Autism programs to bring awareness

Autism continues to be a vastly misunderstood medical condition.

Yet, the apparent rising cases of autism among children, seem to beg for a better understanding.

Dennis Debbaudt, a leading voice on autism training, will present workshops targeted toward emergency responders, families and other interested persons.

Debbaudt, the father of an autistic son and co-author of articles and books relative to law enforcement and autism, will appear April 4 and 5 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.

Noted area businessman Blaise Alexander said the two-day program offers an opportunity for educating the public about autism, and how to deal with autistic people, including in times of emergencies.

“Honest to God, what we are trying to do is make it known,” he said.

Alexander, the grandfather of an autistic child, knows whereof he speaks.

He’s seen first-hand how his son, Adam, and daughter-in-law, Angie, have struggled raising their son, Blaise Anthony.

“My main concern is trying to get people to understand what’s going on,” said Alexander, honorary chairman for the event.

Angie said she couldn’t be happier that the two-day program is being offered.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to educate not only ourselves, but those who come in contact with him,” she said.

Her son, she noted, has Asperger’s syndrome, con

sidered one of the milder forms of autism.

He attends Lyter Elementary School in the Montoursville Area School District, where he has received special services.

She said the district has done a good job in helping provide him with his needs.

Her advice to anyone who must deal with autistic children: “You have to take it in stride. And it really takes support.”

Jenna Nelson, of Linden, the mother of two autistic children, said she and her husband, Tom, are excited about the upcoming program.

“We are always looking for more information,” she said.

Like many parents, the Nelsons didn’t know they had a child, let alone two children with autism, until they grew past infancy.

“They wouldn’t talk for a long time. The eye contact really wasn’t there,” she said.

The boys, Tyler, 3, and Justin, 4, attend BLaST Intermediate Unit and receive occupational, speech and physical therapy.

Dr. Richard Dowell, a neuropsychologist and clinical director of Children’s Development Center in Williamsport, said parents face “insurmountable” challenges dealing with autistic children.

That’s a big reason it was decided to hold the program, including the special presentation for first responders.

“We are all first responders,” Dowell said. “Everyone is affected by this.”

Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder of which there is no known cause or cure.

Many children diagnosed with autism experience positive outcomes with intervention.

Autism is characterized by disordered or delayed development in basic human interactions – such as an inability to identify and express feelings, communicate with others, and establish social relationships.

The number of children in the U.S. with autism is rising, according to recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In fact, it now is estimated that one in 88 American children has some form of autism spectrum disorder. That’s up 78 percent in the past 10 years.

Parents, educators and human service and autism professional are encouraged to attend the Risk & Safety Management Seminar 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday. It will cover plans for responding to an autism emergency.

The second seminar for law enforcement and first-response personnel will be held 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday.

Registration will be one-half hour before each seminar.

To pre-register, call 326-0565 or go online at