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Autism Spectrum Award


Nominees may:

    • Have demonstrated significant achievements in their own personal context
    • Be an inspiration to other people with autism and a catalyst for helping people with autism fulfill their potential to lead positive, productive, and rewarding lives
    • Be accomplished in any area of endeavor (arts, employment, community service, recreation, etc.)
  • We are pleased to announce the 2023 Autism Spectrum Award winner – Andrew Blitman!

Award Qualifications

All nominees must:

  • Be an adult with autism spectrum disorder (age 18+).
  • Give consent for their nomination. We ask that you discuss your intended nomination with the nominee and/or their guardian and secure their consent for the nomination.
  • Be residents of the U.S. or Canada.

Nominee may:

  • Have demonstrated significant achievements in their own personal context.
  • Be an inspiration to other people with autism and a catalyst for helping people with autism fulfill their potential to lead positive, productive, and rewarding lives.
  • Be accomplished in any area of endeavor (arts, employment, community service, recreation, etc).

Els for Autism Foundation employees and/or their immediate family members are not eligible to participate.

Prize Package

The winner of the 2023 Autism Spectrum Award will receive a specially engraved award to commemorate the achievement. They will also be invited to the 12th Annual Els for Autism 2023 Golf Challenge Grand Finale.

Click here to view the 2023 Award Package.

Previous Winners

2022 Winners – Gyasi Burks-Abbott and Dr. Kerry Magro

Meet Gyasi Burks-Abbott, a strong self-advocate of change for individuals affected by autism. As an advisor on the Executive Employment Committee of Advocates For Autism of Massachusetts (AFAM) he is the lead self-advocate providing input driving decision making. There, he prioritizes legislation and policy changes that affect individuals with autism. He lobbys law makers about equitable pay, and was an impactful voice in “Nick’s Law”, a law that protects individuals with autism and other intellectual developmental disabilities from abusive caretakers. As a faculty member of Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) he stresses the importance of autism individuality to healthcare practitioners.

Furthermore, Gyasi has published an autobiography/memoir, “My Mother’s Apprentice”. A recounting of Gyasi’s struggles growing up without a definitive diagnosis and being black in predominately white schools. A true tribute to his mother, Ruth, an academic who instilled in Gyasi a love of learning and always encouraged him to think and advocate for himself. Gyasi also, published a journal entry, “Autism in Adulthood”, and appeared as a guest on Areva Martin’s radio show, discussing growing up Black and autistic. His character and achievements are nothing short of inspirational!

Meet Dr. Kerry Magro, effectively hosts trainings with companies titled “ROI Benefits of Hiring Talented Autistic People”, where he spreads awareness and often creates hiring opportunities for adults with autism. He also hosts annual sensory-friendly events in his hometown, which supports individuals affected by autism and special needs. Dr. Magro has published 4 Autism-centered books where he amplifies the stories of adults with autism that were pursuing post-secondary education, often giving the proceeds to organizations that support autism. He also gives grants to small business owned by individuals with disabilities. In addition, Kerry has shared over 150 self-advocate videos of individuals impacted by an autism diagnosis, where he nurtures their self-advocacy and provides a platform for empowerment. Also, Dr. Magro’s personal education endeavors have not stopped after receiving a PhD by age 25, he is currently working towards a doctorate in education. He hopes to teach at the college level to educate, break down barriers, and reduce biases around those in the disability community.

2021 Winner – Isabelle Piwnicki

Isabelle Piwnicki was diagnosed with autism when she was two and a half. She received therapies including speech, play, ABA, occupational, social skills, and special education. She worked very hard to finish high school, and in 2013 went on to take classes at Westchester Community College. In the same year, together with her mother, Isabelle created GirlAGain, a boutique in New York that specializes in American Girl® Dolls and accessories. GirlAGain is a retail experience that addresses the unemployment of women on the autism spectrum by creating, not just a place where women could be employed, but where they could be trained for employment in areas from inventory to bookkeeping while making an income.

Isabelle is now 25 and works at Sephora. She talks openly about her diagnosis and advocates for people with autism at as many autism-related events that she can attend. Thanks to her passion and persistence, GirlAGain has become a model for other autism employment training programs.

2020 Winner – Jim Hogan

Jim Hogan | La Jolla, CA

Jim Hogan is an advocate for change and a strong representative of what is possible for people on the spectrum. A self-taught Computer Scientist at the age of 16, Jim found his passion working in leadership positions in Corporate America. Throughout his career, he has engaged in advocacy and supported HR departments to better understand the needs of neurodiverse employees.

Jim has willingly taken on the role of peer mentor and support to many young professionals with autism who are struggling to enter the workforce. With his powerful voice and advocacy for change and acceptance, he has led the way for hundreds of professionals with autism who entered the workforce behind him. Jim currently works as an Innovation Strategist at Google.

2019 Winner – Haley Moss

We are pleased to introduce the 2019 Autism Spectrum Award winner, Haley Moss!

“Haley has not only defied the odds by accomplishing her creative and educational goals but is a tireless advocate for every person on the spectrum,”  Haley’s friend and fellow autism advocate said.

Haley Moss was diagnosed with autism at age 3 and is an associate attorney at Zumpano Patricios in Coral Gables, Florida. She received her Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law in 2018 and graduated from the University of Florida in 2015 with Bachelors degrees in Psychology and Criminology.

She is a renowned visual pop artist and the author of “Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About” and “A Freshman Survival Guide for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About.” She also illustrated and contributed to the anthology “What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew.” Her writing has been featured in publications such as HuffPost, Teen Vogue, Bustle, Elite Daily, and The Mighty. Haley also co-hosts the “Spectrumly Speaking” podcast, which is dedicated to women on the autism spectrum.

Haley currently serves on the constituency board for the University of Miami – Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities and the Board of Directors for Different Brains. She previously served on the board of Unicorn Village Academy.

2018 Winner – Adam Jones

Adam Jones believes everyone deserves a chance.  Diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, growing up he had a difficult time communicating and engaging in society.  At the age of 17, Adam found his passion while watching the move Seabiscuit which lead him to pursue his calling – working with horses and with people on the autism spectrum.

Today, employed full-time as a Barn Attendant at Madison Fields in Dickerson, MD, Adam is an advocate for employing adults on the autism spectrum and contributes to his community towards autism awareness.  He believes that people like him deserve a fighting chance and a way to find their true sense of self-worth.  Working with horses has helped him to be a role model for others as he is passionate, serious, and takes tremendous pride in his work.  “When people on the autism spectrum see me handling these huge animals,” Adam said, “they think, I can handle it too!”

2017 Winner – Rachel Barcellona

2017 Els for Autism Spectrum Award Winner

Rachel Barcellona is a compelling advocate for people with disabilities.  Currently, Rachel is the international spokesperson for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of South Florida and was recently elected to their executive board of directors.  She was named ambassador for the Unicorn Children’s Foundation and works with this international organization to help people with neurodiversity.

Rachel has won the titles of:

  • Miss Largo’s Outstanding Teen in 2014
  • Miss Florida Collegiate in 2015
  • Miss Florida International in 2016
  • Miss Southeast International 2017

She is a member of the International Thespian Honor Society and is an honor student and vocalist who loves sing opera.  Congratulations to Rachel Barcellona the 2017 recipient of the Els Autism Spectrum Award!

2016 Winner – Gloria Mendoza

Gloria Mendoza is the 2016 Spectrum Winner. She is a graduate of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. She holds degrees in both Computer Science and Music. Gloria currently works in SAP’s Premium Engagements Organization.

As a toddler, Gloria struggled with communication skills but excelled in musical abilities. She sang all of the time and demonstrated a very keen interest in all types of music. Her grandmother was a concert pianist so her mother enrolled her in piano and voice lessons at the age of 7. To the surprise of the piano teacher, he discovered that she could easily sight-read music with no previous training. He also discovered that she had perfect pitch.

Gloria was selected to be part of an Early Talent Program (as a full-time employee) within SAP’s Premium Engagements Team. Together with nine other early talents, she embarked on the journey of being certified on the newest technologies. She has motivated the rest of the team to raise the bar and drive a highly collaborative environment where everyone understands and feels the importance of diversity and inclusiveness.


2015 Winner –  Joshua Deer

Joshua Deer was the first recipient of the Spectrum Award in 2015. Former two-time MVP and Co-captain of his high school golf team, a promising golf instructor and one of the highest fundraisers in the Els for Autism Golf Challenge has ever enjoyed, Joshua Deer, known as “Deersey” to his friends, exemplifies excellence in character, attitude, and in his contribution helping others with autism.

For Josh, diagnosed with autism at age three, the game of golf has played a pivotal part in overcoming the various challenges that life has thrown in his path.

Joshua Deer and his father Andy, whom he credits with being the inspiration behind his passion for golf, teamed up to play in their first Els for Autism Golf Challenge event in 2014 at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas. That year thanks to some great fundraising, Team Deersey qualified for Las Vegas making Joshua the first individual on the spectrum to compete in the Golf Challenge’s Grand Finale event.

Joshua’s approach to life is infectiously positive. It was this demeanor, coupled with his passion for golf that prompted the Els for Autism team to invite Joshua to help coach at a couple of this year’s #GameOn Autism® Golf clinics.