Making the Spirit of Autism Awareness Month Last Year Round

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If you are a parent who wakes up each night worrying about your autistic child, this issue is already very real to you. No one need remind you that April is Autism Awareness Month and you wish more people were aware, like the woman in the grocery store who looks at your child's behavior with disdain and a lack of understanding. You wish she could understand. However, if you are that woman in the checkout line, you may have no idea what autism is about. It's not that you don't care, but your life is busy and you haven't really crossed paths with someone with autism. Or have you? According to new statistics from the Center for Disease Control, one in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder. Each of these numbers is a real child, a real family yearning for a chance for a vibrant, meaningful life and the right to quality educational opportunities and therapies for their child.

Amazing young families living with autism are all around us, if only we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to reach out in supportive community. Yet, while the experts have proven that early diagnosis and intervention provide the best opportunities for children, there are still considerable disparities in resources and access to care according to families' socioeconomic status. If we really want to make the spirit of Autism Awareness Month last year round, then it is time to make quality educational opportunities, therapies, enrichment programs, and family support more accessible to families at all income levels. Perhaps this is the year, this is the month we will come together in community across the nation. Perhaps this is the moment we will consider donating time and money to worthy organizations giving every child the bright future each deserves.

{ MORE: This Family Wants to Save Their Daughter's Life. They Need 4 Million Dollars. }

The following is a sample of some tremendously worthy groups making a difference in autism awareness and early intervention across the nation. Each organization profiled represents a ‘best practice' and has been personally recommended during interviews with parents of autistic children and practitioners in the field.

autism awareness
Image via iStock

National Advocacy and Research:

Autism Speaks

  • National advocacy organization, hosting walks in more than 80 locations nationwide.
  • Raises awareness and funding for biomedical research into the causes and treatment of autism.
  • Brings local communities together and offers extensive family support.
little girl and older woman
Image via iStock

Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy:

Early Autism Project

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  • Provides comprehensive services to children and families in homes, clinics, schools, and military bases.
  • Leading provider of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for children with autism.
  • ABA therapy endorsed by American Academy of Pediatrics and U.S. Surgeon General.
  • Covered by many private and government insurance providers.
  • Offices in South Carolina and Florida.
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Image via Flickr/ FixersUK

Educational Opportunities:

Elizabeth Lee Black School at the Barber National Institute, Pennsylvania

  • Offers a range of educational programs and state of the art services to help all children achieve their greatest potential.
  • Educational activities presented in a structured classroom environment and integrate academic, behavioral, and therapeutic needs.
  • Programs include: autism support, life skills, mental health, therapy, support services, extended school year, and unique camps with therapeutic and recreational programs.
  • Certified teachers and wide range of innovative services include: assistive technology, behavioral services, handwriting without tears, physical therapy, children's choir, occupational therapy, gym, iPads, Tap-it, advanced fitness program, nursing, speech, art, vision, therapy dog program, wellness program, psychological services, adapted playground, sign language and touch screens.
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Image via Flickr/ Christina Spicuzza

Athletic/Recreational Activities:

Surfers Healing

  • Non-profit organization that seeks to enrich the lives of autistic youth by exposing them to the unique experience of surfing.
  • Hosts camps free of charge to autistic children where they are taught to surf.
  • Camp venues include California, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Hawaii.

    { MORE: Does This Study Help Doctors Understand Possible Causes of Autism? }

Gliding Stars

  • Provides individuals with disabilities, including autism, the opportunity to increase their personal potential and skills by learning to ice skate.
  • Training includes regular program instruction and practice in their own local community.
  • Experience culminates in the demonstration of those skills publicly in an end-of-season on-ice choreographed performance which “serves as a source of motivation, teamwork, increased self-esteem and the ‘magic' that results from transcending one's barriers in order to accomplish one's dreams.”
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Image via Flickr/ Fifth World Art

Service Animals/Therapies:

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Autism Service Dogs of America

  • Provides specially trained service dogs for children with autism.
  • Service dogs provide physical safety, an emotional anchor for children with autism, and increased opportunities for the child to develop social and language skills with others; “a child who connects to a dog connects with the world.”

Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH International)

  • Provides equine assisted therapy (hippotherapy), where physical, occupational, and speech therapists incorporate the movement of a horse and horseback riding into the care of patients with autism and other medical conditions.
  • With Headquarters in Denver Colorado, PATH has more than 4,200 certified instructors/equine specialists and nearly 850 member centers providing hippotherapy services.

Isabella's Aviary Alliance, LLC

  • Isabella's Aviary Alliance (IAA) breeds and hand raises companion birds for special needs children, including children with autism.
  • Isabella's Aviary, “a place where dreams fly”, is the brainchild of Isabella, a little girl with a rare neurodegenerative disease, and a life long love and connection with parrots.
  • Her dream is to hand-raise companion birds for other special needs children, recognizing “they often spend more time at home and get bored and lonely away from other kids”.
  • With the help of mom and IAA president Trisha, a board of directors, and team of sponsors, Isabella has made her dream a reality and companion birds are provided nearly free of cost to qualifying applicants.
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Image via Flickr/ A.M. Kuchling

Mentoring for Youth and Support for Parents:

Nathaniel's Hope “Buddy Break”

  • Buddy Break is a free respite program where kids with special needs, including autism, (“VIP kids”) make new friends and enjoy all kinds of activities, while caregivers get a break.
  • Program is provided through partnerships with local churches.
  • Buddy Break programs are presently offered in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia.

    { MORE: Mom's Vaccine Story Will Make You Think Twice About the Tdap Vaccine }

Best Buddies

  • Non-profit organization creating opportunities for one-on-one friendships, mentoring, tutoring, job coaching, and leadership development for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
  • Comprised of trained volunteers who are each paired with their own “buddy” and become their friend, mentor, and advocate.
  • Offers eight formal programs: Best Buddies Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Promoters, Citizens, Ambassadors, Jobs, and E-buddies.
  • Chapters in every state, including 1,500 middle school, high school, and college campuses.
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Image via Flickr/ stab at sleep

Everyday Family extends appreciation to each of these organizations for the positive impact they are making in the lives of autistic youth and their parents. We hope more and more families find their way to your resources and that new volunteers and donors join your causes. To all our dear parents out there whose lives are touched by autism, when you wake up in the night worrying about your child, we dream you soon won't feel so alone as new advocates join in the fight and give you and your child hope and opportunities. To all our other readers, when you see the child and mama in the grocery store line, we hope you will pat that mom on the back, buy her a cup of coffee, smile at her child, and be eager to help. Each child matters to us all and should have the chance to realize true potential. May the spirit of Autism Awareness Month reign in our hearts year round.

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Making the Spirit of Autism Awareness Month Last Year Round

Kristen Zajac is a children’s author. Her published books include "The Veterans' Clubhouse," “Ebeneezer’s Cousin” (English and Spanish editions), and “Chasing the Spirit of Service”, winner of the 2011 Global eBook Award in multicultural fiction. Upcoming releases from Guardian Angel Publishing include "Grandma's Telescope" and "Taking Flight: Isabella's Aviary." Before becoming an author, Kristen worked at U.S. Central Command on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida writing thre ... More

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