Recently, one of our young adults with autism demonstrated an incredible ability to reduce stigma, simply by being himself and sharing his passion for Disney. Jesse attends our inclusive Sleeping Mat Project each Thursday morning at the Indian Valley Public Library. He is an expert in all things Disney, always singing songs from Aladdin and Little Mermaid as he works. He can tell you when each movie was released in high definition. He knows every word and scene. It’s incredibly impressive!

On one Thursday, a group of young children (without disabilities) who are home-schooled joined our volunteer activity. With little experience interacting with neuro-diverse peers, they were understandably timid and reluctant to engage. They watched Jesse’s rocking and constant movement with wide eyes.

He approached the young children on his own and asked, “What’s your favorite Disney movie?” One little girl looked away and answered quietly, “I like Beauty and the Beast.” Immediately Jesse began singing “Be our Guest... Be our Guest”... Broadway-style! The little looked up from the ground with a big smile. Other children started sharing their favorite movies and favorite scenes. When it was time to leave the parents of the young children and Jesse’s staff person couldn’t get them out the door!

Too often, people with autism are discouraged from talking about their favorite things. The paperwork in their “files” says things like, “He is obsessed” and “She should be redirected from “perseverating” on this topic.” We disagree. Jesse’s passion built a bridge. Jesse’s passion reduced stigma. Jesse’s passion taught a whole group of children that what we have in common is far greater than what makes us different.