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Navigating Autism: Personal Experience Drives Psych Major to Help Others

Photo of Kayla Wilson

Growing up with a sibling who has autism, Kayla Wilson ’22 is driven to give back to families like theirs—providing resources, understanding, and hopefully in the future, art therapy.

If Kayla Wilson ’22 wants to make their little brother Eddie’s day, all they have to do is draw some pigs. Specifically, the green pigs from Angry Birds, “the bad piggies, he likes to call them,” Kayla says. The two will spend hours as he copies what Kayla draws, or colors them in like his own personalized coloring book.

Eddie has autism and struggles with verbal communication, but art is the siblings’ common language.

“Art has been a big way for him to show things that he doesn’t have an easy time communicating,” Kayla says. “He’ll have such an easy time drawing you a picture of what he’s trying to tell you.”

Kayla knows firsthand the challenges that people with autism and their families face. A senior at York College of Pennsylvania, they’re putting that knowledge to work as an intern with the American Autism Association, helping families like theirs find the resources they need.

Giving back

There are numerous challenges that people with autism and their families have to navigate, from finding appropriate therapies and figuring out how to pay for them to assistance with housing for adults. Working in community outreach and fundraising for the American Autism Association, Kayla fields questions from individuals and families and provides them with resources to help.

“Being able to provide that assistance to people who may not be able to locate those resources on their own has been such an uplifting part of my day,” Kayla says. “I’m honestly so excited to come in every day.”

Kayla also writes blog posts and organizes webinars to help individuals and their families with a variety of topics, such as how to create sensory-friendly crafts and tips for feeding picky eaters.

“Being able to give back to a community that has helped my brother and my family personally was just really something I was interested in being a part of,” Kayla says.

Through their research, Kayla has even found programs and opportunities that can help their brother and family back home in Pittsburgh as they look toward Eddie’s future, from his options for college to where he could live.

Communicating through art

For Kayla, autism isn’t just an interest or a cause. It’s a thread woven into nearly every aspect of their life. They’re majoring in Psychology with a minor in Fine Art with the hope of one day becoming an art therapist to help children who can’t express themselves through words. Growing up with a sibling who has autism wasn’t always easy, but experiencing how art brought them together as they grew older was formative.

“As hard as it has been, it has been just so wonderful to see how talented my brother is at art and technology,” Kayla says. “He’s so amazing and I love him so much even though we fight like normal siblings.”

Kayla hopes to intertwine their family life, what they’ve learned at York College, and their experience interning at the American Autism Association in their career. As a neurotypical advocate for individuals with autism, they want people to understand that different isn’t bad—it’s amazing.

“Being different isn’t a problem,” Kayla says. “All differences should be celebrated.”