When Aubree Lopez was diagnosed in an amniocentesis with a chromosome abnormality, the geneticist advised that symptoms similar to characteristics of autism might be experienced.
And although Aubree seemed to grow normally for her first 12 months of life, delays in communication, social interactions, and a prevalence of repetitive behaviors seemed to indicate the speculation was on point.
Officially diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Aubree’s parents were told that her autism was likely caused by the chromosome abnormality. They were lucky, the family learned, because many families whose children are diagnosed with the disorder never know the origin.
According to Autism Speaks, autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the United States. As many as one in 88 children are affected nationwide. Among boys the number is one in 54. And the numbers keep growing.
Ironically, autism also receives only five percent of the funding of less prevalent childhood diseases. In fact, the National Institute of Health’s 2012 $30.86 billion budget allocated just $106 million to autism Research. That equates to only .55% for a disorder that affects millions of children every day, is vastly growing in numbers, has no medical detection available and exists no cure.
In Hernando County alone, more than 680 children are diagnosed with ASD (autism Spectrum Disorder). Many of those families have been left to muddle through a system that is lagging behind in terms of services available.
That realization prompted Danish Hasan, a Springstead High School Senior, to inquire last year why services weren’t available in his own county. Having only a basic understanding of autism, he researched further and determined that awareness had to be the key to unlocking the main piece of the puzzle toward understanding the disorder and prompting more services for families.
Autism awareness became the foundation for Hasan’s community project last year to meet his IB requirements for graduation, after he visited the International autism Convention in Orlando, Florida. He decided to organize a community event to help bring awareness to the disorder while also prompting families living with autism to initiate more assistance.
The community event combined local venders, high school students and organizations connected to autism to come together in support.
“It was a great success,” Hasan said. The festival raised more than $4,000, including a generous donation of $5,000 by KIA Motors of New Port Richey, to be split between C.A.U.S.E autism Support Group Hernando County and CARD USF.
That first year was focused on raising money, he said. But this year’s purpose is centered more on bringing awareness to the community.
“I think that is what we are lacking,” Hasan said. “We have the means necessary to do great things in the county but not enough people are aware of the facilities.”
On Saturday, April 6 from 1 to 4 p.m., several local vendors with connections to services for autism will decorate the track at Springstead High School to promote awareness and the availability of services for families living with the disorder.
In addition, Springstead High School students, many from the IB Program, will be working the event. “A lot of the students will be volunteering their time,” Hasan said. “It’s a good cause and something fun for them.”
The following have committed to the event; C.A.U.S.E. Support Group Hernando County, CARD UF, Sheriff with DARE vehicles, YMCA of the Suncoast, Surfing for autism, Mid Florida Head Start, Golden Rainbow Ranch, Bay Care Behavioral. A Weeki Wachee Springs mermaid will be present as well as Face Painting by Ms. Katie, Muzi Man DJ Billy Farias, and the Glass Man from Friendly Kia.
The event isn’t just for families with autism, Hasan said. The fun-themed afternoon appeals to anyone interested in supporting the community while learning more about autism. Admission is free and all proceeds from the event will be donated to C.A.U.S.E. for the benefit of summer camps and activities for children with autism in Hernando County.
Hasan made a direct appeal to the autism community. Efforts to bring bigger events to the area were met with skepticism, he said, because of lack of support.
C.A.U.S.E and Hasan have tried to organize seminars and invite guest speakers, but are unable to do so because of the lack of support. “We need the numbers,” he added. While Hasan is very empathetic to the families who walk the path of autism on a daily basis, he did stress that they are the key to bringing better services to their own community.
He understands the overwhelming responsibility of raising children with autism, he added. “But we are a group of high school students and look what we were able to do. If everyone comes together in this cause, then there is no obstacle that may exist that will prevent families in our county for getting the required assistance that they need.” It is now up to the community to keep the event growing for the future and make it into an annual event.
For more information about the autism Awareness Fest, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at Damewrites@yahoo.com.