People come into Second Life for many reasons. Some to find companionship, some to find relief from a difficult and stressful RL, some to start a business and make money, and some for the gratuitous sex! Often, people who are residents of SL discover that the virtual world is a wonderful platform to support causes in their lives that are personal and meaningful to them and to others.
SouthernComfort Magic is one of those people who has turned her passion for autism awareness into a cause that she successfully promotes in Second Life. She is excited to bring to SL the 4th Annual Autism Awareness events! You can see more on her website here.
What is Autism?
According to the Autism Speaks website, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
The website goes on to give these statistics about autism: “Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.”
In RL, I (Suzanne) work for a nonprofit organization that provides rehabilitative and vocational services to adults with developmental disabilities. We have over 230 staff and serve over 600 consumers in our various programs. Years ago, the most common diagnosis that consumers came into program with was Down Syndrome. Now, with today’s advanced medicine allowing parents to make difficult decisions regarding whether or not to proceed with a pregnancy that has an early diagnosis of Down’s, there are fewer Down’s clients. In recent years, we have seen a significant uptick in the number of people with an autism diagnosis coming into program; so much so that our Director of Client Services has had to get a special certification in order to best serve those with the autism diagnosis.
Autism is a very personal cause for SouthernComfort, as both her children have been diagnosed with autism. SouthernComfort shares what drives her passion:
“My drive behind this was simple, my children. In May 2006, my youngest son (he is 8yrs old now) was diagnosed as having Severe Autism. At the time he was only 21 months old. Not really knowing much about it at the time, I spent hours upon hours researching this. Watching my son having to do through struggles in everyday life, I was at a loss of words. My son can’t talk, he doesn’t play, social skills are non-existent, he has no idea what a holiday is or even his own birthday, to him it’s just another day. He has many behavioral issues such as hitting his head on the ground when upset, screaming at the top of his lungs, hitting himself on the arms and legs. He has also been diagnosed as having PICA (which is basically eating things that are non food) and eats things such as wood, crayons, mulch, paper. He also has been diagnosed as having ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). My son is full of life though. He smiles, he laughs, he loves to be tickled and play peek-a-boo, he LOVES Adele and country music. All around he’s a little squirt.
“My daughter who is 9yrs old, just this past November was diagnosed as having Asperger’s [Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Those with Asperger syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development.] She has some challenges ahead in her life, but with the therapy and help that they have now for children with Asperger’s, she should be okay. She has some social issues (has a hard time making friends), she has some speech delay, has a very hard time understanding when others are joking around and when they are serious. She has some very similar things that her younger brother has as far as symptoms of being on the spectrum, her’s just aren’t as severe as his, but they are present. However, she is full of life, she LOVES to smile and laugh, she loves playing with her new computer which she received this Christmas from someone she truly adores.”
Having been in-world since 2008 and heavily involved in MCs (motorcycle clubs), she had an opportunity in 2010 to work with Scott Sommer, who was organizing an event called “Rockers For Autism”. SouthernComfort says, “After inquiring about the event, I had gotten with a good friend of mine Tristain Savon and asked if he would be willing to DJ this event with me at Sixx Pack. Together, he and I rocked for 4 hours raising awareness and during that 4 hour period, we had raised $153, 944L (Total was approximately $600 USD). I was completely taken back at the amount of support that I had seen in my family and friends that came out that night.”
Since that time, the event has grown. In 2012, SouthernComfort decided to try doing the event on her own, and she teamed up with Champion Horses to hold the Autism Event. Since horse therapy is very therapeutic for anybody on the spectrum, it seemed like a natural fit. They had a Nickelback concert, and Tristain DJ’d once again. They had a live performer and an auction. After many many hours of planning and after an extremely long day, they raised L$466, 868, or $1,701.60 USD during the month of April. She was amazed! SouthernComfort works directly with the Autism Society in Bethesda, MD. She has a contact there, and after she cashed out, she was thrilled to make that amazing donation. She was beside herself at the amount of support from so many wonderful people.
In 2013, they decided to make the Autism Awareness event for two days rather than just one. They had two concerts, Halestorm and Nickelback, with Tristan Savon Dj’ing once again. They had the IT Girlz and Fellaz doing a dance routine. Nan Ember DJ’d for both days, and Madison Pizzaro was a DJ, as well, Blazer Bowenford did an amazing Blues set. There were a number of Motorcycle clubs involved as well such as the Black Knights, Damnation, Outlaws just to name a few.
In 2014, the Autism Awareness ~ Lighting the Way event has grown by leaps and bounds. The events are on two sims, and runs from throughout the month of April, which is Autism Awareness Month. She has nearly 50 sponsors, including ZoHa Islands, who is donating a full prim sim for this event. Over 20 MCs are involved. Entertainment includes 10 DJs and several live performers. You can check out the Second Life Autism Awareness ~ Lighting the Way website for dates and details.
In closing I leave you with SouthernComfort’s own words from her website:
“When my son was diagnosed with Severe Autism at the age of 2, Autism affected 1 out of 150 children. Today it affects 1 out of 88. Over the course of 6 years, I have watched my son go through changes that I would never wish upon anyone. However, he is the most lovable child that I have ever known, he is truly an angel from heaven. He has taught me more about life & the person that I want to be more than I ever thought possible.
“So the next time you are at a restaurant or at a mall & you happen to see a child throwing themselves down on the floor, screaming and/or shaking things, stop & think before you judge. Not all disabilities are easily seen. Sometimes all one might see is the symptoms & without knowing the full situation. Don’t judge someone incorrectly & unfairly.”
Please join us in supporting this very worthy cause. Come to the events, enjoy the performances, and give generously. Anything we can do to support and promote research into autism and it’s causes brings us closer to a way to prevent its occurrence. In this way, we can “light the way” for their lives and by doing so, by having these events for them, we can raise awareness to help with research and therapy for them.
I remain respectfully yours,
~Suzanne Piers, ZI Social Media Manager