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Autism Awareness Day celebration slated April 5 at DPAO center

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Autism spectrum disorder: it isn’t as scary as it may sound when parents and caregivers take advantage of the local support network of area nonprofit agencies and businesses.

That is what the Disabled Persons Action Organization would like people to know, as the agency gears up for its third annual Autism Awareness Day celebration, beginning at 10:30 a.m. April 5.

“These kids really have potential in making it in the world of ours,” said Terri A. Fulmer, DPAO’s respite and recreation coordinator. “People need to realize too that we can come into their world.”

DPAO offers case management, respite and recreation services for people on the autism spectrum, which includes some diagnoses such as classic autism, Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, Rett’s syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder.

Other agencies supporting the celebration day include Benchmark Family Services, Cerebral Palsy Association of the North Country, Exceptional Family Member Program, Jefferson Rehabilitation Center, Learning Disability Association, Grace MacDowell of Keys of Life Psychological Services, Northern New York Cerebral Palsy Association and the Northern Regional Center for Independent Living. A biodegradable-balloon release will begin at 10:30 a.m. April 5 at DPAO’s William J. McClusky Center, 633 Davidson St., and an awareness walk will begin at 11 a.m. Interested participants are encouraged to call the agency at 782-3577, as the agency will also provide a picnic lunch.

Bringing the community together to talk about autism should happen more often so people with autism, and the disorders themselves, are not misunderstood, Ms. Fulmer said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people on the spectrum can have a “wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability.” The cause is unknown, but it could be linked to environmental factors and genetics, according to the institute.

Children are often diagnosed by the time they are 2, because parents typically notice signs and symptoms that may include children making little eye contact, failing to respond to their name, developing language at a delayed pace and repeating words or phrases they hear, among others.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network reported that one in every 88 children is on the spectrum.

The best advice for the public to take away, Ms. Fulmer said, is to have patience, understanding and consistency for people with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.

Kathy Connor, NRCIL’s family and support services program director, agreed. Cohesion between the home and school is also essential, she said.

Not only does the nonprofit provide advocacy education, but the peer-run agency hosts support groups and social skills training workshops.

“We can relate first-hand to experiences parents are facing,” she said.

The local celebration will be held two days after the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day.

For more information on autism, visit www.autismspeaks.org or www.cdc.gov/autism.

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