TERRE HAUTE —
More than 100 people gathered Tuesday afternoon at Deming Park to release blue and white balloons and raise awareness about a cause important to them — autism.
April 2 is designated as World Autism Awareness Day by the United Nations, and Bridges of Indiana conducted its fifth annual “Be A Piece of The Puzzle” balloon sendoff.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, autism now affects one in 88 children in the United States. It is “the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.,” according to the Autism Speaks website.
“I think it’s important to raise awareness about the prevalence of autism in our community,” said Debby Haskell, service coordinator at Bridges of Indiana. The balloon sendoff also serves as a kickoff to prepare for a Sept. 14 fundraising event in Terre Haute, Walk Now for Autism Speaks.
Those attending Tuesday’s event included clients of Bridges, Child Adult Resource Services (CARS) and DSI as well as members of the community. Mayor Duke Bennett read a proclamation, and then Kaylie Gambill sang the National Anthem while Roxanna Robertson did signing.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.
The disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
John Norman attended the balloon sendoff, as did his 15-year-old son, Zachary, who has autism. Norman noted that attendance at the event increased significantly this year. “It makes you happy that more people are aware of what’s going on,” he said.
An early diagnosis is important, he said, to get those with autism the services they need. “It will help them get through life easier,” he said.
Also attending was Maria Elliott and her 26-year-old son, Evan, who has autism and receives services through Bridges.
Having a child with autism “is a learning experience every day. Never dull,” she said. It’s challenging “but also fun. He definitely completes our lives in many ways that we would not have learned otherwise.”
Elliott wants people to know that those with autism “are no different than any other individual with special needs. They do have the same feelings; their communication skills may be very impaired, but they do feel and sense when they are rejected,” she said.
While they may not always volunteer to participate in social activities, they like to be included in events such as the balloon release, she said.
Evan works for the family business, Ross Elliott Jewelers, and he also volunteers for Red Cross and St. Patrick’s Church, she said. While those with autism may have limited communication skills, “That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of keeping jobs,” she said.
They can be well suited to jobs that are structured, with repetitive-type tasks, she said. Once trained, they are meticulous and detail-oriented, she said. They can do mailings, assembly and other work.
Those with autism and other disabilities “need to be given a chance,” she said. “If we can give each other a chance, we could find out how good these individuals are at doing what they can do.”
They may need a behavior plan, but once that is in place, and they have a job, a routine and schedule, “These individuals thrive and progress to no end,” Elliott said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.