Be patient. Be accepting. Be a friend.
This is the key message that Sam Gelfand, 17, delivers to audiences all over the country when he speaks about living with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
Gelfand, a Parkland resident and senior at North Broward Preparatory School, has given more than 50 speeches in the past five years and serves as a South Florida Ambassador for Autism Speaks.
“I’m just trying to make the world a better place in my own unique way. I have had people come up to me after speeches and tell me that they’re going to be more accepting of others who are different from now on, or that they want to volunteer with different charities or that they promise never to bully someone again,” he said.
Gelfand began his public speaking five years ago. He planned to do so for several months, but when he saw his speeches making an impact, he knew he couldn’t stop.
“I’ve got this condition that not a lot of people know about, I like speaking and I like making people laugh, so I could do something pretty neat with this,” he said.
That’s how SamSpeaks started. Gelfand’s speeches focus on Asperger awareness, said Allison Craigie, his mother.
“It is characterized by social awkwardness, literal and concrete interpretations of words and phrases, pedantic speaking, lack of humor and empathy and, most noticeably, a perseveration (hyper-focus) on a singular topic to the exclusion of everything else,” she said. “This can understandably be frustrating or annoying to those not familiar with why these kids behave the way they do.”
His goal is to educate as many people as he can.
“Those experiences can be used as an example to others in order to promote patience, acceptance, friendship and mitigate bullying,” Gelfand said. “I try to give a message of hope, and I like to think I am inspirational to many people.”
Gelfand has given speeches for Autism Speaks in New Jersey and in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
“He uses humor in a lot of his speeches and talks about the real situation you undergo and about having a support network, loving family and sometimes medication and therapy,” said Angelica Fernandez, senior director of field development for Autism Speaks. “He tries to share with other families, so they don’t lose hope and continue being there for your child.”
Gelfand also does play-by-play announcing for his school’s sports teams and is sports editor of the school newspaper. He enjoys writing for a news and political satire blog he created and writes screenplays, creates videos and plays the drums. He will be attending Syracuse University in the fall, majoring in broadcasting.
For more information, visit http://www.samgelfanddoesthings.com.
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