Hoop Dancing For Advocacy

River Christie-White has travelled around the nation educating people about autism. River has spoken at conferences with over 30,000 people, as well he has worked with school boards to create inclusive curriculum, and he has accomplished all this at the age of 18!

River’s advocacy presentations began to gain popularity, because of his performance of the indigence healing hoop dance. “I always tie the messaging of the presentation to the hoop dance,” explains River. ”For example, the hoop dance can be performed using up to 17 hoops, and the more hoops danced with, the more complex and beautiful the dance becomes.” River uses this analogy to advocate for inclusion and group work.

“I believe that when you have a group of people collaborating together and all sharing ideas, then the nal product will be more dynamic than if one person was to complete the task alone,” he stated.

River’s ambition to become an advocate came from his childhood experience of being bullied. River could not speak until he was eight years old, and so he was unable to verbally stand up to his bullies. Once River was able to speak, he was motivated to stand up for himself and others with a disability, through bringing awareness to autism. Every year River focuses on a new message. This year River has been presenting on the difference between inclusion and acceptance. The difference between inclusion and acceptance is that, someone can be accepted into an environment, but that does not mean that they are an active participant in that community. Being included in a community is when a person is given the opportunity and tools to participate. For example, imagine it is your first day working at a new job, and no one engages with you, nor do you get much training from your boss. You have been accepted into the workplace, but you have not been included. River believes that people with autism struggle to be included.

“One of the main barriers for people with autism is the lack of awareness,” explained River, “I believe that if people had a better understanding of autism, then they would no longer see it as burden, but instead embrace it is a unique ability that a person has.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about autism, is that everyone with autism has the same skill level. “When people think of autism they compare you to Forest Gump or Rain Main, when that is not the case at all”. River explained that one of the benefits of his advocacy work was getting to speak to other people with autism and learn about their experience. No two people with autism are the same!

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