Nonprofit helps build self-confidence in community with autism

April is Autism Awareness Month, but the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Islands Of Brilliance calls April "Autism Action Month." 

For nine years now, Islands of Brilliance has helped build self-confidence and self-determination in the community of those with autism.

"We really consider ourselves an early workforce development program," said Mark Fairbanks, founder of Islands of Brilliance.

Island of Brilliance

Focused on art, design, and team-based curriculum.

"Giving them opportunities to work alongside a mentor, not only to develop their technical and work skills but also what we call social-emotional learning skills," Fairbanks said.

The Milwaukee-based non-profit was inspired by founders Margaret and Mark Fairbanks' youngest son, Harry, who at three years old was identified on the autism spectrum. 

"At that time, a neurologist told us don't plan on him going to college, well he just graduated from UWM with honors this past December and he started his new job this past week," Fairbanks said.

Island of Brilliance

"What we found is that Harry is incredibly creative when he is allowed to use his subject manner. We call it neurodiverse creativity as opposed to ridged thinking," said Margaret Fairbanks, founder.

During the pandemic, Islands of Brilliance pivoted to virtual programming -- expanding its impact to nearly a dozen states. 

"What we’ve found is that students who can get the technology and can access the software they’re actually more engaged at home because they’re in their own environment," Margaret Fairbanks said..

The organization is hoping to change the community's perspective. 

Island of Brilliance

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"I think it’s really inspiring to see something that they once saw as a disability to focus on the capability," Margaret Fairbanks said.

And take action.

"It’s about can you become a mentor can you create a hiring program can you celebrate the skills of this really unique talented group of individuals. We really want to move on not just only awareness but acceptance and really getting involved to make better outcomes in the future," Mark Fairbanks said.

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