Sisters of Alpha Xi Delta Helping People with Autism in Various Ways
October 02, 2017
BY: Cheyanne Gonzales ’18
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Hannah Richard ‘19, a marketing major at the University of Mount Union, has become heavily involved on campus by joining Alpha Xi Delta sorority and taking part in the mentoring portion of the Spectrum Program.
When joining Greek Life, Richard knew Alpha Xi Delta was the right sorority for her because of their connection with Autism Speaks, their philanthropy.
“I knew AXiD was the one for me,” Richard said. “I wanted the opportunity to give back to a philanthropy I care about.”
It wasn’t widely known by the other members of the sorority that Richard’s brother has autism. She decided to announce it a year after joining the sorority when the members were preparing to attend the 2016 Autism Speaks Walk in Cleveland.
Richard is so passionate about Autism Speaks and felt attending the walk was a life changing experience for her. She spent the day painting faces and interacting with the kids. She recalls one interaction where a little boy with autism grabbed the brush and wanted to help paint. Richard said a lot of people would have taken the brush back, but she knew, from her experiences with her brother, that letting him help her paint was a way to help him feel more comfortable.
Richard explained how important the walk can be for the families. It is the one day where the kids can be the star of the show and the families don’t have to worry about disruptive behaviors because everyone attending the walk understands.
“That can make somebody’s year,” Richard said.
Her passion for Autism Speaks and her personal connection is what lead her to becoming Alpha Xi Delta’s philanthropy chair. This year, she was the one who helped to organize the sorority’s participation in the walk which took place on Sunday, September 24. The members of Alpha Xi Delta volunteered at the walk by face painting, taking photos, passing out food and acting as cheerleaders along the path the attendees walked.
Growing up, Richard saw the little things her mother did to help her brother be more social and to make him more comfortable in social situations. While she didn’t understand it growing up, after learning more about Autism Speaks and taking part in the Spectrum Peer Mentoring Program, she now understands how much her mother did to help her brother.
“She made such an impact with my brother in small and subtle ways.” Richard said. “She was amazing and I wanted to give back.”
Being a mentor for the last two years has allowed her to do just that. A few times each week, Richard and a few other students meet with students from local schools who have autism. In the group setting, they work on communication skills and play ice breaker games.
“These kids love hanging out with us,” she said.
For the mentoring program, the student mentors work one-on-one and in group settings with the mentees to help them develop positive social skills to help limit disruptive behavior. Richard is able to use her experience growing up and seeing her mother help to change her brother’s behavior in small ways with what she does as a mentor. It’s just the little adjustments and taking the time to teach them that can really help to affect their behaviors in a positive way.
Along with the mentoring program, students at Mount Union have the opportunity to take part in the Spectrum Program and Internship. This program gives students the opportunity to have a semester long immersive experience working with people with autism.
Bailey Grimm ’17 took part in the program in the fall of 2016. She had originally asked to take part in the program as an independent study, but with the help of Dr. Kristine Turko, professor of psychology, neuroscience and human development and director of the Spectrum Education Center, the independent study became a course to set up the Spectrum Program.
“I joined the program because I knew I wanted to teach children with autism after graduation,” Grimm said. “This program did help me to solidify that I was on the right path.”
Throughout her time with the program, she would meet with specific students once a week where they would work on social skills.
“The first couple of weeks with your students was about getting to know them,” she said. “Finding their strengths and their weaknesses. From there, you got to create “lessons” on how to make their strengths stronger and how to make their weaknesses into strengths.”
Like Richard, Grimm is an Alpha Xi Delta, but before joining the sorority she didn’t know much about autism. After hearing about Autism Speaks and learning more about it, she knew she wanted to work with people who have autism.
“Being in the Spectrum Program not only assured me that I love working in the field of autism,” Grimm said. “It also deepened my pride and love for my sorority and all the hard work they do to raise money and advocate for Autism Speaks.”