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Billed as “the world’s first-ever Autism Pride week,” a quintessentially Asheville event honors “the autistic as subject, not object.” Held Sunday, June 16, through Saturday, June 22, at a variety of venues around town, APW promises a series of “cultural and social events that celebrate autistic people and support a sense of autistic community.”

An estimated 2 percent of Asheville residents have autism, according to the city’s official event proclamation, signed by Mayor Terry Bellamy.

And yet, “there's an enormous amount of stigma surrounding autism,” says event creator Julia Bramsen, who is on the autism spectrum herself. “I hope that changes. I hope that Autism Pride Week is a part of the process of social change,” she says.

Initially, Bramsen intended to produce a local film festival on national Autism Pride Day, Tuesday, June 18. Asheville is host to a plethora of film festivals, though, and Bramsen tells Xpress that she wanted to create a standout event. “One thing led to another, and here we are, with two art exhibits, prominent activists and advocates, … an open-mic night, a couple of large parties and so on,” she says.

Her list makes clear that APW will feature a variety of events, kicking off with a talk by local autism activist and writer Dave Spicer at the Diana Wortham Theatre at 2 p.m. At 3 p.m., there’s a discussion and book signing with acclaimed Far From the Tree author Andrew Solomon, hosted by Malaprops Bookstore at the same location. His award-winning book explores the stories of families accommodating children with a variety of disabilities, including autism. “I am coming to Autism Pride Week because I believe in the message of the neurodiversity movement, which is that all people should be accepted, even celebrated for who they are,” says Solomon. “Autism may entail some deficits, but it may also entail real strengths.”

Ron Larsen
will host a tour of his business, Centering on Children Inc., on Monday, June 17. The business makes ShoeboxTasks, which are just what they sound like — a range of motivational, visual and educational activities, such as dropping a button in water. Created by local adults with autism, ShoeboxTasks are meant for autistic children all over the world.

“A week like this is important. We as a society have been talking about autism as a good while and describing it, labeling it,” says Larsen. “Now what’s happening is there are people who are on the spectrum who are beginning to have their own voice.”

Pump Studios, a branch of Phil Mechanic Studios, will open its month-long Full Spectrum Art Exhibit — works created by locals who fall on the autism spectrum. The exhibit runs through June 30. Pump’s Linda Larsen is curator for the exhibit. She points out that the only restrictions are that the artist must fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, whether self-diagnosed or officially diagnosed, and works must be framed or ready to hang. Some pieces will be for sale.

“Some other [autism] groups have now recently organized and have begun to spring up. It’s really creating community from standpoint of persons on spectrum-generating ideas and the power to make them happen. I’m an assistant to those ideas,” says Larsen.

Pump Studios is also hosting an Open Reception Gala for the exhibit from 5-7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 19. The artists and their families will have the chance to interact with the public. — Brandy Carl

For more information, go to autismprideweek.com.

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