MCAS BEAUFORT, S.C. --
The exceptional family member program hosted their Autism Awareness fair and Special Needs Quarterly Forum at the Officers’ Club aboard the Air Station, April 25.
Numerous support agencies from the surrounding area attended. Air Station leaders and representatives from Semper Fit, the housing office and Naval Hospital Beaufort were also available to address parent’s concerns.
“We want to get the information out to families so they are able to take care of their children proficiently and on their own,” said Denise Savoie, exceptional family member program training and education outreach specialist. “We want to make sure they have those skills so they can take them to their next duty station.”
Autism is one of the fastest growing disabilities, according to Susan Callahan, South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs consultant. Autism is a neurological disability with varying degrees of severity.
“We have a saying at the Autism Division,” said Callahan, “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve only seen one example of autism, because it looks completely different in every individual it affects.”
Callahan gave a lecture during the fair on the various aspects of autism and to raise awareness.
In the 1990s, the population increased 13 percent, disabilities overall increased 16 percent, and the number of children diagnosed with autism increased by 172 percent.
Today, Autism is the most researched developmental disability in the country, Callahan said, adding that one child in every 88 has it.
The forum gave military families with special needs children an opportunity to voice their concerns and questions directly to other families, Air Station leadership and attending support organizations.
“What they need is families helping families,” Savoie said. “We’re here to be proactive and see how we can support them.”
During the event, experienced parents of special needs children offered their knowledge on programs, assistance and support to parents who may have been new to the program.
“I got to meet some new parents whose children were recently diagnosed, so I came to help them out and guide them a little bit,” said Angel Rivera, the mother of an autistic son. “(The EFMP) is a great program to be registered with.
“They give you a ton of resources and tools that you need as a parent to get what you need for your child.”