By Peter Becker
On April 3rd, the Pike County Commissioners recognized local organizations aiding families touched by autism spectrum disorders. They issued a proclamation naming April 2013 as Autism Awareness Month in Pike County.
The proclamation takes note of the work done by Pike Autism Support Services (PASS), the Center for Developmental Disabilities, the Delaware Valley School District, Pike County Developmental Center, Community Vocational Services and Human Resources Center, Inc.
Businesses in the area who employ individuals with autism were also acknowledged, including in part, Belle Reve, United Methodist Church in Milford and Wal-Mart. The Commissioners expressed support for all public and private efforts aimed at habilitation, treatment or cure of autism.
PASS has been serving the Pike community for 18 years. From family support groups to field trips, and despite lean state financial aid, PASS keeps reaching out to anyone touched by autism.
Funding has dwindled
Jeanmarie Passaro, whose son was diagnosed with autism in 1995, is the president of PASS. She used her own example discussing the concerns of families, who need special programs yet funding for the services has dwindled. Her son has turned 21, and may not have the benefit of continued programs where state funding is lacking. Job coaching and group homes are two examples.
Statewide, over 15,000 people are on waiting lists for autism services. Over 4,000 of these are in the emergency category, individuals who are leaving high school and still need programs, and individuals with autism that have elderly caregivers.
Passaro said there had been no state funding for three years. The state then allocated $17.8 million; Governor Corbett has recommended $20 million more in his proposed budget. Still, this only serves a very small percentage, about 1,000 more people, Passaro noted.
One the child reaches 21, school-based programs are no longer available, and funds are needed to assist families to pay for further programming.
One in 50
Their web site covers extensive information on the subject. Briefly, autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person's lifetime. About one in 50 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. Diagnosis rates have risen dramatically over the years.
Impairment in communication skills and social abilities, and repetitive behaviors characterize the condition.
PASS conducts monthly parent support group meetings and hosts at least two field trips a year.
About 10 families attend the autism support group, Passaro said.
Parents can find encouragement from one another. Passaro referred to their own story, where their son Evan, who has little verbal skills, found much needed acceptance and understanding from Delaware Valley High School teachers and even students, she said. Football coach Kevin Olsommer took Evan under his wing and made a world of different. Football team members rallied around Evan.
Building acceptance, Passaro said, is critical.
Among their other initiatives is raising funds to buy and provide iPad tablets to families with autistic children. The iPad, with its many applications, allows individuals to clearly express their wants and needs and engage in meaningful interactions. Passaro said that as of this month, they will have provided nine iPads to families in Pike County.
Funds for iPads are raised through what they call their "i-Care" campaign.
She held up t-shirts which PASS uses to help promote autism awareness. Each year a shirt design is selected from entries submitted by Delaware Valley graphic arts students. PASS also hosts a poster contest at Wallenpaupack and Delaware Valley schools. Prizes for these contests are awarded at their annual candlelight vigil.
Scholarships are also distributed to needy families affected by autism, to assist in their caregiving and related expenses.
This year's vigil is planned Thursday, April 25 at 7 p.m., at St. Patrick's Church hall in Milford, hosted by PASS. The public is encouraged to attend. Refreshments, guest speakers and music are included.
She added that an adult day care program has started at the Human Resources Center, Inc. at 117 Pike County Boulevard, off Route 739 in Lords Valley. For information the Human Resources Center may be reached at (570)775-6144.
For more information on PASS and autism, visit online at www.passnepa.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.