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April 07 2015: Our people with autism in the CNMI. Thomas M. Thornburgh

Since 2008, I have been working closely with folks from the Autism Society of the CNMI, better known as, ASCNMI. In this time, I have come to know many of our people with autism. It may surprise you to learn that our people with autism have contributed to the CNMI in many ways. It is truly inspiring to see them rise above their disability to live their lives more fully. Here are three examples of our people with autism from the ASCNMI who have in their own way contributed to our islands:

The first is a male teenager who will remain anonymous for now, and has graduated from high school and is now going to college. He has been one of the faces of ASCNMI and has been willing to collaborate and put his face forward on television, and lend his voice to radio interviews over the past years to talk about autism. His parents are staunch supporters of ASCNMI and have also grown with this young man through ups and downs, but most importantly, together as a family. Finally, his work on clay is amazing and real to life. He continues his studies and support of ASCNMI nowadays.

Another fine example is another teenager who has been through a lot of tough times in school and has just recently graduated from high school. He is nonverbal and is about six feet tall with the build of a football player. While he was in school, his parents advocated with him in collaboration with a disability rights group to ensure that the Special Education space at his high school was not reduced as planned, but rather increased exponentially. His parents also brought their concerns to Delegate Kilili’s office and advocated for more space. Soon after this, we learned of another school being built close by his old school. Finally, this young man, through hard work, walked up to the podium and received his diploma on graduation day all by himself.

Finally, the third person with autism I got to know through ASCNMI is a teenager who has moved away from the CNMI with her mother in search for postsecondary education. Her name is Ms. Larissa Reyes. Prior to her leaving, she was the VOICE for so many of our people with autism and other disabilities on Saipan. She and another young man, John Demapan, led our team to a Summit for Self Advocacy in Honolulu in 2012 to help jump start a grass roots self advocacy group here in the CNMI as part of a nationwide push by the Administration on Developmental Disabilities or ADD. She and John did a great job leading us, but she stole the show when she sang a song by the Little Mermaid called Part of that world. The crowd cried, laughed and applauded. She spoke eloquently and sang the song just as you would hear Ariel sing it. Her message prior to the song was that because she has autism, she sometimes feels like she does not belong. She wants people with autism to live life and be part of this world.

Help us make autism part of your Saipan world, by coming out this Saturday, April 11, 2015, to the Last Command Post in Marpi at 3pm for the Annual Hot Dog Walk and Family Fun Day. You walk 1.5 miles north of Last Command Post until the road splits into the Suicide and the Grotto roads, then return and get hot dogs and water to enjoy the area where we will be until 6pm that day. Please bring your own water bottle. We will have water dispensers, but no water bottles for the sake of our environment.

Last, but not least, please join us for Quiz Nite 4 at the Fiesta Resort and Spa from 6pm to 10pm for trivia fun questions, and dinner is included. Each person pays $25 for dinner and an opportunity to form a team to try and take the first place trophy this year. Mr. Mike White and his family won the first two Quiz Nites, but Kagman High School teachers came out strong during Quiz Nite 3 to take it away from Mr. Mike White. Teams can be one person, or if you have friends, coworkers or family, you may want their brainpower as well to answer the 50 questions from five categories. For tickets please call NMPASI at 235-7273 or 4, CDD at 664-7001, or UCEDD at NMC at 234-3690 extension 1019.

Happy Autism Awareness Month to all our people in the CNMI!