Agencies use National Autism Month to spread awareness

2014-04-29T19:51:00Z 2014-04-30T19:48:13Z Agencies use National Autism Month to spread awarenessCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Ed Martin, of Portage, remembers when his son was diagnosed with autism at a year and a half. He said there were no programs for his son, who is now almost 50.

"We took him to several physicians and not many knew much about autism then," Martin said. "He went to some of the area programs, like TradeWinds. He never went to the school. There was no program for autistic children at the school system then."

As a result, Martin became one of the founding members of In-pact Inc. in Crown Point. The organization was originally founded as People for Autistic Citizens in 1980. The name was changed to In-pact in 1998. In-pact serves about 280 consumers throughout Northwest Indiana, with a satellite office in South Bend.

In-pact Executive Director Herb Grulke said the agency offers services to people who have a disability and offers group homes, supported living services, an adult foster care program and structured family care giving. It also has an affordable housing program and a community services program that includes employment.

Grulke said it used to be that every one in 2,500 births would be a person with autism. He said that number has risen to one in 68. April is National Autism Awareness Month, giving agencies an opportunity to make the public aware of autism.

The agency typically serves people beginning around ages 10 to 12; sometimes, the family needs to find placement outside the home. He said the agency has a behavioral support program and can sit in on school case conferences.

"Under the law, schools have to provide an education to students up until the age of 22," Grulke said. "If our behavior specialist is working with a family in the home, they sit in on the case conference at the school."

Martin said there are dozens of agencies in Northwest Indiana including TradeWinds in Hobart, In-pact in Crown Point, The Arc of Northwest Indiana and Opportunity Enterprises in Valparaiso which offer great programs for people with a disability.

"I'm familiar with their services, and they've done a wonderful job," he said.

Martin, a retired dentist, and his wife, Helen, have always been active in issues involving people who have a disability. He said his son Keith works at Opportunity Enterprises in the production department.

Lisa Previs, director of Programs at TradeWinds, said serving adults with autism is one of their programs.

She said the community, including educators, social service workers, doctors and psychologists, know so much more and can identify autism earlier and provide services sooner, thereby making a greater impact earlier.

"For children at Trade Winds, we provide occupational and speech therapy and offer individualized care plans in a child care setting," she said. "The children participate alongside typically developing children, benefiting all, because they all learn tolerance and acceptance. The child with autism isn’t separated from siblings or children their own age."

Adults with autism participate in program activities and services based on their individual abilities, she said. Services include residential, day program, pre-vocational skill training, and employment services.

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