Hero: Ariana Viscione, student and advocate, Ayer, Massachusetts
Nominator quote: “Through learning how to self-advocate, she developed a passion for helping others, even attending undergraduate school and earning her bachelor’s in science, majoring in human services. She is driven to advocate for not just herself but others who have been diagnosed with a disability.”
Ariana Viscione, age 23, is an outspoken advocate for herself and others. “I am autistic, so growing up, I was always in the client role.” Though she was surrounded by many helpful adults, some professional adults in the system weren’t accepting of her disability. Viscione is now a student at Salem State University in Massachusetts, working on a master’s degree in social work. “I want to be a better clinician than those people were,” she says.
Viscione learned advocacy from her mother, who taught her to be clear about what she needed. “Through her I learned a lot of the skills I needed as an adult,” Viscione says. “That was the main thing she wanted me to take away: ‘If you learn one thing, I want you to learn how to speak for yourself.’”
In high school, Viscione applied that lesson to those around her. If she saw another student being picked on, she would report it to a teacher. “A lot of kids didn’t feel comfortable advocating for themselves,” she says. “I tried to make them feel like they were part of the school community, even if no one else did.”
Viscione also learned to accept and celebrate her autism diagnosis. “This is a part of me, and I’m pretty awesome,” she says. She began to talk in class about having autism, expecting the worst from other students. But her classmates turned out to be very accepting. “They would come to me and ask me about it,” she says. Now she often discusses autism with other students. “I’m always bringing up able-ism and the rights of the autism community,” she says.
Viscione plans to become a social worker. In that role, she can continue to use her advocacy skills and help others. “I’ve done a 180 from the little girl who hated herself and the diagnosis to someone who is taking full advantage and using it to help build my career and helping others to learn about it,” she says.
For others still learning to advocate for themselves or others, Viscione advises persistence. “If you need something or feel something is wrong, keeping making noise about it,” she says. “Finding out who to talk to and where to go takes a lot of effort and energy. But if you’re able to figure out who will listen, it makes life much better.”