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Hundreds Help Raise Funds, Awareness Of Autism

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A group of friends takes part in the 2015 OCATF’s annual fun walk.
A group of friends takes part in the 2015 OCATF’s annual fun walk.

OSWEGO, NY – The annual “Walk for Autism” drew more than 850 people to Leighton Elementary School and the nearby Wilber Field on a sunny but mild Saturday afternoon. The event was sponsored by the Oswego County Autism Task Force.

Arianna Failla suffers from Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.

Pip, the service dog, walks around the track with the Failla family.
Pip, the service dog, walks around the track with the Failla family.

Jennifer Failla walked with Pip, Arianna’s service dog. Anthony pushed his little sister in her stroller as the Central Square family made several laps around the track.

TSC is a very rare disease, Jennifer told Oswego County Today. It is among the leading causes of autism and epilepsy, she added.

“Arianna has tumors in her brain, heart and her kidneys and also her skin. She has epilepsy and autism and is developmentally delayed; she is 4, but is developmentally at a 2-year-old,” Jennifer explained. “She has seizures every day and has had five brain surgeries to help with seizures, but still seizes every day. She’s on many medications for the seizures, but may eventually need open brain surgery.”

This was their first time doing the walk.

Two walkers place jig-saw puzzle pieces in a bucket to record another lap completed.
Two walkers place jig-saw puzzle pieces in a bucket to record another lap completed.

“Arianna is in a pre-school program, integrated. And, her teacher told us about this,” Jennifer said. “It really a great event. There is a lot to do and there is a lot of information available, too.”

Certified Canine Services in Pulaski is training Pip, a seizure alert dog. They are still training him to help comfort her. He sleeps in bed with her and helps her sleep in bed, the whole night, Jennifer noted.

“It is so important to spread awareness about Arianna’s disease. It is a very rare disease and not many people have heard about it,” Jennifer said.

Dozens of walkers, teams and individuals, took part in the annual fun walk to benefit the Oswego County Autism Task Force.

As people entered the 2015 event, they were greeted by a raffle featuring dozens of baskets filled with a variety of goodies.
As people entered the 2015 event, they were greeted by a raffle featuring dozens of baskets filled with a variety of goodies.

Besides acting as a fundraiser, the event also focused attention on the plight of people affected by autism in Oswego County, explained Theresa Familo, OCATF board member.

The walk raised close to $3,000 so far this year.

Jig-saw puzzle pieces were used, with four pieces representing one mile. Eight pieces equaled two miles and 12 pieces meant the walker had completed the three-mile event.

The puzzle pieces are symbolic for Autism, explained Tammy Thompson, the director of programs for children with special needs for Oswego County Department (and president of the task force’s board of directors).

Master Pryor’s Tae Kwon Do America students performed on the football field for the crowd.
Master Pryor’s Tae Kwon Do America students performed on the football field for the crowd.

It’s because Autism is still such a puzzle right now; not a specific thing – it’s the Autism Spectrum.

Inside the gym, a large crowd took part in the various activities and visited the informational booths.

Vendors included: Oswego County Sheriff’s Department’s Child Safe Program, ARISE, Intragrated Counseling Services, Pemberton Associates, balloon art, Air Hop Inflatables, Oswego County Opportunities and many other representatives of county-wide providers of services for folks with developmental delays and disabilities.

New this year was an area for vendors and a silent auction. There were many gift basket items to bid on, several created by teachers in the Oswego elementary schools.

“A big thank you goes out to the Psi Phi Gamma fraternity from SUNY Oswego for helping with the Family Fun Walk!” Thompson said. You guys rock! We also had many other volunteers from SUNY Oswego throughout the day. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Members of Psi Phi Gamma fraternity helped the task force with set up and take down work for the event as well as manning the T-shirt booth.
Members of Psi Phi Gamma fraternity helped the task force with set up and take down work for the event as well as manning the T-shirt booth.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) 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.’ That means ASDs affect each person in different ways and can range from very mild to severe. 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,” Thompson explained.

ASDs begin before the age of 3 and last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms may improve over time.

A youngster enjoys playing with some sand at the Children’s Museum of Oswego booth on Saturday.
A youngster enjoys playing with some sand at the Children’s Museum of Oswego booth on Saturday.

Some children with an ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not show up until 24 months or later.

The OCATF seeks to enhance the lives of those touched by Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The idea for the task force 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 discussion regarding forming a task force was first introduced at the Oswego County Local Early Intervention Coordinating Council meeting on June 9, 2005. The idea of a task force 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. That meeting was a brainstorming session to discuss what objectives the task force would look at developing.

Hailey Thompson creates a balloon sword for a visitor at her booth.
Hailey Thompson creates a balloon sword for a visitor at her booth.

Meetings are held on the third Tuesday of the month.  OCATF is a board of directors of a 501C3 organization.

The current board members are:

President:  Tammy Thompson

Vice President: Linda Stummer

Secretary:  Karen Atutis

Treasurer:  Michele Joynber

Board Members: Beth Jordan, Starlene Collins, Susan Squires, Danielle Jones, Rebecca Warren and Theresa Familo.

For more information about OCATF,  call 349-3510.