The eyes are a powerful tool of communication. In children in particular, eyesight is the first form of social interaction: right from their first weeks of life, infants study the face of the person who cares for them. Boys and girls with autism, on the other hand, tend to avoid the gaze of others, while those caring for them never avert their eyes in order to not miss any opportunity to provide contact and assistance.
The “A Me gli Occhi” (Eyes for Me) project, much desired and strongly supported by Fondazione De Rigo H.E.ART, was born precisely for this reason: from a desire to help those who help. A desire that has always guided the approach of the Fondazione.
The platform, which will be launched to mark World Autism Awareness Day, is the outcome of a fortunate encounter between Emiliana and Barbara De Rigo - who, together with their family, created Fondazione De Rigo H.E.ART, a foundation engaged in projects supporting the education and growth of young people - and Gianluca Nicoletti, a journalist and the father of Tommy, a boy with autism. Nicoletti is also president of Fondazione Cervelli Ribelli Onlus, a non-profit organisation aimed at spreading knowledge and good practices relating to neurodiversity.
In the words of Gianluca Nicoletti: “Our aim is to attract attention to the world of neurodiversity, to sharpen the awareness and knowledge of autism and to contribute as much as possible to improving the daily lives of people on the autism spectrum. I’m very grateful to Fondazione De Rigo H.E.ART, which has chosen to accompany us in creating such an essential and important service for autistic children, their families and society at large. Right from the start I appreciated the De Rigo family's closeness and level of attention to the subject of neurodiversity. I was particularly struck and moved by the story of Emiliana De Rigo who, during the interview, told me about her experience working as a teacher before she started a business. During her career she came into contact with autism before the existence of diagnoses, knowledge or support teachers. The most interesting aspect for me is the way that, without any training or operational support, she instinctively and spontaneously practised what now lies at the heart of what we are fighting for, that is for the inclusion of autistic children within schools and then within society”.
Nicoletti continues: “A Me gli Occhi goes well beyond the cultural value of the initiative. First and foremost it is a platform created to offer concrete and tangible help to families who are managing children with autism every single day. It was born, with the creative help of Kulta-ScuolaChannel, with the intention of providing an agile and immediately accessible tool for answering the many questions that often have no easy answer - especially when a family reaches out to seek firm points of reference for the daily management of a problem that exists every hour of the day, every day of the year, and for a whole lifetime”.
Fondazione De Rigo H.E.ART - founded in 2018 to mark the 40th anniversary of the De Rigo Group, a global leader in the eyewear sector - has set itself the mission of providing support to young people to enable them to claim their inalienable right to health and education by stimulating the development of their individual personalities. Each year, the Fondazione awards scholarships to the children of De Rigo Group employees and supports social projects promoted by not-for-profit organisations working locally, nationally and globally.
“Young people are our future and we must always look to them. Some are more fortunate, with good health and the opportunities to choose their own path. But there are others who do not have these opportunities. I like to help them”, says Emiliana De Rigo, Vice President of the Group. “When I was a teacher, nothing was known about autism and there was not even a diagnosis. I therefore tried to do my best, aware of the fact that it was important to create a climate of inclusion within the classroom. Children help each other and know how to be happy together. However much schools can do, even today, the real problem is that once these children leave school they still need to be supported by their families”.
“A Me gli Occhi”: A tool that is easy to use, accessible to all free of charge and that can be understood quickly.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism affects around 78 million people worldwide. In Italy it is estimated that 1 in 77 children aged 7-9 has an autism spectrum disorder, with a higher prevalence among males (4.4 times more than females).
“A Me gli Occhi” fits within this context, spreading information and offering concrete support. The innovative platform is easy to access and use, enabling users to find the information needed before diagnosis to understand what autism is in a way that is simple and easy to understand: how to recognise if their child is on the autism spectrum, who to turn to for help and what their basic rights are. The project goes further and also focuses on what happens after diagnosis, providing tools to understand the basic rules for managing and developing a relationship with autistic children.
“As a foundation we are committed to helping young people. Our mission is to help all those who help. To therefore give support to those working in the field, on the front line - emphasises Barbara De Rigo, President of Fondazione De Rigo H.E.ART. This is why we carefully select organisations, both in our own area and at national and international level, with deep experience in social issues. In working with Fondazione Cervelli Ribelli we wanted to be more useful than ever to families and those working in this context and, therefore, to children with autism. Something within everyone's reach, above all those who are most in need”.
Smart communication, infographics, clear and appealing language and real-life moments.
The platform provides lots of different materials that can be of practical help to those who interact with boys and girls who have autism.
Twenty-three digital information sheets have been designed in infographic format for immediacy and incisiveness. Users can find out about the subject, collect useful information for parents and take note of books and films dealing with this area. At an even more tangible level, a session called “a typical day with Matteo” was created about an imaginary autistic child who represents all children affected by neurodiversity. The infographics help users to immediately understand the needs and behaviour of children with autism at different stages of their day: from breakfast to the classroom, from playing sports to playing with their peers, also including their experiences within the family.
Bite-size videos: training, expert advice and materials available to all
The video section contains real training sessions with professionals who are involved in the subject at various levels, providing tangible assistance in every context. From the school environment to assistance and treatments, from personal rights to the family, also addressing issues arising in the period before diagnosis and the period that follows. Several professionals were interviewed by Gianluca Nicoletti, who between them represent the various disciplines and answer the questions most frequently asked on the subject. They include Anna Chiara D’Orazio, a secondary school teacher, Dr Laura Maria Fatta, a psychologist and psychotherapist, Dr Vincenzo Falabella, National President of F.I.S.H. (Italian Federation for the Overcoming of Handicaps), Dr Maura Manca, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, and Prof. Luigi Mazzone, full professor of Child Neuropsychiatry. With the scientific support of ANFFAS (National Association of Families of the Intellectually Disabled) for matters relating to personal rights.
The project materials are available free of charge and have been designed with special attention to the families of people with neurodiversity, caregivers, educators, and everyone who wishes to know more about the subject.
Diversity and inclusion are challenges that we are all called upon to address today. The time has come to take an interest in differences and to learn how to appreciate their value to give meaning to our presence in the world. A new journey to discover how each one of us has a unique mark to make on this life. A mark that must be looked at with presence of mind and awareness in order to be understood. With the “A Me gli Occhi” project, Fondazione De Rigo H.E.ART and Fondazione Cervelli Ribelli Onlus have thus tried to offer a small but important contribution to this journey.
Stay up to date on all our news