Knowledge about the autism spectrum is a slow-moving train, but in recent years one couple has found a way to provide individuals with autism and Asperger syndrome a support group they can count on – Autism Empowerment.
Founded through a grassroots effort in 2011 by John and Karen Krejcha in Vancouver, Washington, they were inspired by their sons who were both diagnosed with autism and Asperger syndrome. Karen also has Asperger syndrome and noticed that there was a lack of positive, uplifting resources available to both autistic people and their families. After they attended various meetings, they found that most of the messaging put out by organizations had a “doom and gloom,” attitude, and affected the self-esteem and motivation of autistic people to take on leadership roles. They decided it was time for a different kind of non-profit, one made for autistic people by autistic people.
“We believe that in order to effectively empower the autism community, we must include autistic members of our community in decision-making and key roles,” Karen said. “We embody the notion of ‘Nothing About Us Without Us.’”
Spectrum Life Magazine
Autism Empowerment runs a publication called Spectrum Life Magazine (previously known as Spectrums Magazine), which was originally founded by Courtney Freitag, a mom to a son on the autism spectrum. When she needed to step away from the magazine in 2016 for family reasons, she approached John and Karen to see if they could keep running it under their non-profit. The first issue of Spectrums Magazine published under Autism Empowerment was in the summer of 2016 and has been released quarterly ever since.
“We want readers to know that Autism Empowerment aims to serve all ages and abilities throughout the lifespan,” Karen said. “It will take some time but we’re a passionate bunch and when we put our mind to something, we find a way.”
In addition to the magazine, there is a supplemental website called Spectrum Life, which releases additional blog posts, podcasts, videos, articles, creative arts and a resource directory for the Southwest Washington and Portland area.
Alongside the publication and website, Autism Empowerment runs Autism Rocks, a creative project started by Imani Chapin in 2016, a junior at Union High School in Camas, WA. The program encourages volunteerism and service to others, while individuals can paint rocks and hide them for others to find. Imani said that you don’t have to be a Monet to participate, but that the positive messaging about autism is what is most important.
“One of the greatest things about Autism Rocks is that it can give each member of the family jobs to do and everybody can contribute, no matter what a person’s ability is,” Imani said. “When I find a painted rock, I’m not looking for perfection. I’m just happy to see people are enjoying art, just like me.”
Support for Adults on the Autism Spectrum
Autism Empowerment also runs a support group at Stephen’s Place, where adults on the autism spectrum can meet to socialize and discuss life. They meet on the second Friday of each month and the group has grown so much since they started the group in 2014. Karen says that it’s normal for attendees to feel nervous at first, but that the end result is rewarding.
“Expect to be nervous and expect that the person across the table is probably anxious too,” Karen said. “The interesting thing is that oftentimes once people realize that they are among their ‘tribe’ or folks that ‘get them,’ they are able to relax, laugh and let down their guard.”
Autism Empowerment Programs
All of the programs Autism Empowerment provides are a part of John and Karen’s vision to educate the public about the autism spectrum through positive messaging and involvement from within. Karen says that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment and autism acceptance doesn’t mean stagnation.
“We accept who we are, where we are at but we are always striving to help empower people to live the best quality life possible,” Karen said. “We believe each of us is a lifelong learner with gifts to share that can inspire others and make our world a better place.”
“As human beings, we should strive for all humans to have their health needs met, whether that be mental, physical, emotional, educational, financial or spiritual,” Karen said. “When I speak to groups, I like to say that some of us are on the autism spectrum but all of us are on the human spectrum and we have many more things in common than are different.”
If you’d like to find out more about Autism Empowerment or any of the programs they are involved with, visit their website at www.autismempowerment.org.