Kim Covell and Deborah French live on opposite ends of the island, Kim hails from Water Mill and Deborah from Glen Head. Their friendship began through email doing their respective jobs, Kim is an Assistant Editor at The Press Newspaper Group and Deborah is Creative Director for Publications and New Media at Zimmerman Edelson, a public relations firm in Great Neck.
Although the women communicated mainly through email, it wasn’t until Kim’s son Dylan was diagnosed with autism at the age of six that their interactions and their friendship went into high gear on Instant Message. “We had much more frequent communication on IM at that point, Deborah remembers, “Kim was filling me in on Dylan.”
The first time Deborah met Dylan in person was at a house party in Southampton. When Kim’s son arrived, he just ran towards the pool and dove right in. Deborah was utterly charmed by him and his mannerisms, but she was perplexed by Kim’s view of his behavior. “I didn’t see what Kim was talking about,” she recalls.
On the long drive home from the party, Deborah reflected on her interaction with Dylan and what she’d learned from talking to Kim about autism. Among her many talents, Deborah is also a singer/songwriter. As she put her thoughts together she composed lyrics along with a simple melody to describe how she saw Kim’s little boy and called her song For Dylan. When Kim read the lyrics, she had a strong reaction. “It drove home what I was trying to explain,” Kim says. “My greatest source of frustration as a mother is, I don’t know what he’s thinking.”
Kim believed that Deborah’s song had touched on something that would deeply affect other parents of children with autism. “It was like somebody was able to pull the words from my heart,” she says.
Deborah gave the lyrics to her son Timothy Busching, also a singer/songwriter, and he brought the lyrics to life with his music. Then Deborah and Timothy recorded their collaboration as a duet.
Deborah wasn’t sure how the song would be received so she first played it to a father of a child with autism. “He broke down into tears,” Deborah recalls, “and his reaction told me the song had the potential to make a difference…. It seemed to give him some kind of relief.”
“We realized we were onto something,” Kim added.
Kim and Deborah wanted to share For Dylan with the autistic community so that others affected by the disorder would know they are not alone. The song became the motivation for the two friends to create a website that would offer inspiration and encouragement to those affected by autism through original works of art including music, literature, poetry, photography and video.
For more than a year, Deborah did research online to see what information was available on other autism websites. Trying to imagine that she was a parent of a child with autism, she found that most of the sites were overwhelming. They were either packed with too much information and too many viewpoints, or they were soliciting for money.
Both women believed that there was a lot of negativity regarding the disorder. They wanted to connect with people with autism who are positive, giving them a reason to celebrate their uniqueness. “We wanted to find the bright spots and the people who have created them,” Kim says.
On April 2, 2010, they launched www.aweinautism.org to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day. The Awe In Autism (AIA) website features creative works in different art mediums that represent people on the whole autistic spectrum disorder, celebrating the uniqueness of every individual. “Awe is so therapeutic,” Kim says. “It provides an antidote to the everyday battle.”
“We’re one mom with a kid with autism and one [mom] without; it’s a good balance,” Deborah says. “I experience it, and she hears my perspective,” Kim adds.
Just three months after the launch, AIA was selected as one of the top 12 autism sites in the world by HealthWorldNet, a website that organizes health and medical information into an easy-to-use format. About AIA, HealthWorld.net said, “This unusual and captivating site conveys its message in its mission. It’s worth coming back to this site on a regular basis!” That’s high praise for such a new and in-depth venture; already AIA has received visitors from more than 50 different countries.
Kim and Deborah are eager to develop a rapport with the Asperger community, and they welcome their submissions to AIA to showcase their incredible talents. “This is a population we want to embrace,” Deborah says, “and I’m so pleased that we’ve been able to reach adults with autism.”
Both Kim and Deborah are fascinated by what they’ve learned from the autistic community in the short time AIA has been online. Deborah says the message they’re hearing is that people with autism might not understand or look at things the way other people do, but they “get it.”
“There’s one consolidated voice that’s saying: ‘I have autism and I’m experiencing the world differently,’” says Deborah.
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