SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — The Autism Project is known for providing support, training and programming for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families.
One local teen is now giving back to the organization, which has helped change her life.
Meghan Rinaldi, 19, started her journey with the Autism Project after she was diagnosed with ADS when she was 2 years old and began receiving services when she was around 5 years old.
“I was non-verbal and I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone,” she recalled.
Throughout her childhood, Rinaldi continued to make progress, even attending the program’s popular summer camp for many years — first as a camper, then a volunteer, and she even got hired last summer to be a paid counselor.
“It’s a great feeling,” she said. “I thought it was just one thing, now I want to help in a musical way.”
Now she is a freshman at the University of Rhode Island and is beginning a 5-year program in music therapy studies.
Even though she is in school, her heart is still with the Autism Project where she takes the time to come back and work with some of her peers, as well as other teens and children with ASD.
“I was rewarded with this gift and now I want to be able to give, to help, to see their smiles when they are playing music games,” Rinaldi said. “I just want to help people. It’s OK to have autism, it’s OK to embrace it, I want people to know with any disability that it’s OK.”
The Autism Project recently received a grant from the R.I. Department of Health to add to their staff to address the growing needs of Spanish-speaking families in the state. With the grant, they were able to add another bilingual family support staff member.
Iris Calderon and her son Matthew are just one family benefitting from programs for Hispanic families working through a new autism diagnosis.