By Jillian Waterhouse, Staff Writer —
In celebration of Autism Acceptance Month, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Mosaic Program is hosting an array of events throughout the month of April.
Mosaic was formed in 2008 with the mission to support the needs of UTC’s autistic, degree-seeking students. On April 7, 2021, the group gave students from all backgrounds the opportunity to participate in a creative activity while learning about autism and inclusion.
Created by student mentor Jillian Myers, students in attendance of the “Planting the Seeds for Autism Acceptance” event were given free seeds, soil and a terracotta plant pot to decorate while learning more about autism inclusion on campus. Attendees then listened to students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder share their personal experiences. Intended to mimic how student perceptions of autism can grow and advocacy can take new roots, the event was aimed to inspire students to take a stand for autism acceptance in their own lives.
The event, hosted over Zoom, gave platforms to autisitic students and their allies to educate attendees about how to improve current conditions for autisic students both on and off campus. Mosaic student mentors Connor Coward, Mubrra Amir and Anna Miller gave a presentation detailing the basics of autism acceptance and allyship, in which they defined autism and dispelled certain misconceptions that have been recently popularized in media coverage of autism.
Joey, a student enrolled in the Mosaic program, gave his opinion on the meaning of autism acceptance. Highlighting that, at its core, the autism acceptance movement should educate individuals on more than one type of autism. Joey said that he hopes it “teaches them to be able to better understand people who have different interests and special abilities.”
One student spoke of his frustrations with current misconceptions of autism, such as the idea that dairy milk or vaccinations may cause autism, or the idea that autism is a malicious disease. Incorrectly identified as an “epidemic” that must be stopped by Donald Trump in 2015, autism has increasingly been portrayed as an infectious and dangerous disease — directly leading to worsened social conditions and stereotypes for those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Autism acceptance month, according to the Autism Society, is intended to foster acceptance and to motivate change among the public, in turn raising the levels of support and opportunities in education, employment and accessibility to healthcare for those diagnosed with autism. On campus, the Mosaic program seeks to achieve these goals through establishing direct connections between students with and without autism. Kyle Hudson, the Career Coordinator for Mosaic, identified the benefits of joining the program, explaining that the first two years of the four-year path are focused on identity development, while the last two are intended to serve as an opportunity for career building skills.
Students interested in joining the Mosaic program can learn more by following the program on Instagram (@Mosaic_UTC), Twitter (@UTC_Mosaic), or Facebook (@Mosaic-UTChattanooga).