Autism Unites (formerly Dance Into Unity) was officially established in January 2007 as a 501 (C) (3) organization. Autism Unites has been actively working in the community since 2006 to increase autism awareness.
To raise autism awareness Autism Unites presented major dance productions in theaters of Los Angeles. The shows were orchestrated with a Broadway cast and celebrities and attracted over 6,000 people who learned about autism.
EL Corazon del Tango (11/19, 2006 in Wilshire Ebell Theatre); Tango Adamor (11/21-22, 2008 in Wilshire Theatre of Beverly Hills – now the Saban Theatre – and Alex Theatre); Through the Heart of Tango (4/21-22, 2012, Beyond the Stars Palace, Los Angeles); and Beautiful (4/27-28, 2013 at the Miles Memorial Playhouse, Santa Monica).
MATCH A FRIEND
In addition to raising autism awareness, Autism Unites goal was to provide grass roots help to individuals and families with autism. Since 2006, Autism Unites has been involved with the family of Adam, a young person with a severe case of autism. In 2010 Adam had a seizure and was badly hurt. The family was devastated and Autism Unites responded by organizing a 24/7 care team to help. This turned out to be a most valuable experience and the beginning of Match A Friend model of autism community integration!
In addition to basic round-the clock care, we found a friend/caregiver for Adam, a 22-year old college student, Cole. It turned out that this connection created miracle not only for Adam, but also for Cole. Adam, who was extremely withdrawn most of the time started to crave connection, and Cole grew as an individual to discover his strength, maturity and healthy sense of identity. After one year Cole left to pursue his college education, but being with Adam inspired Cole to change his career path to special ed. Cole informs us that he is quite happy and fulfilled with his choice!
We saw first hand how connection with an Autistic person transformed the life of another. This opened our eyes and our perspective, based on which Autism Unites created the Match A Friend module where both young adults equally need each other to grow, develop their qualities and better the community.
MATCH A FRIEND™ MOVEMENT
In 2011–2012 we worked with a group of 8 young adults (4 with special needs, 3 of them with autism and one with down syndrome) teaching them how to connect through dance. This experience was filmed by Joet Travolta’ s Inclusion Films in the award-winning documentary “Through the Heart of Tango” which was invited the following year (2013) into the five major festivals.
Video above: Trailer of Autism Unites’ Documentary Through the Heart of Tango (2012).
In 2012-2013, Autism Unites held a series of Match A Friend workshops called “Beautiful” where a group of young adults with and without autism joined as friends, together learning the art of presence, focus, confidence, integrity and connection as the components of a true sense of self through the legacy of the unparalleled system of dance called Ballet. Screening of workshops took place during Autism Awareness Week in Santa Monica on April 26-27, 2013 at the Miles Memorial Playhouse.
Video above: Match A Friend workshop “Beautiful” (April 2013)
In every case we have witnessed a miracle from both sides of the friendship, i.e. the autistic youth experiences an array of positive emotions with increased energy, attention span and alertness, while the peer who contributes their time achieves an extraordinary sense of purpose and fulfillment.