I started this nonprofit in honor of my cousin, Reza, who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Reza is my first cousin and lives in Tehran, Iran. He is a compassionate, sweet, loving, hilarious and outgoing person. Funnily enough, we have the same birthday, love the color light blue, and hate cherry flavored lollipops.
I first had an inkling of helping those on the spectrum back in elementary school.
I would take annual trips to Iran and visit Reza; I remember always having fun. Despite, him being older than me, he would always play tag in the backyard, play hide & seek in the house, eat, watch television together, and more. However, I noticed that going out of the house was always difficult for Reza.
One day, my aunt wanted to go to the local grocery store to buy some milk. Reza and I tagged along. While walking, I noticed kids laughing at Reza, pointing at him and calling him names. I did not understand why and brushed off the laughter. Later, upon entering the store, I would notice the adults look at Reza and whisper with one another. They were judging him. I started to wonder why both the kids and the adults had averse reactions to Reza. When walking back home, the same group of kids started calling him even meaner names. I started to feel embarrassed of Reza. I lashed out at Reza. I told him to act normal, to stop being weird. He walked away to another room and chose to sit by himself. I was later told that Reza had been diagnosed with autism.
I was wrong.
I live with that memory to this very day, him in the corner all alone. I realized how judgmental, foolish, and wrong I was. I judged Reza for something he had no control of. I judged him by the mere fact that others saw him differently. In the Persian culture like many others, mental disorders were looked down upon. Reza was isolated and stigmatized someone for not being the same as they were, for having a "disability.” I believe this is the result of unawareness and the stigma against mental disorders. Reza, I am sorry for yelling that day. I am sorry I triggered a mental breakdown for you. I judged you, and I was wrong.
Unfortunately, Reza was diagnosed with ASD as an adult. I decided to start this for Reza to advocate for adequate medical care, education and social resources for children on the spectrum. Most of all, I want to aid underprivileged communities to allow them to have the best health outcome possible for their child. Furthermore, I vow to erase the social stigma associated with autism, all for Reza.
Reza is my best friend, an inspiration, and my hero. This one is for you, Reza.