It may take a village to raise a child. But it takes an entire community to raise a child with autism. Or, at the very least, a collaboration of community support.
According to the National Autism Association, one in 88 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and the rate has grown steadily for the past 20 years.
Although autism is vastly becoming a national epidemic, it is, ironically, the most underfunded medical disorder.
Danish Hasan, a Springstead Junior, stumbled on that realization by accident.
Hasan had a friend whose 2-year-old son is on the autism spectrum. “They had moved here from out of state,” Hasan said, “and they wanted to know more about autism and what services were available here.”
Hasan jumped online only to learn that options for families living with autism were very limited. “There was nothing in Hernando County,” he said, even though as many as 680 children in the county were diagnosed with the disorder.
As an International Baccalaureate student looking for a qualifying community project for college, Hasan’s interest was immediately sparked.
He set out to learn as much as he could about the disorder, even attending an international convention for autism in Orlando last summer.
The experience, he said, was mind-blowing. He met professors from Baylor University who provided information about genetic testing. “They were also application producers for Apple and iPads,” Hasan said.
He was amazed at how much was being done to assist families dealing with the difficulties of the disorder, and the amount of effort that was being applied to isolating a cause and, hopefully, leading to a cure.
“Yet a county like ours has no resources, no money, no funding, no groups,” Hasan said. “We have absolutely nothing.”
Hasan contacted CAUSE Autism Support Group Hernando County, a support group for families and children on the autism spectrum.
CAUSE provides support meetings every first and third Wednesday evening and Friday morning at BayCare off Grove Road in Brooksville.
It also provides funding for summer activities for children on the spectrum in collaboration with the Hernando County Family YMCA.
Hasan met with CAUSE and they discussed teaming up to organize a seminar or walk in the county. “We decided on a festival,” Hasan said, which would comprise local resources linked to autism including therapists, support groups, the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, local vendors and high school students.
Their mission was to provide information about resources available for families dealing with the disorder while making it a fun environment for the children.
“We wanted to distract the children while their parents worked,” Hasan said.
They hoped for a good turnout. But Hasan was realistic with expectations. “The general public isn’t as enthusiastic about a particular autism event,” Hasan said. “If it were a disability, something big like Relay for Life, then it would attract a lot of people.”
The Autism Awareness Fest, held on Saturday at Springstead High School, was the result.
The collaboration attracted several local resources and vendors to help bring attention to the disorder.
The track field was decorated with a bounce house for the kids and booths set up by C.A.U.S.E., For 1 Small Voice Autism Support Group, Golden Branch Christian Academy for students with learning differences, and the YMCA.
The Springstead Band Booster provided funnel cakes while Springstead’s National Honor Society sold cold drinks.
The People to People Club sold baked goods and the Rotary Club sold snow cones. The Band also played ten minute performances every hour.
Friendly Kia, from New Port Richey, provided a trolley car that took visitors on a tour of the parking lot. The engineer even let the little ones ring the bell.
And local businesses donated gifts for the raffle. They included Mario’s Pizza, Flammer Ford, Bill the Barber, Panara Bread, Cupcake Heaven, Weeki Wachee State Park, Spring Hill Lanes, PJ’s Brick Oven Pizza, Sherwood Forest, Beacon Theaters, and Beef O’Brady’s.
A few volunteer booths were set up providing games, activities and face painting for the children.
All the proceeds collected at the event would be donated to CAUSE for autism related services in the county.
Erin Bratton attended the event after hearing about it through her son’s Exceptional Student Education newsletter.
Four year old Giuseppe Digiadomo was diagnosed with autism and ADHD in January.
Giuseppe attends an ESE preschool program at Pine Grove Elementary, but his mother needed outside support to navigate the often overwhelming roadblocks associated with the disorder.
She was excited about the event.
“I spent most of my time at the CAUSE booth,” she said. “The women at the booth were very helpful.”
Bratton said the event was an important first step in assisting Hernando County families who live with autism on a daily basis. “Seeing other people get involved was really a positive note for me,” she said.
But Hasan isn’t stopping here.
To continue his IB work throughout his senior year, Hasan hopes to hold an autism seminar.
“I’ve already contacted Dan Marino in Miami,” he said. “He has a son who has autism.”
For more information about CAUSE and their meetings, visit its website at www.causeautism.com.
Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She may be contacted by email at dame [email protected].