“Why won’t he talk to us”, “Why is he making those faces”. My five-year-old self would think. I always would hear the word “inclusion”, said by my preschool teacher at Learning Together: Developmental Day Center in Raleigh, NC. Comprehending a word like inclusion had proven itself difficult for me. I’ve always been extremely inquisitive since a young age, and these questions I had about my fellow classmates quickly convert into pure curiosity.

I remember asking my preschool teacher why there were a few kids in our classroom acted, for a lack of a better word at my young age, different from my friends and I. I soon discovered that some of my peers in the classroom with me were children living with autism. Again not fully comprehending what I was being told, still reluctant to talk to my fellow peers, I put the questions aside and moved to make friends with all of my peers. This decision is easily one of the things I’m most grateful for in my childhood. The bond that I built with some of the kids, they were just another one of “the bros” at school.

This personal connection to those affected by autism was amplified in my elementary school years. I knew one of my very best friend’s had an older brother that lives with autism and I got gotten to know him through going to my friend’s house before my mom would pick me up to go home from school. I remember sitting silent and playing Mario Kart on the Wii with his older brother. To some this may seem like antisocial behavior, but my friend’s brother would be grinning the entire time, from the look in his eyes I could see he was enjoying the company of his brother and I. Throughout my years of elementary school I had seen the once very private and silent brother of my friend blossom into a successful coder for a game development company. Believing in what someone can do is more powerful than believing in what one can’t do.

Enloe Charity Ball choosing IGNITE Raleigh, a subsidiary of Autism Society of North Carolina as our beneficiary, was an opportunity that rekindled my old memories of being able to connect with children and young adults affected by autism at such a young age at Learning together. My early memories send a spark through my eyes when being able to raise money for a foundation that is set on making sure adults who live with autism have access to significant life and job skills training. Making an environment where the young adults can build confidence in themselves while building real friendships is where IGNITE excels, I love it.

Malik McFadden

Executive Outreach Officer

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