Arts for Autism: A Concert to Benefit Autism Speaks took place at the historic Gershwin Theatre where Broadway performers and student performers alike came together to raise awareness and funds for autism. As a staffer of Autism Speaks and someone who has been positively impacted by theatre growing up on the autism spectrum I was asked to speak and have my “Broadway Debut” sharing more about Autism Speaks and my personal story.
As they announced my name and I walked up on stage I was in shock that this was about to happen. Being on the same stage that legendary performers like Idina Manziel and Kristin Chenowerth from the Broadway hit Wicked made famous made this moment very surreal.
As I took a minute to compose myself (and remind myself to breathe) I began to speak to the audience…
“My name is Kerry Magro and I’m currently the producer of social media and digital content at Autism Speaks. I was asked to speak to you tonight to share with you more about our organization and why I decided to get behind the cause of autism and theatre.
Autism Speaks that started in 2005 today is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. We today have a focus on our four pillars that are science, advocacy, family services and awareness.
On the science end Autism Speaks is funding research into the causes of autism, which affects each person differently. We are also funding research that will pave the way for personalized medicines and treatments.
In terms of advocacy, thanks to the efforts of Autism Speaks, and our initiative in Autism Votes, we have successfully advocated in Washington to get mandatory insurance coverage for autism care in 44 states, and counting.
Family Services has given us the opportunity to connect with countless of our families. Our Autism Response Team last year answered more than 51,000 emails and phone calls– in English and Spanish – connecting families with local resources.
In addition we offer more than 40 free, downloadable Tool Kits covering the lifespan – from early diagnosis to safety, education, housing and employment.
And finally from the awareness, we have raised awareness and acceptance of autism around the world. Every April 2nd on World Autism Awareness Day we celebrate our “Light It Up Blue” campaign where landmarks, homes, houses of worship, and communities in 157 countries go blue to start a conversation on autism. Our 60 Autism Speaks Walks, raise vital funds for research and connect people with autism and their families to lifelong resources and supports.
All of these resources and more can be found anytime at Autismspeaks.org
Now I wanted to share with you why I got involved with this cause. But before I do that I want you to imagine a scenario very quickly…
Imagine not being able to tell the people you care about the most in this world that you love them. Imagine a scenario where you wouldn’t be able to even share with your family your basic needs as an adolescent. Imagine not being able to tell your dad that you were hungry or your mom that you were thirsty. When you needed to go to the bathroom. Being so delayed in communication that you rarely even responded when your parents were talking to you. For all intense and purposes you were just there – with no way of reaching those around you.
This used to be my reality.
When I was 2.5 I was completely non-verbal. Than, when I was 4 I was finally diagnosed with autism. For most of my adolescence I was considered on the severe end of the spectrum. My parents, who became my biggest advocates during this time, were told by countless people in our community that because of my challenges with sensory integration and communication that I would one day have to be instutionalized.
Thankfully my parents never listened to that advice and took action to help me succeed. For 15 years they integrated me with some of the best physical, occupational, and speech therapy to help me overcome obstacles. Today I can say I’m living many of my dreams and being a part of groups such as Autism Speaks has lit a fire in me to help our kids with autism progress to live the best lives possible.
Looking back at my development one therapy along with the ones I mentioned already that helped tremendously were theatre therapy. Playing different characters on stage helped me to understand other people’s perspectives at a time when tunnel vision and mind blindness made it impossible for me to make friends. Being on stage made me begin to build on my communication difficulties. It also gave me the confidence to not only play different roles but to figure out what role I wanted to play in my life. I would contribute to over 10 plays before the age of 19.
Fast-forward 9-years-later today at 28 and I can call myself a disability advocate in our community. Today along with being the producer of social media and digital content at Autism Speaks, I’m a national speaker that’s spoken at over 600 events in the past 6 years and a film consultant for 4 motion pictures. I’ve taken my love for being on stage to helping bring a realistic portrayal of those with autism and other special needs to the entertainment industry.
I could have never imagined this future thinking about my earliest memories at 3-years-old. Being scared of the world around me due to my sensory issues and not being able to communicate with my loved ones.
Today regardless of where we go though I always share a quote that “Autism can’t define me. I define autism.” As we look towards tonight and the future of our community we must continue changing the conversation that people with autism may be different but they are certainly not less.
Because love is love. Love has no disability and our families love our kids both with and without special needs. Autism is not a tragedy in our community. Ignorance is the tragedy. And while autism isn’t a choice for our loved ones, spreading acceptance of who they are always will be. Thank you.”