PERALTA—For Autism Acceptance Month, Wilderwood Equine Therapy and Rescue launched its Ask an Austistic panel on April 28.

The monthly program was created and is hosted by autistics aiming to educate the community and answer any questions about autism.

“Most of the programs that are existing for autistic children, the vast majority of those programs do not involve the voices of autistic adults,” said Dr. Rebecca Evanko, the executive director of Wilderwood in Peralta. “Having a platform where we can be heard and contribute to the conversation is very important.”

The panel will be guided by participant questions, however they do ask to receive the questions in advance. Evanko, who is autistic herself, said she hopes this becomes an “on the ground resource,” answering questions relating to how the austistic mind sees the world.

“For quite a while, the common theme that’s happened in many of those discussions is that the non-autistic community isn’t really listening to our voices,” Evanko said. “Most of the time, autism is seen as something affecting children, and people are often surprised to find that there are autistic adults.”

While the program is designed for parents and grandparents of austic children, Evanko said she welcomes everyone in the community to better understand anyone with autism, however they may interact with them.

“We want to be able to expand this to businesses who may want to better work with autistic clients or their autisitc employees or autisitc bosses, because we’re bosses as well,” Evanko said.

Three panelists are currently participating with one panelist in reserve for the monthly event. Evanko said the demand for the event is already exceeding expectations with April’s in-person panel filling up quickly. If demand increases, they would consider hosting two every month instead of the one.

Jocelyn Maestas, an autisic teacher who is sitting on the Ask an Autistic panel, runs the Facebook-based blog Autistic and Teaching. She met Evanko through a New Mexico Autism Society event.

“Rebecca had been talking to me about wanting to have the autistic voice out there,” Maestas said about becoming involved in the Ask an Autistic panel. “That’s one of the things both she and I noticed being (people) who advocate for the autistic community.”

The event does allow for a small number of in-person attendance, but those who are not able to, can still view an edited version of the panel on Wilderwood Equine Therapy and Rescue YouTube channel. Participation is free, but a donation to Wilderwood is asked so they can keep this resource available to the community.

“I hope that people understand and take away, being autistic is not something that is bad, disheartening, something you should fear,” Maestas said. “I get a lot of calls from parents who, when they get the diagnosis, they thought their world for their child was ending.

“I really hope that parents and people take away that your world doesn’t end just because your child has an autism diagnosis. They can still do great things.”

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.