From a dance teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District to worldwide leader and guiding light for autism, Joanne Lara proves that one woman can make a far reaching impact. She is taking action to move us from autism awareness, hope and acceptance to making sure our kids transition into adulthood with employers who understand their value and are ready to employ!
From Dance Teacher to Worldwide Movement
Joanne was in the classroom working with moderate to severe autistic children for ten years. With her background in the arts, she intuitively knew that music and movement would be gateways to helping her students engage in the classroom. And her theory proved to be true time and time again.
I had one student stemming on the floor looking at the lights, nonverbal who left my class two years later working on a computer, assisting in a classroom, and talking.
Knowing she was onto something, Joanne refinanced her home to make her first DVD, Aut-erobics and Autism Movement Therapy® was born. The program combines movement and music with positive behavior support to help autistic individuals reach their speech and language, social and academic goals. It has been praised by parents, therapists and autism pundits including notables Dr. Stephen Shore and Dr. Temple Grandin. Today Autism Therapy Movement is a 501c3 nonprofit that certifies, trains, and licenses dancers, educators, parents, and professional service providers across the globe. The program is being taught by their certified instructors (some even on the autism spectrum) throughout the US and in India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia.
Joanne’s 2nd DVD, the just released documentary Generation A: Portraits of Autism & the Arts with Temple Grandin, Stephen Shore, Elaine Hall, Alex Plank, Abbey Lutes, Wyatt Isaacs, Shoshana Nelson, Kyle Cousins, Kevin Hosseini, Susan Sheller, Dani Bowman, Dylan Aragon, Noah Schneider, Tyler Wedeen, Kai Viruleg, Julian Arsi, Ed Asner and more highlights 5 individuals on the spectrum and walks us
Traveling around the world for AMT, Joanne is using her leadership status as a driving force to tackle the issue of autism and employment.
People outside of our autism community are typically uninformed and there is a fear factor surrounding the employment of autistic individuals. We need to educate and reach them in ways that will make them want to hire our kids. We must take action now as our kids’ futures depend on it.
According to Joanne, it was 1990 when the ground-breaking American Disabilities Act took effect and it’s time for the earth to shake once again including addressing the barriers to entry into the workforce for those on the autism spectrum. The statistics are staggering. Only 1 out of 3 have had a job within 7 years after leaving high school. Their wages are an average of 30% less than the general population, the lowest of any disability category.
We must replace the word hope and ask for a seat at the table. So many of our children are facing the issue of employment as they age out and transition to adulthood. We are at a crossroads. We know that the rate of employment for adults with autism is devastatingly low, and our May 20th evening is intended to shout the message that we are employable individuals who bring value, know-how and dignity to the workplace.
Joanne is mobilizing the autism community to take action, beginning with “Temple Grandin & Friends, Developing Creativity & Growing Careers,” a special event on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles. The evening will shine a light on young autistic men and women like Dani Bowman of Powerlight Studios who are successfully employed and running their own businesses and call for further action to ensure that others on the spectrum have opportunities for meaningful employment.
It’s also a celebration of the life of Dr. Temple Grandin and her contribution to the field of autism. The night will be filled with music featuring performances by the notable Dr. Stephen Shore, award-winning singer/songwriter Chadwick Johnson, Grammy-nominated Lonnie Park, the soulful songstress Susan Sheller, accomplished singer and guitarist Nick Guzman (who is also on the autism spectrum), The Miracle Project Singers (who have performed at Carnegie Hall), 17 year old musical savant Adam Walden, and the amazing autistic rapper, Rio Wiles AKA Soulshaka. The AMT Dancers will perform under the direction of Joanne Lara and autistic fine artist, Michael Tolleson will paint onstage during the event. More performer appearances are in the works, including an A-Lister awaiting confirmation. It’s gearing up to be an unforgettable evening!
For young men and women with autism, the quality of life statistics after high school are not good. We want to bring government, business, civic leaders, and the autism community together to start a new way of thinking so we can find solutions to challenges that are preventing these young men and women from finding and keeping jobs.
The event marks the launch of Joanne’s new pilot program, AutismWorks, a ‘mentor-train-coach = job’ employment model that will match autistic employee skill sets with employer need. Joanne envisions a new way of thinking of how to integrate autistic individuals into the workplace.
Joey Travolta’s Inclusion Films’ autistic filmmakers will be live streaming the event for those who cannot attend in person.
What actions can you take right now? Join the “let autism work” movement. Sign up on AutismWorks mailing list to stay informed. Stay mindful of this issue and use every chance to start a dialog in your neighborhood. It’s going to take our work at a grassroots level to make sure our autistic children have their rightful place at society’s table of opportunity. We can do it!
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