A Silver Spring resident has been named the recipient of the $100,000 Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion for his advocacy of autistic people.
Ari Ne’eman, who is on the autistic spectrum, believes people like him must have a say in planning their own futures.
The announcement about Ne’eman, who is the president and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and a member of the National Council on Disability, was made Monday.
ASAN seeks to advance the principles of the disability rights movement for autistic people. Its goal is for autistic people to enjoy the same access, rights and opportunities as other people do.
Since 2006, Ne’eman has been lobbying Congress, state officials and the White House on behalf of those on the autistic spectrum, which includes the entire leadership staff of ASAN.
The 27 year-old graduate of University of Maryland, Baltimore County is the second person to win this award. Last year, it went to Michael Stein, a Harvard Law School professor, who is the co-founder and executive director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability.
The award from the Ruderman Family Foundation is the named after the family patriarch, who died in in October 2011.
Ne’eman was honored for the impact he has had “and will continue to have,” said Foundation President Jay Ruderman, who said that Ne’eman‘s message is that anyone who has a disability should not be treated as less fortunate or needing of a cure but rather “just treat them as they are.”
“Very often, autistic voices were not part” of discussions on their future, Ne’eman said. Rather, parents, researchers and service providers were the only ones making decisions. What he’d like the world to know is that “all autistic people have more potential than most people give us credit for.” After all, “Autism is not what you see in the movie, ‘Rain Man,’” he said, referring to the 1988 film in which actor Dustin Hoffman portrayed an autistic savant.
Autism spectrum disorder is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, often displayed in the form of social impairments, communication difficulties and repetitive patterns of behavior, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a part of the National Institutes of Health. Rocking, head banging, poor eye contact, excessive lining up of objects, limited ability to make friends and intense focus on a particular topic are all indicators, according to the NINDS.
Ne’eman grew up in East Brunswick, N.J. He attended day school there but said he left after the school “wouldn’t make accommodations” for his disability. There were “a lot of barriers and exclusions,” he said.
“In many ways, the ways, the Jewish community is behind the times,” Ne’eman continued. “I still think there are a lot of assumptions about what autism is.”
To spread awareness, Ne’man has chosen to spend his $100,000 grant on the creation of a new disabilities rights program. He declined to discuss its scope, and said he hoped to be able to speak about it in detail in six months.