April is National Autism Awareness month, and it is a positive development to see more and more advocacy organizations including acceptance and appreciation to the “A” list.

As a father with an 18 year old son on the spectrum, and in my role as Cofounder of Islands of Brilliance, I have discovered it is hard to find anyone these days who does not know a family, friend, or colleague that has a family member living with autism.

In March 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data on the prevalence of autism in the United States. This surveillance study identified 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A National Health Survey in November 2015 updated the prevalence to 1 in 45 children, meaning that a full 2 percent of the nation’s children are living with autism.

In the spirit of broadening our autism vocabulary beyond awareness, and in contemplating the rise of the 2 percent, I would like to add two additional words to the mix: action and accomplishment.

This past weekend Islands of Brilliance concluded our Spring Design Workshops, culminating in 24 students proudly presenting their completed projects. These workshops are part of our monthly programming that connects students on the spectrum with professionals working in design, art, and technology, creating an experience in which our unique learners thrive.

By focusing on high interest areas, providing one-to-one mentorship, and identifying capabilities and strengths, our students are able to complete a five-week workshop feeling successful, and with heightened levels of self-esteem and confidence. Parents are able to see their children intellectually and creatively inspired, socially engaged, and displaying uncommon poise. The “boost” both students and parents receive from participation in our workshops often carries over into improved classroom performance, confidence in pursuing future employment, and a sense of genuine optimism for the future.

Continued participation creates a pathway of action for our students, while opening a doorway for the professional community to develop a wider appreciation of the capabilities of individuals on the spectrum from a young age. Our vision is to continue to develop an Early Intervention Employment Model, providing our students a longer transition opportunity for successful integration into our workforce and communities.

Later this month, we will be showing off our students impressive accomplishments. Design, illustration, and art created by Islands of Brilliance students will be on display at two exhibitions during Gallery Night in the Historic Third Ward on Friday, April 21.

The work of Will MacCudden, age 13, and Liam Dallner, age 14, will be featured amongst the work of professionals at The Sofie Show, 207 N. Milwaukee Street, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Autism, Art, and Design will feature the work of ten Islands of Brilliance students at Bader Philanthropies, 233 N. Water Street, Fourth Floor, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

We invite you to join us at one of the two exhibitions, so that you can appreciate the amazing capabilities of these talented students with your very own eyes.

Read the article and view the photo essay that were produced as companion features for this news report.