Faculty call on Loyola to promote autism awareness


Sunny McDaniel and Dr. McCall McDaniel together stand in front of a sign stating that they support World Autism Month. Sunny McDaniel encouraged Loyola to support students with autism in celebration of autism awareness month. Photo credit: Courtesy of Sunny McDaniel

Baley Champagne

Loyola’s Family Nursing Practitioner program aims to promote acceptance of autism on Loyola’s campus by celebrating April as Autism Awareness Month.

Sunny McDaniel, a faculty member in the School of Nursing, said that the primary purpose of Autism Awareness Month is to encourage acceptance and understanding of autism while providing guidance and support for individuals and their families.

The Family Nurse Practitioner program students at Loyola are equipped and educated on the clinical signs and symptoms of autism, according to McDaniel.

“This mindfulness is imperative in providing quality health care to autistic individuals,” McDaniel said.

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately one in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Adults are less likely to be diagnosed.

“Individuals with autism are misunderstood or misinterpreted,” McDaniel said. “We must remove our initial perception and assumption of the behavior, and instead, figure out ‘why’ the behavior.”

Challenges of autistic individuals include communicating, difficulty with social interactions and display of atypical behavior and interest, McDaniel said.

“This is not a one size fits all,” McDaniel said of those living with the neurological disorder.

Mass Communications senior and Maroon staffer Gracie Wise wrote in “Autism isn’t a death sentence,” her opinion piece for The Maroon, “Autism isn’t a disease, and it needs to stop being treated as such.”

Wise noted in her article that she has special skills in grammar and writing and that some things that make her different from other people her age are the way she talks, her interests and her sensitivity to noise.

“There is no cure for autism,” Wise said, “It is a part of who we are and if somebody tried to get rid of our autism, we wouldn’t be the same.”

In 2017, students at Loyola founded the Disability Awareness and Justice Alliance to raise awareness of on-campus issues that affect disabled students at Loyola.

The alliance works with the Office for Accessible Education to ensure that Loyola is accessible to all.

Samantha Pollard, an accessibility counselor at Loyola and the alliance’s advisor, said the Office for Accessible Education seeks to support students in ways that work best for each of them individually.

On April 2, Loyola’s School of Nursing’s social media pages for Facebook and Instagram brought Autism Awareness Day to their followers’ attention.

“By promoting awareness, we have made the first step in doing better for those individuals and their families with Autism,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel suggests Loyola to create a program that will aid students with autism spectrum disorders specifically throughout their college experience toward success in the classroom and to develop skills they will need to navigate life’s social network.

Loyola’s primary social media pages, as of now, do not have any posts relating to autism awareness month.

To promote inclusion for those on the autism spectrum, McDaniel said, “Break down the barriers, connect to the person, and you will most likely find an exceptional mind that is aware and perfectly capable of success.”