SPECTRUM's positive qualities deserve admiration
Correction appendedWhat do support, progress, empowerment, communication, trust, respect, understanding and motivation add up to? On one hand, they describe the sum total of commitment to social justice. On the other, they form the acronym SPECTRUM, our very own autism awareness club on campus.
One playgroup, awareness event and meeting at a time, the members of SPECTRUM are working to change the lives of people with autism, and they're doing it all without demonstrations, protests or rallies. Its peaceful, cooperative approach to effecting change is only one of my many reasons for admiring SPECTRUM.
Among all of our student groups dedicated to issues of social justice, SPECTRUM has a special place. Its challenge is massive, stemming from those who are autistic and from non-autistic people. Moreover, its challenges are always changing as research continues and we learn even more.
Autism as a disorder was only recognized in its modern capacity in 1938, and even now, the causes and nature of the disorder remain largely unknown. Interest and research in autism have recently exploded, due in part to the debate over autism's relationship to vaccines. Autism has even attracted celebrity attention in the recent past, with individuals such as Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey speaking out about their experience with the disorder.
And so, the autism movement rests on the cutting edge of social justice. As research continues and the voices of those who have experienced autism-either in their own lives or in the lives of their loved ones-come to the forefront, social understanding and treatment of the disorder is destined to grow and change.
People living with autism face very real challenges, not only in the workforce and educational environment, but also in day-to-day relationships with others. Their needs are unique, and the image of what those needs entail is constantly evolving. Discrimination, misconceptions and ignorance also pose as additional challenges to participation in greater society.
But if you're wondering how we as a community can respond to the emergence of an autism movement, there is no one better to talk to than Lauren Grewal '13, the cofounder of SPECTRUM. I had the privilege to ask her a few questions about the broad goals of the club itself as well as her vision for the autism movement as a whole.
When asked about the origins of the club, Grewal explains, "My brother is severely autistic, and because of him, I've always been interested in autism and have been involved and wanted to help people. ... It's something I'm passionate about, and I thought there had to be other people who have been touched by experiences being on the autistic spectrum or caring for someone on it who would benefit from a club."
SPECTRUM has hosted numerous events since its inception last year, including Brain Awareness Week, which Grewal cites as a point of pride: "I'm so proud of SPECTRUM for our Brain Awareness event last semester. I'm proud of our community service efforts in the Waltham community. ... It's amazing how we've come so far in only a year, and I know we will just become an even stronger and closer group as we gain more experience." SPECTRUM's outreach to the Waltham community, I believe, is something we can all be especially proud of, as it fulfills a commitment I feel we have as guests in this community.
Yet it also moves the momentum of the club beyond campus life and academia, which, for the autism movement, is a very healthy exercise. "I would like more opportunities for people," Grewal says, "I want there to be more done for people on the severe end of the spectrum when they are adults. I want everyone to be allowed to reach their full potential."
That in itself-the ability to reach one's full potential-may be the greatest gift any society can afford its citizens, and SPECTRUM is going about its mission without protests, demonstrations, sit-ins or signs. SPECTRUM's method of outreach is relational, relying upon opening lines of communication and understanding rather than focusing on more old-fashioned, confrontational methods of erasing stigma and raising awareness. That speaks volumes about its fluidity, uniqueness and import as a presence on campus and may be one thing that newcomers to the social justice scene can learn.
Even so, SPECTRUM has not limited itself to looking to make changes for people with autism alone: "From the least [severely autistic] to the most," Grewal notes, "everyone is a unique individual with their own personalities, thoughts, beliefs and goals, and everyone should respect that. ... My brother is the best person I know, and just because he's different does not mean he should not be treated with the same courtesy everyone else gets, and I feel this sentiment should be spread for all people; not just those on the spectrum, but everyone who is a little bit different."
In this era of manufactured slogans, Grewal's commitment to everyone who is a little bit different rings sincerely. Pair it with the work she and the other members of SPECTRUM have already put into making progress on and off campus, and one can even divine the beginnings of a full-fledged movement with a promising future.
It is my hope that SPECTRUM and clubs like it-those with unique, relevant goals and peaceful efforts-will remain a treasured part of our social justice community.
Correction: The article originally stated that Lauren Grewal is the founder of SPECTRUM. She is actually the cofounder alongside Jake Crosby '11.