30 Under 30: Amy Gravino.
Amy Gravino – Age 29
Asperger’s Syndrome College Coach, Autism Advocate, Writer
Written by Lindsay Chapman, MA, BCBA, Assistant Director of ABA4U NJ
On the night we met Amy, she was radiant in a bright red party dress, and had a warm smile and welcoming eyes. Lisa immediately recognized Amy from class at Caldwell College, and with her gregarious and outgoing nature, within minutes Amy was telling Lisa and me about her Masters thesis, in which she taught men with Asperger’s how to appropriately ask for a date. I was not surprised to later find out that not only had Amy conquered college life, but that she had also addressed the United Nations as part of an Autism Speaks panel. There was not a shy bone in her body, and I immediately wanted to become her friend.
As a young girl in grade school, her peers were not as congenial. In fact, Amy cannot recall many pleasant interactions with girls her age. She was the victim of frequent bullying, and her peers failed to understand her social aberrations. Amy can still describe the pain that these experiences caused her in vivid detail:
“When you are a kid, you care more about what your peers think. I internalized everything they said about me and heard it in my own head all day long. I wanted to take my own life. I wanted to commit suicide.”
Amy solemnly recalls her own resiliency:
“One day, I just decided not to listen anymore to those voices in my head telling me that I couldn’t do certain things.”
And with that, she began confronting all of the tasks she was told she could not accomplish. She applied for college and lived on campus, where her social life blossomed. Amy went on to become the first female with Asperger’s Syndrome to graduate with a Masters degree from the Applied Behavior Analysis program at Caldwell College. Since then, she has opened her own business, A.S.C.O.T Coaching, LLC, in which she coaches other students on the spectrum through the college process. She is also an autism advocate and serves on the board of several non-profit agencies as a voice for individuals on the spectrum, including the Board of Directors for the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership (GRASP), Standing Committees for Autism Speaks, and the Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation. Amy lives independently in an apartment in New Jersey.
As an advocate, one of Amy’s goals is to make others aware that individuals on the autism spectrum are not so different from their “neurotypical “peers. As we chatted like old friends, Amy described her current dating life, divulging:
“It’s not that I do not trust men, it’s that I do not trust my own judgment.”
To which I retorted, “Do you know how many of my girlfriends have made that exact statement to me over a glass of wine?!”
We laughed, and then Amy told me about one of her most recent projects, a book called, “The Naughty Autie.” In this book, she provides a firsthand perspective on what dating is like for individuals on the spectrum.
“People either think that we don’t have sexual feelings, or they are uncomfortable acknowledging that we do, so no one talks about it,” she relays. In one chapter, she describes in detail what it was like to lose her virginity: the sounds, the smells, and the tactile touches. Instead of ignoring and suppressing these feelings, Amy feels it is important to acknowledge them and teach appropriate behaviors.
Amy now speaks to college campuses regarding issues surrounding sex and safety for individuals on the autism spectrum. She is every bit the dauntless female, “heroine of her own life,” a la Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City. We could not be more proud of how she represents and inspires the people that she comes into contact with on a daily basis.
Amy’s goals for the future are to find a publisher for her book and to appear onEllen to promote awareness about life on the autism spectrum. We are fortunate to have met such an extraordinary young woman and look forward to hearing about how she succeeds her many new adventures in the future.
For more information visit:
Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation:
ABA 4 U NJ: