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A little girl with autism was on a long car ride across many states with her mom and grandma. There were no exits in the area. They could not stop because she might run out into traffic. The girl was tired, hungry, overwhelmed and started to break down. She could not express her frustrations and needs because of language difficulties. Her mom was unable to calm her down. The girl hit and scratched her mom. By the end of the trip her mom’s arm was covered in scratches and bruises.

How would the mom explain the bruises and scratches? What insulting remarks would they endure in regards to the girl’s behavior? What if the mom decided to risk stopping? Would the girl have run out into the street? How would they survive even greater stigma and the repercussions of the girl running out into traffic?

What If
A young girl with autism goes to the renaissance festival with her family. She was very happy and excited. However, an hour later she became overwhelmed. The crowds and loud noises were causing sensory overload. She struggled to process everything going on. Her stress and anxiety levels shot through the roof. Her dad took her to a quiet, secluded area.

What if things didn’t turn out well? What if she had a meltdown? What would people think? Would the police or social services be called? Would the family suffer injustice stemming from stigma and ignorance?

Laura MacKenzie loves to learn about the world around her. She adores animals and has a dog and cat. She is always observing, thinking, and analyzing. Her goal is to become a police consultant/instructor on community relations and disability. Laura is enrolled in the Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies here at CUNY SPS.

After stuffing myself with turkey, Spanish rice and pasteles on Thanksgiving, I had a very strange dream. I was riding around on a bicycle at full speed, circling around cars and running red lights, and people were running out of the way of the crazed lady on the bike. The neighborhood was where I live now but I had moved to a different building and was searching for it because I could not remember where it was; all the buildings looked the same and when I tried to get in the front door, it was locked. The reason I was in a hurry was because I was looking for Pull-ups for my son and he needed to have them before getting on the school bus otherwise he could not get on the bus. It was pretty wild. My alarm clock went off and when I woke up my heart was racing. I should let you know that Nick has not used Pull-ups since he was four and the school bus experience has been pretty good. It was a pretty weird dream but it sure wasn’t the oddest.

Usually I do not remember my dreams, and I don’t remember if I dream every night. But when they are about Nicholas for some reason as soon as I wake up I can remember all of it.

I vividly remember the first time I had a dream about my son. I was mid-way through my pregnancy and I was just beginning to feel him move and I was already pretty big. One of my friends could not stop patting my tummy, she was obsessed, and loved to feel the waves from my belly. One night I dreamt that Nicholas’ arm was protruding from my belly button and he was holding hands with her while we walked down the street. She was having a conversation with my baby about how she could not wait to meet him.

Another time I dreamt that I ran out of Pediasure vanilla drinks. You see, until last year Nicholas would not eat anything. He only drank Pediasure, four or five a day, and the only thing he would eat were Nabisco Cheese Nips. And I confess, I hoard the drinks and chips, and when they go on sale, I’m the one who wipes out the supermarket counter. These dreams are my nightmares!

But they are not always so gloomy. My favorite dreams are when he speaks. Nick was non-verbal until about a year ago. Before then he had two words – mommy and no – and sometimes he would say something that sounded like a word but I wasn’t sure because he would never repeat it. It has been four years since he was diagnosed with autism and I have had so many dreams where he speaks to me. In my dreams he tells me stories about his day. His voice sounds deep and clear for such a young boy and he is very descriptive and animated when he talks – very much like his mama. He uses his hands a lot and he talks very loud. Occasionally, he’s an infant and by the end of the dream he is the size and age he is now. Those are definitely my favorite dreams.

It was Cinderella who sang, “A dream is a wish your heart makes.”

Yeah, that’s the truth.

Marisol Vendrell is a life-long New York City resident and works as a legal assistant for a midsize Manhattan firm. She is the single mom to a seven-year-old boy named Nicholas who is diagnosed with Autism. She is the co-founder of the Bronx Parents Autism Support Circle, a parent support group for Bronx parents, and is a CUNY SPS student working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Disability Studies

The last few years have been pretty tough on the family – we lost so many in so little time and unexpectedly. It almost seemed like we were cursed with all the tears and so many hearts to heal. This year was a bit different and we are all still here, and although there are those who continue to cope with different ailments, we are pretty much okay.

This year was a big one for my Nick. This year he finally “got” the whole birthday thing and he enjoyed Halloween and was the cutest Superman I have ever seen. The words started flowing and he is communicating so much better. Just the other day he said “good morning” to a neighbor who was in the elevator with us. I had to prompt him, but he looked at her and said it. I don’t think she realized what a big moment that was. He uses “I want” when he needs something and he is doing great in school. My Facebook cover page says “Words Will Come,” but I think I have to change that now.

I have met and become closer to new friends who are on the same journey as Nick and I. These women who understand what it means to raise a child with Autism. We laugh together over a meal and drinks or just talk about our children – sometimes we shed tears of sadness but mostly of joy. As an adult I can’t remember the last time I met someone who I can genuinely call a friend. I have never been the type to give anyone the title of “best friend” and I still don’t because my real friends are more like family. These new friends – and you know who you are – are a blessing to me and they are now and will always be my family.

On Thanksgiving night when we sit around the table with my family and share the amazing meal prepared by my dear mother, I cannot help but feel blessed to still have her and my father here on earth and hope that we have many more years together.

Health, Words, Family.

And for that I am grateful.

Marisol Vendrell is a life-long New York City resident and works as a legal assistant for a midsize Manhattan firm. She is the single mom to a seven-year-old boy named Nicholas who is diagnosed with Autism. She is the co-founder of the Bronx Parents Autism Support Circle, a parent support group for Bronx parents, and is a CUNY SPS student working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Disability Studies

April is officially Disability Awareness Month throughout CUNY and to celebrate our commitment to enabling students, faculty, and staff with disabilities to excel in their studies, research, and work there are a series of events throughout the university. Whether you are interested in learning more about a particular disability or you want to gain skills in your search for a career, there is something for everyone!

Disability Awareness Month at CUNY

At the College of Staten Island, students tell their stories of challenge and triumph as students with disabilities in My Story: A Dialogue Among Students in just one of the many events being held on campus throughout the month.

Similarly, Lehman College is having a panel discussion on disability and higher education from an international perspective on April 17.

The CUNY Learning Disability Project is sponsoring a Learning Disability Awareness Conference on April 16 at Baruch College geared toward helping faculty and staff to better understand learning disabilities.

The Autism Spectrum is the focus of several events across CUNY including “Promoting Successful Transition: Into, through and beyond Higher Education, for students on the Autism Spectrum” at Brooklyn College on April 8 and “Autism Spectrum Disorders: Moving Forward” at BMCC on April 11.

Queensborough Community College is offering two very interesting events with “Engaging Faculty and Tutors in the Success of Community-College Students with Disabilities” on April 17 and “Young People with Disabilities” on April 24.

On April 18, Bronx Community College is hosting a screening of “Going Blind: Coming Out of the Dark About Vision Loss.”

And last but not least, Hunter College is hosting a series of events all month long covering everything from Career Choices and Job Readiness to Learning Self-Advocacy Skills, they’re even hosting movie screenings throughout the month too!

CUNY SPS students seeking information about disability services can contact Student Services. Students at other campuses can access services through The CUNY Disability Resources & Services website.

If you are a CUNY student, faculty, or staff sponsoring an event for Disability Awareness Month not listed above, add the information in the comments below. We will also update this list with new information shared with our office in the coming days.