Autism Awareness Month; Fair informs service members of local opportunities

30 Apr 2010 | Pfc. Justin M. Boling

Marine Corps Community Services held an Autism Awareness Fair at the Officers’ Club aboard the Air Station to acknowledge Autism Awareness Month, April 22. According to the organizations present at the fair, the purpose of the fair was to raise awareness of the assistance service members and their families have available to them and their exceptional family members.

“We help parents understand the rights they and their children have,” said Gayle Munn, the regional education coordinator for Parents Reaching out to Parents.

According to Munn, schools have the responsibility of providing for the educational needs of all students including students with special needs. Children with autism also have the right to receive proper social development and education.

Some schools do not fulfill this role and will not even conduct basic testing to diagnose students, according to Munn. For some students, there are outside organizations that provide help.

“The Lowcountry Autism Foundation provides testing, activities and funding for therapy through TRICARE to help families and children affected with the disease,” said Tripp Ritchie, the executive director of the LAF.

Lowcountry Autism Foundation is a local organization that provides many developmental opportunities and help for families with children suffering with autism.

“We have set up play dates, conducted a surf camp and shown sensory-friendly movies,” Ritchie said.

Social integration, according to Ritchie, is needed to develop the ability to communicate and associate with others. This is something children with autism need help with, and this often leads to problems in school, which is a time when most children are first exposed to socializing with their peers.

Development of communication and association skills in autistic children needs to be diagnosed early.

“The most successful treatment has to occur when the child is an infant or a toddler,” said LeeAnn Dodge, the program manager for Educational Developmental Intervention Services at the Beaufort Naval Hospital.

The EDIS provides therapeutic services to infants and toddlers who show signs of autism and other mental disabilities. According to Dodge, the physical, speech and occupational therapy provided early in life can prevent future problems.

“I have an exceptional child, and I have gained a lot of new knowledge about organizations available to aid my family since attending this fair,” said Gunnery Sgt. James Walker, the ordnance munitions chief with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31.

Service members who have children with autism or other learning disabilities should first enroll in the Exceptional Family Members Program.

The program assists family members with managing the demanding needs of a family member with special needs. The EFMP also assists with transition of educational and medical services from duty station to duty station.

For more information about PRO, parents can contact Gayle Munn at 863-1512. Information regarding the EFMP can be found by calling Melina Lee at 228-6903.