BY CRAIG COLEY
As a person with autism, cerebral palsy, and a learning disability that makes abstract reasoning and spatial relations difficult, Adria Nassim has become an advocate for people with disabilities. Since 2016, Nassim has written a bi-weekly column for The Herald-Times, giving readers her perspective on living with disabilities. Herald Times Editor Bob Zaltsberg says Nassim’s column has been popular from the start. “People admire her straightforward manner of talking about disabilities and her insights that people don’t often think about,” he says.
In addition to the column, Nassim, 32, has part-time jobs at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community and at the College Internship Program (CIP), a private organization that supports young people with autism.
Nassim, who navigates town with Lucy, her Labrador service dog, regularly speaks to high school and college students. “When I get up in front of an audience and tell my story? That’s what it’s all about for me,” she says.
Nassim grew up in Floyd County, Indiana, with a pediatrician mother and a father who was a chemistry professor at Indiana University Southeast. “From the very beginning, my parents said, ‘Adria, you have cerebral palsy, you have a learning disability, and there are going to be things that you’re going to need help with, and that’s okay.’”
It hasn’t always felt okay, though. She suffered what she calls “traumatic bullying” as a student at Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky, and took a leave of absence. During that leave, she moved to Bloomington to enroll in CIP. Her experience with CIP was transformational. She took classes at Indiana University and wrote for the Indiana Daily Student before returning to Brescia. Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree in English, she moved back to Bloomington and re-enrolled in CIP to learn independent living skills.
Nassim stresses the importance of finding supportive communities. She attends First United Methodist Church, swims several times a week at the Monroe County YMCA, and serves on the board of LIFEDesigns, an organization serving people with disabilities. Last year she was initiated as an alumni member in IU’s Alpha Xi Delta sorority, and says she now feels like she has 150 sisters.
“A parent’s first role in life is to be a child’s advocate,” Nassim says. “But eventually you have to teach children to advocate for themselves and build their own village of support.”
To people with disabilities, Nassim offers this advice: “If you accept yourself and learn to love yourself for who you are, then others will see that in you and love you, too.”