Tim Elmer, a student from the Y.A.L.E. School Standard 9 program was invited along with a few other young people with autism spectrum disorders to present an award at the annual FACES 4 Autism conference in Galloway NJ.
Elmer, 19 from Egg Harbor Township, says that he has been attending FACES 4 Autism events for several years but this was his first time attending their annual conference which was held in Galloway at the Stockton Seaview Hotel.
“I really enjoy going to the FACES 4 Autism support group and social events because I meet new people there, and it gives me some useful experience I plan to apply to my future career,” said Elmer. He dreams of one day working with children with autism spectrum disorders as either a teacher or as in-home support for kids and their parents.
“I was asked by (conference organizer) Isabelle Mosca to appear at the conference as one of their ‘Voices From the Spectrum’ participants to help present (the award) since she knows me from the FACES group,” he added.
The award recognizes either an individual who is on the spectrum and who advocates for people with autism, or an ally of of the local autism/Asperger’s community. This year Elmer helped present the award to Patrick Higbee, a young Wawa employee whose connection with a customer who is on the spectrum went viral on social media last winter.
As if that wasn’t exciting enough, Elmer was also lucky enough to meet a hero of the autism community, Dr. Temple Grandin — professor, author, speaker, and advocate for autism who was the keynote speaker at the FACES 4 Autism conference.
During the book-signing event, Dr. Grandin signed Elmer’s copy of her book and posed for a photo with the young man. She asked whether he had any practical job experience and what he planned to do for a job once he finished school.
“I told her about my previous job at a comic book shop and my job at the Insectarium,” said Elmer. He currently works as an intern at the Insectarium Institute in northeastern Philadelphia, growing plants that are used as food for the live insects on display at the museum. The Insectarium is one of many community businesses where students from Y.A.L.E.’s Standard 9 transition program have the opportunity to gain real-world hands-on job experiences.
“She told me that any and all work experience is important to have because people need to see that those of us on the spectrum can work just like anyone else,” he concluded.