Shines Blue Light on Autism
By Anne Berman '15
Autism has become a focal point
in the life of Mojdeh Mostafavi ’15.
Her brother, Payam, who is 18,
is afflicted with a severe form of the neural development
disorder, which is characterized by a range of symptoms,
including difficulties with social interaction, communication,
motor coordination, and other functions.
“My brother Payam is a Disney fanatic, and he’s very funny and smart,” says Mostafavi. “He’s
a trickster, he’s my best friend, and he is the most loving person I know.”
At Smith, Mostafavi is fulfilling
pre-med requirements and plans to become a specialist in
the care and treatment of autism, with specific attention
to innovative ways of combining the behavioral and medical
aspects of the disorder.
In honor of Autism Awareness
Month, Mostafavi has collaborated with the House Presidents
Association to join a global campaign coordinated
by Autism Speaks, intended to start conversations about autism.
participation will be signified by a campaign to color outdoor
lights on campus blue.
Mojdeh Mostafavi '15 with her brother, Payam.
Her devotion to Payam is one
reason Mostafavi wants to gain a deep understanding of autism.
But beyond her personal reasons, Mostafavi is also fascinated
with the disorder on an intellectual level, she says. “It changes the way we think about the brain.”
Autism is reportedly on the
rise in America, and now affects one in 88 children, a ten-fold
increase in the past 40 years, according to statistics from
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Autism is four to five times more common among boys than
girls, afflicting one out of every 54 American boys, CDC
“It’s important to get people talking about how autism is incredibly present
and not going away,” urges Mostafavi. “Where there’s a lack of awareness about
autism, there are people who think autism is mental retardation, which it’s not—it’s
a social and communication disorder—and there’s stigmatizing and fear.”
Mostafavi has experienced first-hand
the way ignorance can hurt people with autism and their loved
ones. When she was 12 and her brother was 10, a stranger
in a restaurant shouted angrily at her family that her brother
shouldn’t be out in
public, that he should be institutionalized.
“I remember having this sharp realization then that my brother was not in a position
to defend himself against this hate that stems from ignorance,” she recalls.
By raising awareness, Light
it Up Blue can enact positive change on Smith’s
campus, Mostafavi says. “We have the power to make or break
it for people like my brother. A lot of times, people prefer
to not talk to my brother, because that seems best, but actually
the best thing they can do is just talk to him. This movement
is about removing the stigma attached to autism, and recognizing
how prevalent the disorder is.”
In addition to blue lights across
campus, Light it Up Blue will include information tabling
in the Campus Center this week. Those interested in learning
more about autism and autism activism can or visit autismspeaks.org.