Rutherford’s inspiration for autism awareness
For Maddie Rutherford, sophomore at Elizabethtown College, the little piece of rubber she wears around her wrist has a lot more significance than you think. The rubber bracelet holds the message, “I love someone with Autism,” and Rutherford wears it “every single day.”
Rutherford’s connection to autism, a social disability, started when her nephew, Logan, was diagnosed with the disability at 2 years old. Rutherford explained how Logan was not eating regular food and did not begin to crawl or reach any other milestones in his development. Soon after, he entered an early intervention program that pairs toddlers with occupational therapists to help the children overcome developmental setbacks. As Rutherford watched the therapist help Logan, a spark of admiration grew for the woman who, “saved him,” she explained. After a couple years in occupational therapy (OT), Logan became more talkative and learns in a typical classroom now, even surpassing his academic peers.
You would not know that he has autism.”
“You would not know that he has autism,” said Rutherford in a recent interview at Elizabethtown College’s Blue Bean Cafe. “It’s one of my favorite stories to tell.”
Applying to the OT program at E-town, was something Rutherford felt destined to do. “I’ve seen how OT can really impact someone’s life,” she said. Rutherford is not only an OT student but also is vice president of the Link Organization on campus, which pairs E-town students with children and teens with autism. In Link, there are 28 pairings and a total of 70 club members. “We work with kids in kindergarten to seniors in high school,” said Rutherford. The club works to help children with autism open up, make friends and have fun in a mix of activities –service events such as raking leaves during ‘Into the Streets’ to a cooking class with Mount Joy bakery, “Made With Love Not Gluten.” The children can practice social skills with the E-town students and create lasting friendships with the members in Link.
“My buddy in the club was a lot more social at Into the Streets,” said Rutherford. “He talked to another teen his age for a little, and that might not seem like much, but that’s a big thing for him.”
“Parents say this is a really unique thing,” said Rutherford about Link.
Although Rutherford’s passion in OT and helping children with autism plays a large role in her life, being a part of Student Senate shares the spotlight. As the first club she joined as a Blue Jay, Rutherford has always been interested in voicing student concerns at school. Now as Class of 2018 and executive cabinet secretary, Rutherford can be front-and-center when it comes to finding solutions to student issues on campus.
“Right now there is a big concern about mental health services on campus,” said Rutherford. “So we are working with the Wellness Office to create more counseling services.”
Besides counseling services, Student Senate is working towards more transportation services for those without a car. One idea is to bring more vendors onto campus so students have additional options to buy food or clothing, whatever it may be. As Rutherford explained, transportation is a stressful situation for all students, but especially for international students. Finding a way to eliminate additional stress in college is a part of the Student Senate’s mission.
Student Senate also is working toward having the Marketplace provide more information about the food that is served and requesting more gluten-free options.
“Having a way to know what you are eating is really important to me, especially since a lot of the people I want to work with will have that need,” said Rutherford. As Rutherford explained, many children with autism have dietary constraints that make only gluten-free/dairy-free foods acceptable. And knowing what ingredients were used to make certain foods could be a life-saver for those with specialized diets.
With two and a half more years at E-town, Rutherford is looking forward to bringing about change through Student Senate and Link before she graduates.
“For Link, the president of the club and I are looking forward to putting a book together about autism to promote autism awareness,” said Rutherford. “And my goal for Senate is for us to reach out to form more relationships with a bigger variety of groups of students on campus.”