Autism no obstacle for community service club
By DANIELLE CAMILLI
Burlington County Times
EVESHAM — The Spectrum of Helping Hands is more than a catchy name for a new township-based community service group. It not only represents the club’s mission,but the teenage boys who carry it out.
“All of us are on the autism spectrum,”said founder and president Ari Schneider-Gans, 14, of Evesham. “Yes, we’re very
unique, bouncy and fun. We can be a little crazy, but we can be serious too. Autistic kids are not different than regular people.”
Autism Spectrum Disorders are complex neurobiological problems that can cause “severe and pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. These disorders can range from severe autism to high-functioning Asperger syndrome.
Ari has Asperger syndrome and attends the Y.A.L.E. Upper School in Cherry Hill. The group includes teens from Camden and Burlington counties who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Ari said the club he formed in December 2006 proves that he and his friends are not limited by their diagnoses.
“The club shows we can do a lot of the same things everyone else can do. There’s no obstacle too high, too wide or even too small. We are just sort of our own kind,” he said. “It also shows that with your friends you can do anything.”
Earlier this month, the club completed its monthly service project. Taking a cue from the large fundraising walks held nationwide, the club held its own walk around an Evesham lake.
The members decided to give the money raised to the New Jersey Audubon Society. Other service projects have included assembling
and sending care packages to soldiers overseas and hospice patients, stuffing envelopes for Samaritan Hospice in Evesham and donating items to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank in Medford. They also completed a lakeside cleanup project.
“It just feels very good,” said Ari, a huge Philadelphia Eagles and New Jersey Devils hockey fan. “We get to help out people who are less fortunate.”
He said he was surprised when he recently received thank-you notes from two soldiers overseas.
“I felt strange. I didn’t do it for that, I did it because they were in a war and needed stuff to remind them of normal life,” the ninth-grader said.
Ari’s dad, Rabbi Gary Gans of Congregation Beth Tikvah, said he believes the community service his son completed in preparation for his bar mitzvah sparked an interest to do more. Ari led Saturday-morning Hebrew services at the Lions Gate Continuing Care community in Voorhees.
“We’re very proud of his organizational skills and pleased he’s learning social responsibility and care for others,” Gans said. “Autistic kids need to learn empathy and he has.”