Editorial: Monday mix on autism; rabbi’s honor; retiring court officer

  • Elizabeth Eveson, of West Springfield, studies in the Elaine Marieb Center lounge at Holyoke Community College on May 4. She is a member of the Students on the Autism Spectrum group at the college. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 5/13/2018 8:45:45 PM

The Students on the Autism Spectrum group at Holyoke Community College is a model for other schools.

Among its 18 members is Elizabeth Eveson, 24, of West Springfield, a psychology student. She says, “When I came here and I discovered there were other autistic people who thought differently, it impacted me positively, and I was able to say, “I’m going to be able to succeed with and even because of autism.’ ”

The campus group provides support through friendship, and advocacy for public awareness and acceptance of autism.

Eveson said that she previously had been withdrawn in school and had some trouble in her relationships with peers. During her first year of college in Virginia, she had an emotional outburst in a hallway, and police were called.

“They didn’t fully know what to do in the situation, but took action and began violently shaking me and dragging me away while I was still mid-meltdown,” Eveson remembers. “It was really traumatic for me, because you’re not really supposed to touch people when they’re having a meltdown.”

When a similar situation occurred at HCC, Eveson was taken from the hallway to an empty room by friends, including Tiffany Cavanaugh, president of Students on the Autism Spectrum. That allowed Eveson to “just let it out, and get it out of my system.”

Autism is a neurological developmental disorder that is characterized by communication problems, repetitive behaviors, difficulty grasping abstract concepts, and outbursts that can result from sensory overloads such as unexpected noise, light and strong smells.

According to Kimberly LaMothe, a behavioral specialist for the nonprofit Autism Connections, based in Easthampton, private health insurance covers services for children, but that ends at age 22. Adults with autism often have to advocate for care on their own, she says, and social support groups, like the club at HCC, are vital to helping them succeed.

That’s the case for Eveson, who plans to transfer to Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, and now sees her autism as just “a bump in the road, as opposed to a barrier, when I seek to achieve something.”

Learn more about Students on the Autism Spectrum at HCC by emailing Maureen Conroy at mconroy@hcc.edu. Information about other programs for adults is available online at

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Congratulations to Rabbi Justin David of Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton for adding another honor to his resume: “human rights hero.”

Last week, he received the seventh annual Rabbinic Human Rights Hero Award from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights at a ceremony in New York City. The organization described how “Rabbi David has spent his career … drawing attention to violence and oppression against those most vulnerable, and working for a world in which all people are treated with dignity.”

David has worked to make his synagogue a sanctuary congregation, reached out to the Muslim and LGBTQ+ communities in the Pioneer Valley, and participated in protests against injustices that have gotten him arrested in Springfield and New York City.

David says much of his work around social justice is more mundane — including “a lot of showing up” at meetings. “It’s really everything beforehand that goes into those moments. This award is really more of a reminder, setting a fire under my feet to keep doing this work.”

We admire David’s commitment to social justice, which, we suspect, requires no motivation for him to continue.

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Hampshire County Chief Court Officer Debra Patten kept judges, clerks, probation officers, lawyers and her current and former colleagues waiting for 40 minutes May 4 at the Wiggins Tavern while she tended to a last-minute issue — but they didn’t mind.

They had gathered to celebrate her retirement after 31 years as a trial court officer, including the last 28 in the top job. She moved to the courts after working at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction and in law enforcement at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield.

“I always wanted to serve people, and I knew there were a lot of different aspects on how you could help people,” she says. “People that know me and who worked for me know that I strongly value integrity and commitment to the trial court and its mission.”

By all accounts, Patten achieved her mission as a strong and caring leader, and we wish her well in retirement.


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