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autism

A Southern team is trying to improve the lives of African children who have an autism spectrum disorder.

Ruth Eren, endowed chair of special education and director of the Center of Excellence on Autism Spectrum Disorders; Stephen Hegedus, dean of the School of Education; Doreen Tilt, coordinator of training for the Center; and Shaylah McQueen, a graduate student seeking a Master of Science degree in special education, recently spoke to a group of United Nations ambassadors and ministers from Africa.

The meeting was hosted by Necton Mhura, U.N. ambassador from the Republic of Malawi. It came about at the request of Ugoji Adanma Eze, an international human rights lawyer who is an advocate for women and children.

Eren said she was asked by Eze to speak at the U.N. to present educational interventions for children with autism. Eren then asked Fred Volkmar, professor of psychology at the Yale University Child Study Center and an expert on the medical side of autism, to join the SCSU contingent in their presentation at the U.N.

“There is still a stigma in Africa attached to having autism,” Eren said. “Many misconceptions exist. Ugoji is trying to break through and educate people about what the disorder is and what can be done to help people – especially kids – who have it.”

In fact, Eze has proposed writing a book on the subject to educate the African populace, and has asked Eren to author a chapter.

Hegedus served as the keynote speaker at the U.N. session, where he focused on the stigma. To emphasize the point that there is no need for those with the disorder to be stigmatized, he held up a photo of a nephew of his who has an autism spectrum disorder.

“That really made an impact on the 30 or so people in that room,” Eren said. “By acknowledging that someone in his family is on the spectrum, it serves as a powerful example that there is no need for a stigma to be attached to autism.”

Hegedus said the stigma problem is a socio-cultural issue that should be addressed not only though the schools and parents, but through the churches. “The churches play a significant role in education in Africa,” he said.

McQueen spoke about the genetic component of autism, which was greeted by the audience. “I was privileged to be able to speak at the U.N. about this issue and I was greeted very warmly. They know that students of today represent the future.”

 

 

 

 

Tyler Steskla

Sophomore Tyler Steskla of the Southern Connecticut State University men’s swimming and diving team is accustomed to dealing with adversity. At the same time, he is also well versed in the elements of perseverance and accomplishing goals.

He was all set to enter the pool and be a key contributor for the Owls’ in the pool last fall. Unfortunately, he was deemed ineligible by the NCAA to compete following a review of his high school coursework. Rather, he was able to practice with the team but could not compete in regular or post-season meets.

Part of the reason why he is able to shake off obstacles is the fact that he has overcome plenty of roadblocks since being diagnosed with autism at age 3. Tyler’s story was recently featured on NBC Connecticut and received national publicity as well across the NBC broadcasting platform.

“People that have this diagnosis know that it’s not easy for them, and they want to accomplish more than people think that they can,” Steskla said.

Accomplishing more has always been a part of Steskla’s nature. In the pool, he was an Age Group champion and Nationals qualifier as a part of the Cheshire Sea Dogs swim club. That prowess caught the eye of Owls’ coach Tim Quill. Steskla joined the program for the fall 2014 semester.

After receiving the unfortunate news from the NCAA, Steskla did what he always does – overcome the roadblock. He had a grade point average in excess of 3.0 in the spring of 2015.

“Personally, I was really worried about him because I know how passionate he was about it (swimming),” Quill said. “He was devastated, but instead what he did was embrace the situation, pull a 3.0 (grade point average) last semester.”

A Cheshire native, Steskla was one of the Owls’ stars of this year’s Northeast-10 Conference Championship, which took place in Worcester, Mass., in early February. He had three top-14 finishes, including a fourth place finish in the 1,650 yard freestyle – the equivalent of a mile swim. Southern Connecticut won its sixth straight NE-10 title and 14th in the last 15 years.

“He’s just a great example of that when you set your mind to something, anything’s possible,” Quill said. “People would look at Tyler in that he has a disability in some regards, but I look at it more as a strength.”

Watch the video about Steskla on NBC Connecticut