WESTFIED, NJ — Four years ago, Alexandra Jackman, now a rising senior at Westfield High School, created a video called “A Teen’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating with People with Autism” for an 8th grade English project at Roosevelt Intermediate School. That documentary has since increased awareness and touched the lives of many across the globe, taken her to speaking engagements and award acceptances across the country, and now has netted her a college scholarship.
Jackman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, was recently named one of 14 recipients of the annual Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, a $36,000 scholarship awarded to Jewish youth leaders who have succeeded in making positive social change. (Tikkun Olam is the Jewish concept of healing or repairing the world.)
Committees of educators and community leaders from across the United States selected the 2016 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipients. Eligible applicants were United States residents, between 13 and 19 years of age at the time of nomination, who self-identify as Jewish.
“It is such an incredible feeling and a complete surprise that I won this award,” Jackman said. “The sense of being part of the Jewish community has definitely helped to fuel my interest in giving back. Recognition of my activities has never been a goal, but this incredible award is not only an enormous validation of my efforts, but it helps to amplify my voice and strengthen my autism advocacy ability.”
“We are so proud of all the awards recipients,” said Jackie Safier, president of the Helen Diller Family Foundation, the group that awards the scholarship. “Each of them has demonstrated leadership, commitment and a passion for making positive changes throughout the world. Their work reminds us that, no matter your age, anything is possible when you put your mind to it.”
Jackman, 16, has devoted herself to autism advocacy and working with people with special needs. The 14-minute documentary she developed in 2012 addresses common misconceptions about autism, while using visual and auditory effects to help viewers experience the challenges faced by those with special needs. The film initially garnered interest on YouTube, and has since won awards at 10 film festivals and been used in schools has an educational, anti-bullying tool. In October, Jackman had it translated to Spanish.
In order to be eligible for the award, candidates completed detailed applications describing their projects, goals, inspirations and challenges, fundraising tactics and ultimate accomplishments. According to Jackman, the nomination process took several months, and she received letters notifying her as a semi-finalist and finalist, until one day in June when she received a call during school.
“When I found out I had won, I was actually in AP Bio class,” Jackman said. “At the very beginning of class, I saw I had a missed call and a voicemail from someone from the Diller Foundation. After seeing my excited, nervous reaction, my teacher asked what happened. When I told her, she allowed me to go into her office and call back. That is when I found out the exciting news and immediately called my parents from my teacher’s office.”
The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award is just one of Jackman’s many recognitions and accomplishments. She has received more than 20 national and regional honors, 10 film festival awards and has spoken at approximately 40 schools, organizations, conferences and religious institutions about autism awareness and acceptance. Jackman is currently undergoing a three-week internship at the Center for Autism in Philadelphia.
“I love working with people with special needs,” Jackman said. “I have met so, so many amazing, talented, interesting people with special needs. The proudest accomplishment is that I have made even just a small positive impact some people’s lives, many of whom I don’t know.”
Jackman hopes to continue to spread her message of acceptance and understanding of people with autism.
“I want to get out the message that just because someone has autism and may have difficulties in one area, doesn’t mean that they aren’t a person who is bright, talented and could make a great friend,” Jackman said. “I look forward to continuing my work with and for people with special needs and my advocacy efforts throughout my future.”
Jackman will accept her scholarship at a celebratory luncheon honoring the teen awardees on Aug. 22 in San Francisco. To read more about Alex and the other recipients click here.
Watch her video: