April is Autism Awareness Month, and the Knights for Education club have planned events to support this cause. In an exciting twist due to these students' efforts, Neumann University has partnered with the Philadelphia Eagles Autism Foundation College Program.
Education major Miranda Foglio heard about the Eagles Autism Foundation (EAF) from her roommate and researched how Neumann University could get involved. She discovered the EAF had a college program that offered a partnership, contacted the EAF, and set up a meeting to learn more about the program.
Emily Sokolowski, an EAF director, met with Foglio, Education professor Dr. Jenelle Abnett, and other students and explained the partnership. Part of the agreement requires fundraising, and the Neumann students are jumping right in. The other members of Neumann's EAF program are Lauren Retkovis, Santina Talotta, and Megan Snyder.
"We want to spread more awareness so that students at the university know that we're not just the Knights for Education (club). This is a different club, and it's open to the entire university. We're really interested in helping to spread autism awareness and inclusion throughout our university," Foglio said.
On April 7, the KFE, along with help from the EAF club, is hosting an Easter Egg Hunt on the Mirenda Center lawn from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. with a sensory hunt from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. Chances ($5) will be sold to win an Eagles football signed by wide receiver A.J. Brown. Registration is required for this free event.
Throughout April, students will be staffing Bubbles for Autism tables, selling bottles of blowing bubbles to promote awareness. Bubbles are used in various activities for children with autism (hence the connection). On April 25, the EAF club is sponsoring a panel discussion with leaders in the field of autism. Speakers include Dr. Benjamin Yerys from CHOP, postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ellie Kaplan-Kahn, CADES (Children and Adults Disability and Educational Services) psychologist Lauren DeCerbo, and speech and language pathologist Kaitlin Maize. This event begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Meagher Theatre. The signed Eagles football winner will be drawn at this event. Register here for the panel discussion.
Neumann University joins two other schools (West Chester University and St. Joe's University) that are part of the EAF College Program.
The Philadelphia Eagles are leading the charge with autism awareness in the NFL. The team's owner, Jeffrey Lurie, has a brother with autism and has made it a mission to bring autism awareness to the league and beyond. Lurie hired NU alumna Ryan Hammond '00 as the executive director of EAF. In addition to numerous events promoting autism awareness, the team shows its commitment to this cause by providing a sensory room in the Lincoln Financial Field stadium for guests with autism and donating money from gameday 50/50 raffles to the EAF.
The signature event for the EAF is their Eagles Autism Challenge, a bike, run, and walk event held on May 20 in South Philadelphia. Dr. Abnett, who ran this 5K last year, will be leading a group from Neumann this year, and she encourages students, faculty, and staff to sign up with the Neumann U Crew.
"I hope we increase autism awareness because we have students with autism in our community and on our campus. And I hope that we support them through our RISES values, research, and advocacy," Abnett said.
Autism, also referred to as autism spectrum disorder, has a range of severity and symptoms which include difficulty with communication, social interactions, obsessive interests, and repetitive behaviors. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 44 people under 21 living in the United States are on the autism spectrum, making it the fastest-growing developmental disorder.