As Autism Awareness Grows, Social Services for Autistics Take on a Local Flavor

Focus Foundation Art

Joe Ciccone, right, marketing and outreach director with Focus Foundation and staff member Laura Williams, middle, joke with Katie Brown, of Hanover, left, while overseeing the Focus Foundation fundraising booth at The Markets at Hanover.
(Photo: Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun)

2015 could become known as The Year of Autism Awareness. From new legislation that provides services and protections to those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other disability, such as Down’s Syndrome (President Obama signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act just before Christmas of 2014,) to new, progressive social service programs on the State level, such as TAP – The Autism Program of Illinois, families touched by autism now have more resources to draw upon then ever before. Many, like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that ensures all Americans have access to the tools to succeed, are focused on providing children with an ASD a better education and lifestyle.

However, what many people tend to overlook is that children with autism eventually become adults with autism. For them, the range of services available become drastically reduced. While the ABLE Act allows people with disabilities to save money for their futures through 529-like accounts that wouldn’t impact the medical care and disability benefits they need, it in no way addresses other needs that adult autistics face, such as employment and job training, housing, and economic and assistance support. For those needs, the ASD community must look to State, local, and private agencies, organizations or groups for the support they need.

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Social Services for Both Autistic Children AND Adults

Some of these groups offer a more conventional approach, such as the aforementioned TAP program in Illinois or the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) sponsored by Indiana University in Bloomington.

One new program in New Jersey clearly aimed at adult autistics is the new Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services (RCAAS). The Center will be one of the first in the nation to train undergraduate and graduate students to work alongside adults diagnosed with autism. RCAAS will focus on helping undergraduate students gain experience working with adults on the autism spectrum rather than professionals or graduate students. One in 45 children in New Jersey are born with autism, one of the highest in the country, according to the State of New Jersey Department of Human Services. For more information about this program, read the press release: “Rutgers Announces Initiative to Launch Center to Support Adults with Autism“.

Other programs take a more personal or offbeat approach, such as Surfers for Autism, a Deerfield Beach, Florida group that not only raises money to support the local autistic community, but also provides a safe, fun, judgement free environment where highly skilled surf instructors carefully teach autistic children to surf, and guide them into the water. The surfers and their families are treated like rock stars and enjoy a day filled with a range of activities, including stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, live music, face-painting, games, fire engine tours and much more. For more about the event held on Halloween, read the article, “Surfers for Autism event draws 1,000 volunteers and participants.”

Poker Run PosterAnother popular, but slightly offbeat, autism fundraising event is the Poker Run, a gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts who complete a road course to win prizes. At each stop of the run participants collect one card from a dealer, and at the end of the ride the participants with the best poker hands from the cards they received win prizes. Entry fees support the fundraising efforts, while prizes are usually donated by local businesses and individuals. Poker Runs around the country include:

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Autistic Adults Raise Funds with Their Art

Autistic artist Tyler Mudgett puts some finishing touches to a tin knight in armor he created. Tyler gets support and help from the Focus Foundation tent at the Markets at Hanover.
(Photo: Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun)

One of the newest such programs that recently came to our attention is an art program for adults with autism that is run by the Focus Foundation in Hanover, PA, that sells hand-drawn artwork in their tent at The Markets at Hanover. The drawings were not made by professional artists, but by members of the foundation, an organization that specializes in helping adults over 21 years old with autism.

According to Nicholas Mudgett, president of the foundation, in some cases it can be months or years before someone on the autism spectrum gets out of the house to work or socialize, since they are no longer in school. Having a tent at the market not only gets everyone out of the house, but it teaches social skills and provides an opportunity to do creative thinking.

Additionally, the individual artists get an opportunity to earn money. If the artist volunteers 10 hours a week at the market to help with the tent, they can pocket all the money sold from their drawings. If they can’t volunteer, proceeds go to the Focus Foundation.

And it’s not just drawings being sold. Focus Foundation staff members created lotions, necklaces and other items to help. Last week was the third week the tent has had a spot in the market, with no end date set. The tent is open every Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

“Being able to show off the creativity of the Focus Foundation members is the most rewarding aspect of the tent,” Joe Ciccone, marketing and outreach director at the foundation, stated. “Most people who stop at the tent don’t believe that the drawings and crafts are made by people on the autism spectrum.”

For more information, read the York Daily Record (YDR) article, “Hanover art benefits those with autism.”

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