your family dealt with Autism?

Jim: We’re very fortunate that Jimmy is an easy-going kid and we’ve been able to deal with any issues that have arisen. We’ve just been able to adjust to our situation, that has been an easier situation than what other families experience.

John: What advice would you give anyone who has to cope with the challenges of a loved one who lives with Autism?

Jim: Just hang in there. There are difficult times and rewarding times and many things in between, but try to take them in stride.

John: Since you joined this Foundation, what is it like to create opportunities for adults who live with Autism?

Jim: We don’t really get to meet a lot of the individuals our endeavors benefit directly, however, it just makes us all feel good knowing that because of our efforts their lives are changed and expanded with new opportunities. It gives us great pride to know that the resources we have developed or programs relating to residential, employment or recreation have created opportunities that never existed before for adults living with Autism. I look forward to our next great initiatives that are on the drawing board now as they will create enduring collaborations that will benefit adults in the next decades.

John: What do you think the future holds for people living with Autism?

Jim: I think it’s good, I think there’s a lot of focus on the issues obviously, and that can only bring good things looking forward.

John: How has this Foundation changed lives?

Jim: The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation has been in existence for over 12 years, and we were the first organization in the United States to focus on adults. I believe our efforts started what is now a national focus on the growing population of adults living on the spectrum, and I am proud to be a part of the strides that have been made to create the best lives possible for all people living with Autism. Our residential, recreational, transition and employment programs have opened so many opportunities around the country and we will continue to break new ground in the years ahead.

 

Welcome John Goldfarb, Our New Intern and Blog Editor

Summer Intern and Blog Editor, John Goldfarb

Summer Intern and Blog Editor, John Goldfarb

The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation is excited to introduce you to our new intern, John Goldfarb who will be taking over as the Editor of our Blog for the summer. We asked John to introduce himself and to share his focus for the Blog in the coming weeks…

Hi everyone: I am John Goldfarb, a huge Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees, Rutgers Football, and Wisconsin Badgers basketball sports fan. I am also a recent graduate from County College of Morris in New Jersey. I will be attending Ramapo College,,, also located in New Jersey, this fall. I am a communications major. My interest in communications is sports journalism.

I’m very excited to be The Daniel Jordan Fiddle (DJF) Foundation blog editor this summer because this is an excellent opportunity to get to know more about the DJF Foundation as well as the people who help this organization out in numerous great ways.

Before I got into writing and editing articles, I played four years of football at Livingston High School. My team won a state championship my sophomore year and I had the opportunity to be on the Giants stadium field for the game. From my experience in football; I understand what it is like to be a part of something special. I get that same special feeling being a part of an organization like DJF.

Before joining the DJF Foundation, I spent my county college days working for the Youngtown Edition Newspaper. This paper is the on campus newspaper of the County College of Morris. I served as the college’s sports editor. While working for the Youngtown, I interviewed athletes, coaches and students from various teams or who were just around for sports related articles.

When interviewing the dedicated people affiliated with the all volunteer DJF Foundation, I will ask questions such as, “what convinced you to join the DJF Foundation?” or “how have you been impacted by Autism?”. If you have any ideas for questions for our Board members, self-advocates or collaborative partners of the DJF Foundation, feel free to email me at jdgold93@verizon.net.

I hope you will find my blog interesting as together we get to know the great people at the DJF Foundation a little better.

The Pros of Procrastination

lindawf1:

Happy Holidays and I Guess Happy Tax Day!!!!

Originally posted on Autism For A Lifetime:

Image Only a few days until April 15th, tax day, and of course I am thinking about procrastination, aren’t many of us? In fact, writing this blog is one of about twenty things I did today to avoid what I really “should” be doing, but then again, I am getting things done that I probably would not have done had I not procrastinated.  Ah, the first pro of procrastination!

I find that I procrastinate when I really do not want to do something because it is boring, requires too much thought or I would just rather be doing something else.  Today is a beautiful and warm day, the first in quite a while, so I took a long walk in the park with my dog Bella.  Another pro of procrastinating: Bella and I got some exercise and the sun shone upon us.

And then there is this very organized but very…

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The Pros of Procrastination

ImageOnly a few days until April 15th, tax day, and of course I am thinking about procrastination, aren’t many of us? In fact, writing this blog is one of about twenty things I did today to avoid what I really “should” be doing, but then again, I am getting things done that I probably would not have done had I not procrastinated.  Ah, the first pro of procrastination!

I find that I procrastinate when I really do not want to do something because it is boring, requires too much thought or I would just rather be doing something else.  Today is a beautiful and warm day, the first in quite a while, so I took a long walk in the park with my dog Bella.  Another pro of procrastinating: Bella and I got some exercise and the sun shone upon us.

And then there is this very organized but very tall stack of paperwork I need to go through for work, and I need to carefully read and review it all, but it is such a big, tall pile and although I love what I do, I cannot bring myself to do it today. However, I am thinking about the contents of the pile and as my thoughts are marinating I am getting more focused on the direction I want to take. This kind of procrastination is really part of the process of defining goals and objectives.  It is a getting ready mode that is necessary for thoughtful analysis and decision making.  Procrastination is on its face a way of avoiding a decision, or could it be a way the mind synthesizes and works through scenarios that will lead to better decision making?

For many people who live with Autism, and their families, there are often difficult and challenging things that others do not have to contend with in the same way. For instance, this week people will be celebrating Easter and Passover, and it is a time when family and friends gather together.  These gatherings are not easy for people living with Autism because of social and sensory impacts and many procrastinate on accepting invitations, not because they do not want to go but because they do not know if they can handle it. In these cases, my suggestion would be to think about why you are stressed out and procrastinating.  Maybe you will come up with a few things that you “fear” will happen if you go to the gathering, and then you can hopefully figure out a strategy to work this through, or even talk it over with the host of the gathering (after all, they invited you so they must care about you!). Procrastinating your decision about whether you will accept the invitation could actually be a good way to get yourself prepared and comfortable with your choice and will also help clarify your situation for the host.

Procrastination has a bad reputation, but is it really deserved?  When we procrastinate we allow time for new and maybe better things to happen. When we procrastinate we get more focused as we race towards the deadline.  And speaking of deadlines, I need to finish preparing my taxes and stop procrastinating!

A Valentine For You

Dear Friends, This is a Valentine created with love and appreciation for you! We at The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation are so grateful for your continuous support for our 12 years of developing, advocating for and funding programs, resources and supportive services that benefit the diverse population of adults living with Autism throughout the United States. Thank you with love!!!

Why is a day like Valentine’s Day meaningful?  For many it is a particularly difficult day.  I read something this morning that reminds me of this…a beautiful woman I know posted on FACEBOOK that for 16 years she has been sending herself flowers on Valentine’s Day and looks forward to the day when someone else will do this for her.  My first thought was how poignant and a little sad, but then I thought, this is good that she loves and values herself enough to send herself flowers on this day.  It is a good message, to love yourself first.

It is also meaningful to take a pause in our busy lives to acknowledge love.  We can all get so overwhelmed with daily chores, commitments and chaos that gratefulness for all of those we love remains unspoken.  Valentine’s Day reminds us to say aloud what is in our heart.

And one final thought on this topic, if you know someone who is alone, or may feel alone today, why not pick up the phone or at least send a text or an email to say, “Happy Valentine’s Day?”  They are three little words that will mean a lot!Image

For those special someones, the other three words (“I love you”) will mean more than anything.

With love to you,

The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation

Do Holidays Get You Down?

We are smack in the middle of the holiday season 2013.  Thanksgiving and hopefully its leftovers are finished.  The wax has been peeled off of menorahs throughout the world, and in some community squares and shop windows fully lighted ones still adorn.  Christmas trees have been decorated with lovely ornaments, and one of the most spectacular ones in Rockefeller Center, New York City is ablaze with colorful lights that delight thousands of shoppers and tourists.  In a few weeks, more thousands of people will decorate themselves for New Year’s eve in Times Square, and everyone, everywhere will bid 2013 goodbye to welcome in a fresh new year.

It is nothing new to remark that all of this fanfare, and the obligatory shopping, overeating, overindulging etc. can get old and can make even the most merry among us want to curl up in bed and never leave our cozy nest. Even if you do not feel this way, you probably know someone who does.

People living with Autism are no different than anyone else during the holidays. For some it is the happiest time of the year and for others it is a completely dreaded misery.  It is important to understand, no matter how one individually feels about the holidays, others may not share your view, and as a caring person, one should try to empathize.  It probably does more good to be supportive rather than to try to drag another person over to your point of view.  So, if Susie hates the holidays and you love them, don’t try to convince her to be a gleeful girl, let her be a subdued Susie—in another words, be supportive. (Consider that supportiveness to be a very wonderful holiday gift to her!)  Of course invite her and include her in your holiday plans too, but be understanding if she says no.  This works the other way too of course, so if Paul is Mr. Holidays, don’t tear down his tinsel.

One way to cope with holiday doldrums is to understand your own personal expectations. An idea is to write down what you hope the holidays will be like for you: who you will share New Year’e eve with; what family members will discuss that may bother you; what you will eat and drink, for instance.  This may help you manage expectations by preparing you in advance for what may come up and what you may or may not wish to do.

Regardless of your perspective about the holidays, it is something we all have to go through as members of our society, like it or not. The days of December will draw to a close and the page of your holiday chapter 2013 will need to end as you herald in a brand new year of possibilities, promises and pleasures.

Wishing you all you dream for and more in 2014—Your friends at The Daniel Jordan Fiddle FoundationImage

We are back…Missed you All…read our latest post from Amy Gravino, DJFF Self-Advocate Leader

Time passes so quickly, and we have missed you. But now Linda and The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation are back. We have decided that our first new post should be one written by an adult advisor to our organization, Amy Gravino. There are a couple of good reasons for this:
1) The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation mission is reliant on the thoughts, needs, ideas and issues that affect adults on the spectrum, and all we do is guided by this;
2) Many adults living with Autism have certain preferences for activities, interests, pursuits that make them experts in that area and that inspire them to live fulfilling lives—in short, they find enjoyment doing these things;
3) From time to time we will highlight examples of these activities, pursuits, interests etc. that bring joy to an individual on the spectrum to hopefully inspire others to find their own “joy in the journey” (which is a raison d’être for our blog).

So without any further comment by us…here is Amy’s unedited by us, blog about something that brings happiness to her life—-

“I Left My Heart In Davy Jones’ Locker”
by Amy Gravino

//Here we come, walkin’ down the street…//

I can remember the smile that stretched across my face the first time I heard those lyrics from the television theme song for The Monkees, and saw the images of four fun-loving boys jumping and playing on my screen.

The Monkees—Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith, and my then-favorite, Davy Jones—were as new and present to me as any other musical act that hit the scene when I was in the seventh grade. I had no cognizance of them as a band from the 1960s, out of a place and from an era that was long past.

But for a nearly-teenage girl with Asperger’s Syndrome walking the junior high school hallways of 1996, falling in love with a band that hadn’t been popular in thirty years did very little to enhance my already-lowly social standing.

I remember looking for pictures of the Monkees online, mainly on Monkees.net, which was the only Monkees website I could find at the time. I printed the pictures out, one by one, and proudly hung them on the inside of my locker door. Every time I opened it and saw their smiling faces staring back at me, it was as though I had four new friends, and the loneliness and self-hatred that I felt would abate, even just momentarily.

And when my classmates tore the pictures down, laughing, jeering as they threw them into a nearby garbage can, I would go home, print them again, and carefully re-hang them in their rightful place.

The years following high school were spent discovering myself, but it was not until graduate school—where I had the good fortune to have a professor who was a big Monkees fan—that I re-discovered The Monkees.

With a more mature outlook and a new favorite Monkee (hello, Peter Tork), I began to re-watch the television show and listen to the Monkees’ music, and more than anything, wanted to connect with fellow fans, something I had been longing for since I could remember.

Even though I was thrilled to see the Monkees in concert for my 18th birthday in 2001 (in their “Threekees” combination of Micky, Peter, and Davy, but no Mike), I was still convinced that I was the only person my age who liked them.

But the Internet had progressed dramatically since then, and I was thrilled beyond measure to discover the Monkees “fandom”—a huge group of Monkees fans of all ages in various online communities, most notably on Facebook.

The Monkees were no longer touring as a group at the time, but they were performing as individuals, along with their respective bands. Being that Peter had shifted into the coveted “Favorite Monkee” spot somewhere before that 2001 show, it was he whose solo act I first sought out.

Another change that the passing years had brought was a driver’s license, which helped to facilitate my many concert adventures to come. It all began in the summer of 2009, when I traveled all the way to Connecticut and saw Peter with his cleverly-named band, Shoe Suede Blues, for the first time ever.

And though I did not know it then, at that show I crossed paths with the girl who would later become my best and dearest friend.

As I followed the band from show to show, names that I had seen online soon became familiar faces, and in several cases, developed into deep and meaningful friendships. In my younger years, the Internet was where I went to find friends in the first place; but now, I was using it to keep in touch with the people I met at these concerts who lived a considerable distance away from me.

Missteps were of course made, just as they were when I first began to make friends after high school. It’s entirely too easy to place one’s trust in the wrong people, and in 2009, a 12-year friendship with someone I’d had as a best friend since high school was falling apart. That coupled with my excitement over meeting new friends through the Monkees left me in a particularly vulnerable state, and I could not see that one of my new “friends” was harming me without my knowing it.

It was only through trial and a great deal of error that I finally was able to cast these unhealthy friendships aside, and to free myself from blame and the belief that I had done something wrong. To my everlasting gratefulness, however, in place of those came several of the most emotionally fulfilling and happy-making friendships I have ever had.

One such friendship that I had forged was with a woman who lived in England, but who came to the U.S. to attend one of the Peter Tork shows to which I frequently traveled. We’d spoken online previously, but it was at that show where we met face-to-face for the first time.

Six months later, this woman and I ended up starting a Monkees website together. We were both writers, and had met on a forum for writers and readers of Monkees fan fiction, and after the sudden disappearance of a very popular Monkees fan fiction website, came up with the idea to start our own.

In the summer of 2010, Naked Persimmon—named for the title of a song sung by Michael Nesmith in the Monkees’ 1969 television special, 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee—was born. Three years later, the site boasts a Fan Art section, an enormous photo gallery, a section of Monkees quotes and anecdotes, and has become one of the most popular Monkees websites on the Internet, complete with several social media sites that we use to stay connected with our fans.

When I think of that 14-year-old girl watching The Monkees on her television, I know for a fact that she never dreamed that she’d one day be running a website about them. I know that she thought she would always be alone in loving The Monkees, and that she would never find friends with whom she could share that love.

A few days ago, I got together and had dinner with two friends that I have made through The Monkees. We sat there chatting, telling stories, laughing; and our waitress remarked at what a good time we seemed to be having. In that moment, I felt my heart swell almost to bursting, simply because that moment was one I never imagined could be possible.

When I became a fan of the Monkees, they became a part of me.  Despite the initial disapproval of so many, I did not stop being a fan, or change who I was just to fit in. I waited, keeping them close to my heart in that special place that no one else could touch, and over time, finally found what I had been looking for.

The Monkees—Micky, Peter, and Davy—reunited in 2011, and I had the privilege of seeing them three times on their summer tour. I can remember sitting next to my best friend Lynsey in the arena at Mohegan Sun casino, and turning to her with a lump in my throat:

“I have always wanted this: To have a best friend to go see The Monkees with in concert. Right now, my inner 15-year-old is jumping for joy.”

//Oh, what can it mean…to a daydream believer and a homecoming queen…//

NEW YEAR, NEW GOALS…NEW COLLABORATIONS!

 DJF Ignition Grant Program Photo

Today as we all settle into the New Year 2013, we are busy, motivated, perhaps even overwhelmed at all that we need to do and want to accomplish in the days and months ahead! As you rev-up to achieve your personal goals this year, I suggest that you consider how collaboration can help you in all areas of your life to attain the fulfillment and progress you are hoping for in 2013. In my role as Executive Director of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation, that I have now had for over a decade, collaboration has been the key to our organization’s effectiveness and progress.

In that spirit, I from time to time to feature in this BLOG the writings and thoughts of individuals on the spectrum and others who are making a difference and whom I feel will inspire you in your own journey. Recently, I received the following blog post from an adult individual named Daniel who lives with Autism…

The Gift of Asperger’s  by Daniel Wendler

For many people, a diagnosis of Asperger’s feels crippling.

And I’m not going to lie – having Asperger’s does bring many challenges. It’s not easy to manually learn all of the nuances of social interaction, especially when the rest of the world expects you to know all those things automatically. But having Asperger’s also brings many strengths. And I believe those strengths hold the key to overcome the challenges of Asperger’s. When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s 10 years ago, I was lonely, shy, and awkward.Today, I am confident, comfortable in social situations, and blessed with many deep friendships. I even run a website – www.ImproveYourSocialSkills.com – to help others achieve social success.

How was I able to achieve this? It was because of my Asperger’s, not despite it! When I received my diagnosis, I was presented with a list of social skills that people with Asperger’s often lack. This list sparked an epiphany in me. I realized that my social struggles were not because of something fundamentally wrong with me. I was struggling socially because I lacked social skills (makes sense, right?) Although some people are more naturally gifted socially than others, everyone can improve, and everyone can achieve social success. Improvement looks different for different people, and “social success” will mean something different for you than it will for me. But it’s possible to learn, and to improve. I wasn’t doomed to a life of awkwardness (and neither is anyone else).

When I realized this, I set to work. I devoured books on relationships, etiquette, conversation, body language — anything I could get my hands on. I started to debrief social interactions with my parents and figure out what I could have done better. I made a deliberate effort to go out of my comfort zone to meet new people and make new friends.My hard work paid off. I learned to survive socially, and then to thrive. I learned to make friends, and then how to be a good friendSocial interaction will always be a second language to me. But I am now fluent in that language. My Asperger’s has not been “cured,” but I have learned to thrive. The funny thing is, I never could have overcome the challenges of Asperger’s without the strengths of Asperger’s!  I used my Aspie analytical mind to puzzle through the nuances of social interaction. I used my Aspie determination (some might say stubbornness) to keep studying and practicing even when I was discouraged. I used my Aspie quirkiness and humor to defuse conflict and to find my own voice in social situations.

In every situation, I found that I was using my Aspie strength to overcome the challenges of Asperger’s. Looking back, I realize that for every challenge Asperger’s has given me, it has given me a greater strength with which to overcome that challenge. And for every strength Asperger’s has given me, I have found an opportunity to use that strength to help others.I treasure the moments when my calm rationality allows me to be a solid rock to a friend in crisis, or when my Aspie humor draws a deep belly laugh from a loved one. I take deep joy in my ability to guide others on the path to social success, and great pride when my Aspie insight allows me to see a solution others might have missed. Looking back, I realize that for every challenge Asperger’s has given me, it has given me a greater strength with which to overcome that challenge. And for every strength Asperger’s has given me, I have found an opportunity to use that strength to help others.I treasure the moments when my calm rationality allows me to be a solid rock to a friend in crisis, or when my Aspie humor draws a deep belly laugh from a loved one. I take deep joy in my ability to guide others on the path to social success, and great pride when my Aspie insight allows me to see a solution others might have missed. My Asperger’s has given me the ability to make an incredible and unique impact on the world, and I truly believe that my Asperger’s is a gift. It’s a hard gift, to be sure. But I believe that Asperger’s invites me into a rich life – a life marked by pain and struggle, yes, but also by strength, by joy, by purpose. For those of you with Asperger’s or a similar diagnosis – this rich life belongs to you too. Your road ahead will have challenges, but it will have joy as well.You are the way you are for a reason – you are not broken or wrong, just different. And that difference will equip you to make an incredible impact that only you can make.Your Asperger’s is a gift to you, and you are a gift to the world. Cherish that gift, and don’t give up.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Daniel Wendler is the author of www.ImproveYourSocialSkills.com, a comprehensive online guide to social skills. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s as a teenager, and has dedicated himself to overcoming the challenges of Asperger’s and helping others achieve social success. He likes people a lot, so if you are a person, he would love to get to know you! Get in touch by visiting www.ImproveYourSocialSkills.com or www.DanielWendler.com

I hope that Daniel’s story inspires you, as it is inspires me, to find Joy in the Journey! 

The Power of Advocacy

At this time of year with election day approaching it seems that everyone is advocating for something. Politicians are advocating their positions on key issues that affect their constituents.  Special interest groups are advocating for the politicians that represent their viewpoints. Business leaders are advocating for candidates that will enhance their prosperity while the underserved are advocating for more attention to their needs.  Opinions run rampant on social media like FACEBOOK and sometimes these opinions run those with opposing viewpoints out of town.

Everywhere one turns, whether tuning into television ( and not only the news show but entertainment shows too espouse political viewpoints) or getting one’s manicure or barbershop crew-cut, people everywhere are advocating their perspectives.  Yes, this is the American way, our first amendment right to free speech, and yes, we Americans hold this near and dear to our hearts and rightfully so!  It is powerful to advocate.

Why is advocacy so powerful?  First, on a primal level, advocacy allows us a vehicle by which to use our brains, formulate an opinion and then passionately share it.  I am not sure the amount of calories burned but perhaps someone has or will do a study as to whether constant advocacy leads to weight loss!  Anyhow, back on topic, it would seem that advocacy is a healthy form of discourse.  However, not always.

A childhood friend of mine was actually threatened and bullied by some other people from our childhood because of his political views that he shared on FACEBOOK.  They even threatened his mother!  This is a sad example of how advocacy can turn ugly and cruel.  There have also been recent instances that I have noticed advocacy envy where advocates who supposedly are working together for a cause, diminish and knit-pick the work that others are doing rather than celebrating the good intentions that create awareness.

In the world of Autism advocacy, many people living with Autism have difficulty with verbal communication (although they find other ways to get their point across for their needs and wants) so they are dependent on their peers who are more verbal, their parents and caregivers and professionals working in the field to express viewpoints.  The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation is extremely proud to have been among the first national Autism organizations and to be the first one focused on adults, to have an Advocates Advisory Board. We have always relied on our Advocates to guide us in our program development and in all else that we do. The Advocates on our Advisory Board all live with the challenges of Autism and some have posted on this blog and others will in the future.  These advocates currently serving as The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation adult self-advocate advisors are: Alex Bond, Stephen Daly, Amy Gravino, Susan Meyer, Jimmy Scancarella and T. Paul Voss. Each of these individuals has had opportunities to represent The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation; for example at: advocacy events; in the media; in pieces they have written for our publications; and social media; and at conferences and round-table think tanks to name a few.

In addition, The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation has proudly partnered with Autism organizations led by self advocates such as GRASP, ASAN and ARI and the programs, initiatives and awareness our partnerships have created are ones we take great pride in, especially because these affiliations and valued collaborations are driven by those who are on the front lines of Autism advocacy.  We are also very proud of the fact that these collaborations are serving the needs of the constituents that these organizations represent.

The power of advocacy is potent.  Even one voice can make a difference as we have often seen through history.  But the power of advocacy, like any other kind of power, must be cherished; and it should be used with careful consideration, respect, tolerance and positivity. Self-advocates should not be engaged as poster mannequins but as valued voices who drive the cause they represent. Groups working to achieve societal change and better lives should not vie against one another to be top-dog but rather support and respectfully disagree while mutually encouraging community engagement on the issues they care about. In these best case scenarios the power of advocacy is at its finest.Image

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