Tyesha Vinson/MJ
Tyesha Vinson/MJ

By TYESHA VINSON, Student Life Editor

The Alliance for Disability Awareness (ADA) and Autism Speaks U teamed up to put on a benefit dinner to raise awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorders this past Thursday.

This year’s theme was “Celebrating differences”. The ADA and Autism Speaks U took the time to allow people that have been affected by Autism to speak about it and how they are working to overcome it.

The special guests at the event were the students of Burger School for Autism. The first speaker was a teacher at Burger, Melanie Burkett.

Burkett said, “To see your student with ASD make a friend, use an appropriate greeting, or stand up here today and speak in front of a large crowd. To see them return to their general education setting because of accomplishments that they have made in your classroom. Those are just a few of the rewarding things that we see everyday and it’s what drives us to continue to work just as hard as our students to find strategies that make having Autism just a little bit easier.”

Burkett’s student, Bradley Zigulis was the only student to speak that night. Zigulis is fourteen years old student that has been at Burger School for Autism for eight years.

Zigulis doesn’t let Autism keep him from leading the life he wants to live. He is currently the president of the student council and he is working with the council to host canned food drive at their school.

Burger has definitely had a positive impact on Zigulis’ life. With the help of his teachers and the support of the Burger community, he is making friends, he’s playing sports, and he’s going the extra mile to help others.

Zigulis said, “I made some new friends there. I even had my first teacher there. Some of my friends like the same things I like. Everything has been great.”

Parents from Burger were also there to speak about the impact Burger has had on their children and their families post diagnosis.

Kelly Hodorek and Darlene Jablonowski talked mostly about the emotional toll that having a child with Autism can have on a family.

Hodorek detailed the drastic change in her son’s life after being enrolled in Burger. Because of his time at Burger he is now looking at universities, he plays in a rock band, and he’s involved in sports.

Hodorek said, “They’re normal kids, they just need more. It’s okay to be Autistic.”

Jablanowski’s story is slightly different, but it still had a happy ending. In 2006, Jablonowski was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. It wasn’t until she had gone through several chemotherapy sessions that she realized she had been selling her Autistic son Connor short.

He learned about responsibility during the time that she was sick. Connor started doing laundry and other chores around the house using his observational and problem solving skills.

Jablonowski said, “Connor turned a corner during our fight with Breast Cancer. He became more independent, more sensitive to the needs of others and their feelings.”

She realized that Connor wouldn’t have had the chance to prove himself if she was still able to do everything for him. Learning the lesson that children with Autism are capable of doing things like that was something that all parents have had to learn at some point.

Now Connor is a graduate from Garden City High School and a student at Madonna College. Burger has worked with many students like Connor and because of the support from the ADA, Autism Speaks U, and the donations received, they can continue their efforts to make living with Autism a little easier.

Jamilah Alhashidi, President of Autism Speaks U said, “Autism is not a disability, it’s just a different ability.”

The students from Burger school showed everyone at the benefit that Autism does not define a person, it only adds to their potential.