ESL Jefferson Award winner: Noah Levine, founder of AutismUp Student Ambassador Board

May 08, 2019 05:51 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — News10NBC is recognizing those in our community who are going above and beyond to give back by volunteering.  

One local teenager is giving a stronger voice to young people with autism. He's also building them a high tech refuge for when the world around them becomes too much.   

"A lot of these are nature videos," Noah Levine said. "A lot of them are animals, all kinds of stuff like that."

Today, Levine, 17, is an entrepreneur, developing what he hopes will be a revolutionary new smartphone app. But this project was born where he came from, the often challenging world of the autism spectrum.  

"I would be out at a party or something, a family party or an event of some sort and there will be music and stuff going on and I just… I would shut down and get really agitated and overwhelmed," he said.

Levine was diagnosed with autism as a toddler and didn't speak until he was four. Once he learned to cope, he became an advocate in the autism community and has now founded the AutismUp Student Ambassador Board made up of young people with autism as well as those close to them.

Levine developed his plan, and the charter, for these autism emissaries while he was working with AutismUp because he says he didn't see enough people directly affected being represented.

"When you go through something, you know, it's different when you see someone go through something and when you actually go through it yourself," Levine said. "For example, I've got people on the board come to me crying, telling me how thankful they are for this opportunity and how there were certain problems in their lives and by having this leadership opportunity, it gave them a new perspective."

How much difference does that make?

Levine points to AustimUp's own KiteFlite fundraiser last summer as an event which could have used some input.

"You think about the KiteFlite," Levine said. "There are over a thousand people there. It's chaotic. Everyone's running around. There is a lot of loud noises and music and stuff. For most people, that's fun. That's a good time and it's normal. But for someone on the spectrum, it can be very overwhelming, make you feel uncomfortable and to shut down. All the colors, all the buttons, all the names, the way it's worded. it's very intentional."

Now, Levine wants to offer families dealing with autism a new tool. The Horizon Autism app is meant to give kids and parents a way to self-regulate with carefully selected soothing, muted images, words, and colors. It uses artificial intelligence to select the content that works best.  

He has a prototype and he's hoping to get it out where it can do the most good -- in kids hands -- probably out in public places where someone on the spectrum could get overwhelmed. 

"Most people carry around a smartphone with them so, it seems to make sense that you would combine something that is public with a phone and as a result, it doesn't matter where you are, you'll always have a solution to help you to calm down," Levine said.

Levine also works to bring attention to heart health, diabetes, and fitness -- issues not normally associated with autism but which he says affect this community just like the do everyone else and present an opportunity to showcase students just starting to be appreciated by mainstream society.

"I think that, as a community, as a system who open up more and we allow them, and we help them, and we work together, I think that genius is going to be shown," Levine said. "I'm very confident about that."

Click here to read about the other 2019 ESL Jefferson Award winners.


Charles Molineaux

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