Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Friends with Benefits

This past Tuesday, I attended the 6th annual benefit for GRASP, the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership. Each year, GRASP gives out three awards: the DNA (Divine Neurotypical Award) to a neurotypical individual who has made tremendous contributions and worked towards helping the autism/Asperger's community, the FAB (Friend and Benefactor award) to an organization that has funded and worked towards improving the lives of individuals on the spectrum, and, most recently, the DSM (Distinguished Spectrumite Medal) to a person who is on the spectrum themselves, for their contributions to the Asperger's community.

This year's honorees were Lois Rosenwald (DNA), Linda Walder-Fiddle (FAB), and John Elder Robison (DSM). I was especially thrilled to hear about Linda, as I am on the Self-Advocate Advisory Board for her organization, the Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation. Having met John at the AHA-NY conference last month, I was also happy to hear about him getting the DSM, as he is a very nice, very funny man and has done quite a lot to raise the profile of Asperger's Syndrome in the media.

Every year, Michael John Carley (Executive Director of GRASP) has a young adult diagnosed with Asperger's stand up and speak for a few minutes before the awards are given out, to say what GRASP has meant to them over the years. As excited as I was to attend the benefit in the first place, my spirits soared when Michael asked me to be the one to speak this year. I remembered sitting in the audience last year and wishing that it was I who was up there speaking. Stranger things, eh?

It is a bit daunting, however, to condense all that I could say into a 5-minute speech. I had jotted down a few notes on a purple index card, just to remind myself of the points I wanted to touch on, but once I got up there, I hardly even looked at it. The words just seemed to flow, and I spoke from my heart. I don't know if anyone was video recording it, but I feel pretty good about what I said and I believe I got my message across articulately and with poise (which is rare for me, because my spazitude has always gotten in the way of even the tiniest scrap of poise that I might have had in the past).

Just when I thought the evening couldn't get any better...it did! Malachy McCourt (brother of author Frank, who wrote Angela's Ashes, and who is an author, playwright, and political activist in his own right) was in attendance as the resident "celebrity auctioneer" who hosted the silent auction that was taking place. He got up at the end to announce the winners of the auctions, but before he did, he quoted a part of my speech! I had at one point compared being a person with Asperger's Syndrome in a roomful of neurotypicals to Lawrence Welk being at the Apollo Theater.

"Lawrence Welk at the Apollo...that image will stay with me forever!" Malachy declared, and I laughed, elated beyond all measure that he had both quoted me AND liked the joke that I made! I just couldn't believe it. I went up to him afterwards and thanked him for giving me a shout-out, and he was just so sweet, saying that he had loved my speech and the way I'd spoken. He's like an old Irish grandpa, and he tells wonderfully bawdy jokes and has a razor-sharp wit. I even gave him a big hug, and he hugged me back.

My parents were at the benefit, too, and I was able to introduce them to Marc Sirkin from Autism Speaks, the man who had asked to publish my "Letter to My Younger Self" on Autism Speaks' blog. He had brought with him another gentleman named Kai MacMahon, who is the new Director of Online Fundraising at Autism Speaks. Kai introduced himself to me (I liked him right off the bat because he's English. The accent does it for me, what can I say), and we had a lovely little conversation about cooking and my ability and his lack thereof. He said he'd read my Letter as well and had really enjoyed it.

I also met Jesse Saperstein, who just published a book called "Atypical: Life with Asperger's in 20 1/3 Chapters." Interestingly, Jesse is the person who played the same role at the benefit last year that I played this year. I am hoping that, with any small measure of luck, I will follow in his footsteps and have published "The Naughty Autie" by this time next year. In fact, Jesse told me that he was going to refer his publisher to me, because they are looking to publish books about Asperger's Syndrome. So, fingers and toes crossed! We'll see what happens.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous about my speech, if only because I wanted to be sure I covered all of the ground that needed to be covered, and that I did it well. People were coming up to me afterwards to offer all sorts of praise, and so it seems my speech went over like gangbusters! Everyone was so kind and friendly, and it greatly put my mind at ease, that's for sure.

So, overall, the 6th annual GRASP benefit was a smashing success. My friend/business manager Nicole had donated three necklaces to the silent auction, and at least one was bid on (I'm sure all of them were, though). I got to see lots of old, familiar faces, and a few new ones of people who'd heard of me and even read my blog! So here's a big *wave* to all of you out there. Thank you for coming up to me and letting me know who you are! I hope to meet all of the readers of my blog someday, because your support has meant so much to me as I continue on this journey to making the voices heard of all those who are on the autism spectrum. Today, the GRASP benefit in NYC; tomorrow--the world. :)

And now, for a few pictures from the evening!

Linda Walder-Fiddle and me

Marc Sirkin, Chief Community Officer of Autism Speaks, and me

My mom and me speaking to author Jesse Saperstein at his book-signing table.

Me speaking at the benefit. You can't tell here, but Malachy McCourt was in the row right behind where my parents and I were sitting!

1 comment:

  1. Amy- your talk was wonderful and it was terrific to have the unique opportunity to spend time with you and your parents. Wonderful job!

    Marc Sirkin
    Autism Speaks