Family Fun Walk Event for Autism Set Saturday

Participants at a walk circa 2008.
Participants at a walk circa 2008.

OSWEGO – The Oswego County Autism Task Force will host the Autism Family Fun Walk this Saturday, April 29, from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Leighton Elementary School and Joe Wilber Field in Oswego.

This annual autism awareness event is free with fun activities for the whole family including air hops, face painting, crafts, a bubble area, music, concessions, walking on the track and a vendor and resource area.

In addition to the resource area and all the other activities, they are raffling off a Kindle Fire and will have their regular raffle baskets as well.

Traditionally, jig-saw puzzle pieces are used to count laps around the track, with four pieces representing one mile.

If you think my hands are full . . .
If you think my hands are full . . .

The puzzle pieces are symbolic for autism – because it is such a puzzle right now. It’s not a specific thing, it’s the autism spectrum.

“As far as what services are locally, we have the Early Intervention Program which is for children from birth through age 2 that families can access. The Health Department is the single point of entry for this program and any parent who has a concern about their child’s development can call 315-349-3510 to make referral. Once a referral is made, I assign a service coordinator to the family who helps them to understand the Early Intervention System and helps them to choose an evaluation team to evaluate their child,” explained Tammy Thompson, Director Children with Special Needs at the Oswego County Health Department (and president of the task force).

The evaluation teams usually consist of a teacher and then a professional who is an expert in the area of concern for their child.

“So if they are concerned that their child is not talking the way they think they should, we would have a speech language pathologist participate in the evaluation. If we are concerned that the child is not moving around the way other kids their age, we would have a physical therapist,” Thompson said.

Once the evaluation is complete, the results are shared with families and if a child qualifies for services, an Individual Family Service Plan meeting will be held to discuss what services would be appropriate to help the child maximize their full developmental potential.

A young lady has her face painted with her team name.
A young lady has her face painted with her team name.

All evaluations and services in the Early Intervention Program are at no cost to parents. They access third party insurance to help offset the costs. All services are provided in the child’s natural environment.

For children from 3-5 years of age, parents can call their local school districts, special programs offices.

Each of the nine school districts has an office that is responsible for taking referrals for kids suspected of having a developmental delay or disability.

They would make a referral to the Committee on Preschool Special Education.

The school district will send out a packet of information to parents outlining their rights and a list of evaluation teams for them to choose from. They choose an evaluation team who will come to their home to do the evaluation.

Once the evaluation is complete, they will be invited to meeting to discuss the outcome of the evaluation and if the child qualifies for services, they will develop a plan to help address the child’s area of concern.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorders is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with ASDs handle information in their brain differently than other people.

ASDs are ‘spectrum disorders;’ they affect each person in different ways and can range from very mild to severe.

Having fun making bubbles at a previous event.
Having fun making bubbles at a previous event.

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.

People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are and the exact nature of the symptoms.

The CDC now estimates 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with ASD and 1 in 42 boys are estimated to be diagnosed.

Medical professional say that well-planned, structured teaching of specific skills is important.

Here is a brief overview of an Autism Spectrum Disorder:

Signs and Symptoms

People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional and communication skills.

They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities.

Many people with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention or reacting to things.

Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life. For instance, children or adults with ASD might:

•    not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
•    not look at objects when another person points at them
•    have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
•    have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
•    repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
•    have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
•    have trouble adapting when a routine changes

It is always best if parents have concerns about their child’s development to talk with their child’s primary doctor and then make a referral as early as possible.

Individuals with Autism have exceptional skills.
Individuals with Autism have exceptional skills.

There are also many agencies out there that provide Medicaid Service Coordination for folks on Autism Spectrum as they leave the Early Intervention System.

There are parent support groups and, of course, the Oswego County Autism Task Force; its mission is to provide information that enhances the lives of those touched by Autism Spectrum Disorders in our community.

Some of the main things the ATF does throughout the year include:

•    An annual workshop with a nationally recognized expert in the area of Autism Spectrum Disorders. This year they hosted Kari Dunn Buron from Minnesota, last year hosted Brenda Myles.
•    Outrun Autism 5K (was held on April 1) and the Family Fun Walk on April 29; both help to raise money and awareness for autism.

“The funds we raise help to offset the cost of our annual workshop so we can keep the costs down for families and professionals in our community and help to fund scholarships to graduating seniors who are the Autism Spectrum and plan on continuing their education,” Thompson told Oswego County Today. “We also recognize someone each year as a Friend of Autism. Someone in our community who is a hero and goes above and beyond to help support folks with Autism and their families.”

In June 2005, the idea for the Oswego County Autism Task was born out of the growing number of children being diagnosed with Autism in the county and the need for more evaluation slots as well as the need for quality service. The idea was to bring parents, schools, the medical community and other community partners together to provide support to families, in Oswego County, who have received the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The first meeting of the task force was held on July 14, 2005.