When a diagnosis of any illness, disease or disorder is given, there are usually many questions and concerns that come along with it.
This is especially true for a diagnosis of autism, which encompasses a very broad spectrum. For parents, knowing where to turn for resources can be overwhelming and sometimes met with very few options.
The latest statistics from the Center for Disease Control indicate one in 88 children are diagnosed with autism every year. It breaks down to 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls, making autism five times more prevalent in boys.
April is Autism Awareness Month. To help parents and caregivers of people with autism, resources have been gathered and will be on hand at the1st Annual Autism Information Fair and Carnival on Sunday, April 29, at the Skidmore College Intramural Gymnasium from noon to 4 p.m.
The event will serve as a “one stop shopping” point for those looking for resources and will be host to over 40 exhibitors.
Organizers from ASPIRe (Autism Spectrum Peer Integration & Recreation), Skidmore College, The Parent Network and Saratoga Bridges, along with state Sen. Roy McDonald, have come together for this first event, and there are already plans to make it an annual one. McDonald has two grandsons with autism. He’s also been a longtime supporter of the organizations and will be at the fair from noon until 1 p.m.
The event is designed first and foremost to make approaching autism an easier take. Julie Marks, founder of ASPIREe said, “We get phone calls from so many families that don’t know half of what is available to them.”
To that end, Marks wanted to make resources like schooling, camps and technology available to those who need them. She’d also like to build a directory of these resources to better aid caretakers and raise awareness of their variety.
Not so long ago, Marks was where many confused parents are.
Marks’ son, Eric Olefson, is 27, but when he was diagnosed at the age of two with what is now known as autism there were few if any resources available to her. PDD-NOS, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, was the long name for autism when Olefson was diagnosed and Marks was in search of people and places to help her son.
“Back in the late ‘80s it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now, it was a rarity and there weren’t nearly the services available as there are now. It was learn as you go,” she said.
She added that she and many other parents of autistic children would study a lot about PDD-NOS, but there wasn’t any information on the “experiential standpoint” – things for her son and other kids to do and be out in the community with others.
Marks was pointed in the direction of Yale’s Child Study Center and Dr. Fred Volkmar, the man who coined the term Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder and is usually attributed to those on the more high functioning side of that spectrum. From there, she sought out the best education for her son and made sure he got what he needed.
Olefson is very high functioning. He drives and has a part-time job at an area grocery store where he works in the bakery and checkout. Marks said he always had an affinity for baking while he was growing up and has been able to explore that passion through work and volunteering endeavors. She also admits that she benefits from his culinary creations, which are quite tasty.
Helping Marks with the carnival is Mary Fornabia of the Parent Network of the Capital Region, one of 13 special education parent technical assistance centers throughout the state funded by a grant from the New York State Education Department.
“Julie came up with the idea (of the carnival), but one person can’t do it all…I was very interested and there wasn’t anything else like it. For over 20 years parents didn’t know where to go to get help for their children with social skills … or what recreational or therapeutic programs were available,” said Fornabia.
“Individuals with autism are not all the same, everyone is an individual. They’re people with autism, they’re not autistic people,” she said of what she hopes people will learn at the event.
Family oriented activities such as a bounce house and a painting table will be available for the kids, as well as babysitting so that parents can have a chance to wander the fair and get the information they’re seeking. Skidmore College student volunteers will be on hand for the childcare.
Stan Hudy of Best Buy will also be present to talk about and present technological applications for communication on iPads.
Sponsors for the event include Skidmore College, Saratoga Bridges, Parent to Parent, Wells Fargo Advisors and State Farm Insurance, among others.
For more information about the event, visit saratogabridges.org or skidmorenews.com. You can also contact Julie Marks by email at [email protected] or by phone at 932-4356.