Task Force Assists Those With Special Children

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OSWEGO, NY – April is Autism Awareness month. And, to celebrate the Oswego County Autism Task Force will hold its annual “Walk For Autism.”

Some of the many who have taken part in previous Walk For Autism events.
Some of the many who have taken part in previous Walk For Autism events.

The family fun event organized by the Oswego County Autism Task Force will be held on Saturday (April 16) at Leighton Elementary School and the Wilber Track and Field from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The free event is open to the public and will include fun for all ages.

This year, children can enjoy an inflatable slide, music, balloon art, face painting, a variety of crafts and activities inside and out.

New this year is a selfie scavenger hunt for children to participate in.

There will also be raffles, a vendor fair, a resource information area, and walk around the track.

There will be many activities at Saturday's event, including face painting ... or arm painting, if you prefer.
There will be many activities at Saturday’s event, including face painting … or arm painting, if you prefer.

“The task force is excited to once again bring this family fun event to our community,” said Tammy Thompson, director Children with Special Needs, Oswego County Health Department and the task force president Tammy Thompson. “It’s a wonderful atmosphere for all to enjoy while creating awareness for Autism in our community and supporting those who are diagnosed with ASD.”

OCTAF is a 15-member not-for-profit organization in its 11th year raising awareness and creating possibilities for those touched by Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The multidisciplinary group shares the mission of, “Seeking to provide information that enhances the lives of those touched by Autism Spectrum Disorder in our community.”

Saturday’s event is one of many that give the entire community a chance to come together to support its mission.

The idea for the Oswego County Autism 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, Thompson explained.

The idea of the task force was born at a kitchen table with Julie Chetney, Stephanie Andrews, Tammy Elowsky and Tammy Thompson meeting to discuss what they could do to help the Autism Community and parents who had newly gotten the diagnosis.

The discussion regarding forming a task force was then introduced at the Oswego County Local Early Intervention Coordinating Council meeting on June 9, 2005.

According to Thompson, 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; a brainstorming session to discuss what objectives it would look at developing.

“We started the annual Autism Family Fun get together in 2006 at Fallbrook. Approximately 75 folks attended,” Thompson said. “The Family Fun Walk started in 2007 at the Oswego YMCA Armory, then moved to Leighton Elementary in 2008. The walk is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year. Since moving to Leighton Elementary, we provide a walk, bouncy houses, face painting, balloon animals, a DJ and resource area. In 2015, we added a vendor area and raffle baskets.”

The group provides two scholarships each year to graduating seniors who are along the spectrum and plan on attending college.

They also provide mini grants to organizations to provide seed money to begin recreation programs or other skills building opportunities for kids outside of the school day.

“We used to provide at least two workshops each year for families and have recently partnered with SUPAC (Syracuse University Parent Assistance Center) to provide these trainings,” she said. “In 2015, we decided to hold one big workshop instead of the two workshops and pooled all our resources to invite nationally recognized speakers to do the workshops. This year, nearly 200 people attended the workshop at the convention center. They include parents, community service providers and educators and therapist.”

Autism is often a 24/7 situation.

It is a developmental disorder that causes children to have an atypical development.

Children with autism often require little sleep.

Those diagnosed with autism have impaired social functions, problems with communication, some are non-verbal their whole life. Many autistic children do not play with others, they instead play by themselves, have their own special interests.

Finding a means to prevent autism is still a long ways off; doctors these days are focusing on early detection.

There has been an increase in Autism, Thompson noted. Most families go to Margaret Williams Development Center in Syracuse or Strong Hospital Kirsch Developmental Center, she added.

Original Task Force Members: Dr. Laura Lee McIntyre, Julie Chetney, Donna Jones, Tammy Elowsky, Stephanie Andrews, Tammy Thompson, Amy Divita, Teri Marks, Cheryl Grant, Karen Delaney, Dinah Olson, Karen Atutis, Cathy O’Brien and Karen Delaney.

Original Tasks: A resource committee who gathered information for the website.  Original website designed by SUNY Oswego Students.  In 2011, we hired a professional website developer to develop our current website, Thompson said.

Current Task Force members include: Thompson, Chetney, Atutis, Linda Stummer, Theresa Familo, Tina Wright, Michele Smith, Sue Squires, Gregory Rosplock, Shannon Beebe, Starlene Collins and Danielle Fox.

For more information, check out the Oswego County Autism Task Force on Facebook.