"What is important is to treat everyone like an individual and learning not to generalize autism," says the actress

By Liz McNeil
Updated March 10, 2015 08:00 AM
Courtesy Nikki Reed

As spokesperson for the Lindt Gold Bunny Celebrity Auction, which launches Tuesday and benefits Autism Speaks, Nikki Reed is passionate about countering labels and fighting stereotypes.

“What is important is to treat everyone like an individual and learning not to generalize autism,” says Reed. “With autism, people make assumptions but it’s very broad and everyone’s so different. You have to treat each person as an individual.”

Reed, 26, has a personal connection to the issue. Her brother, who was diagnosed at around 2 years old, “is so high functioning that in many cases, it’s not even detectable,” she says. “He’s one of the most loving, honest, sensitive and transparent kids I’ve ever known. And he’s insanely smart. With a really remarkable memory.”

Most of all, Reed adds, “He wants people to understand he’s his own person. He doesn’t want a label. And one way of avoiding a label is to spread awareness.”

That’s why she’s partnered with Lindt in the company’s auction of porcelain versions of their famous gold chocolate bunnies signed by such celebrities as Harrison Ford, Blake Lively, Owen Wilson Blake Shelton and many others.

“It’s a wonderful cause,” says Reed, “so we all want to be a part of it.”

It’s also why she produced and directed a short film about Jason McElwain, the upstate New York basketball player who has autism and who became an overnight superstar in 2006, when he scored 20 points in the final minutes of his high school game.

Meanwhile, she notes, her brother has also found a passion of his own.

“He has discovered running and is running about 12 miles a day,” says Reed. “My little brother is outrunning all of us, which is the coolest thing ever. We’re super proud of him for figuring out what he loves. I’m so excited he’s got something that makes him feel strong and confident. It’s really cool to watch.”