UC Santa Barbara students recently founded the new campus organization Autism Advocacy & Awareness in February, which seeks to educate community members about autism and build a safe space for students on the autism spectrum. 

The club has approximately 30 active members and holds general meetings bi-weekly. Alice Zhang / Daily Nexus

The campus organization spreads awareness about autism, empowers individuals on the spectrum and cultivates a safe environment at UCSB. Through fundraising, community service events, socials and other activities, the club works to foster community for students on the autism spectrum.

“My initial vision was to create a sense of community and understanding for those on the spectrum,” third-year psychological & brain sciences major and Autism Advocacy & Awareness President Daniel Jin said. “I just wanted to create an empathetic and understanding space where people on the spectrum are not afraid to be themselves.” 

Jin spoke to a lack of spaces available for students on the autism spectrum and said he hopes this organization brings that sense of student community. 

“I’m on the spectrum myself and always craved a sense of community,” Jin said. “At the time, I couldn’t find [a club dedicated to individuals with autism] on Shoreline, so I thought of creating one myself; I wanted to create a community for those like me.” 

Currently, the club has around 30 active members and holds general bi-weekly meetings at the Arts Building on Wednesday nights. Meetings include introductions, icebreaker games, presentations, announcements and guest speakers from other organizations.

The club has hosted two meetings so far, a social and two fundraising events in collaboration with Panda Express and Lao Wang. Its first community service event, in collaboration with Circle K International, will be held Saturday, May 6, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

The club also plans to host an open mic night later in the quarter for members to discuss their experience with and ask questions about autism, according to Lin. 

Lin spoke to the relaxed but educational setting of Autism Advocacy & Awareness, with the smaller group of members allowing for a more intimate environment for attendees to feel comfortable during meetings. 

“We try our best to be vulnerable and honest with the members and each other,” Lin said. “We allow members to introduce themselves first, officers second. We really want to be different from other clubs.”

Vice President and third-year actuarial science major Brian Ho said that his personal friendship with Jin and a desire to dismantle societal misconceptions about autism inspired him to join the board. 

“Daniel and I, we’ve been friends since high school. He’s one of my best friends,” Ho said. “The more you learn about Daniel, the more you see how autism impacts his life, in both negative and positive ways. I’ve seen firsthand how society treats individuals with autism, and I want to try to change that.” 

Third-year communication and history double major and Secretary Ian Huang said the organization uplifts the voices of students on the autism spectrum and aims to create a welcoming space for the community. 

“I want to create a community where people on the spectrum can feel welcome and have their voices be heard,” Huang said. “I want to bring more awareness to autistic individuals on this campus, which I don’t feel like is a very present thing.”

Third-year film and media studies major Akaysha Brunker said in addition to the approachability of the officers, she feels importance in the newly founded organization breaking down misconceptions about autism through educational meetings, saying there is little student advocacy work for those on the spectrum. 

“I feel like there’s a lot of misconceptions, and I don’t feel like there’s a lot of autism advocacy on campus at UCSB,” Brunker said. “I feel like this club would really help people avoid that misinformation and point them in the right direction.” 

The organization’’s general meetings have focused on topics such as the definition of autism, how being on the autism spectrum differs by gender, how autism is portrayed in the media and more. 

“We’re exploring various topics within the broader topic of autism,” Jin said. 

Jin emphasized the importance of the organization existing to educate members on autism, all while celebrating the lives and accomplishments of students on the autism spectrum. 

“Our mantra in this organization is that everyone on the spectrum has limitless potential and can accomplish great things in their life, as long as they’re given love and support like everyone else.”

A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the May 4, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.