April is nationally recognized as Autism Awareness month – a time when supporters and friends wear the color blue to draw attention to a disorder that effects an estimated 1 in 68 people.
But many people still don’t know what autism is exactly. Dramatic representations of autism are shown in Hollywood – movies such as “Rainman” may come to mind.
Reality, however, is quite different for those who are diagnosed on the spectrum of autism disorders and for those who care for loved ones with autism.
The National Autism Association estimates that 48 percent of autistic children run away from home, and that accidental drowning accounts for about 91 percent of deaths of children under 14 from those wanderings.
Las Vegas resident Lynda Tache knows all about the challenges of parenting a child who has autism – her son Grant, now 13, was diagnosed at age 6, although she said she knew something was amiss much earlier.
Tache decided to found the Grant a Gift for Autism Foundation in 2009, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing diagnostic and treatment funding, support services, vocational training, transition planning and education for children diagnosed with autism and their families.
For Morgan Willinger, her experience with autism is firsthand. Now a College of Southern Nevada photography student, Willinger was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome at age 7 by a team of doctors at Nellis Air Force Base.
During her free time, she volunteers each afternoon at a Montessori charter school library, and has reading sessions with the kindergarten and elementary students. She also helps at the front desk. Although Willinger doesn’t do certain activities like drive a car – she is an avid reader, in fact, considers it her obsession.
Shannon Crozier, director of the UNLV Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, said supports and services for adults with autism are sparce, often leading to unemployment or underemployment.
"The support for adults in Nevada with any type of developmental disability, autism in particular, are really lacking," Crozier responded to a caller who was in a similar situation.
For Willinger, her autism is a part of who she is, and she wanted KNPR's listeners to know that "we're just people."
Grant a Gift Autism Foundation will host its annual 5K Run For Hope and & Fun Walk Saturday, April 25, at Town Square in Las Vegas, to benefit children and families in Southern Nevada.
Shannon Crozier, director, UNLV Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders; Lynda Tache, founder and CEO, Grant a Gift Autism Foundation; Morgan Willinger, photography student, College of Southern Nevada, diagnosed with high-functioning Autism and Asperger's Syndrome
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