The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports one in 68 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. April is Autism Awareness Month and the Oklahoma City metro boasts endless opportunities to help raise awareness and meet the needs of the growing number of children affected by autism.
“A great way to build awareness is to really challenge our community to think differently about people with autism so everyone can be a better participant in the community,” said Melinda Lauffenburger, the executive director of Autism Oklahoma and a parent of a child with autism.
Autism Oklahoma is a nonprofit dedicated to making Oklahoma more autism-friendly and aware. The organization helps Oklahoma natives with autism find support and care. The organization started in 2002 with just two families. The organization now reaches about 4,000 families in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is one of a handful of states that hasn’t passed insurance reform to provide autism treatment within the state. Because proven treatment for autism cannot be covered by insurance in Oklahoma, Lauffenburger said the families in our state are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing professionals and treatments for autism.
“We have to challenge our community to think differently,” she said. “We have to help each other. It’s just a situation where families work together to support each other to help our kids to reach their full potential.”
Lauffenburger has seen the difference support has made in the life of her own daughter, Joy Lauffenburger. Diagnosed at 7 years old, Joy is now a 22-year-old biology major at the University of Central Oklahoma. Lauffenburger learned early on her daughter needed a support team of family members, medical professionals and therapists to help her reach full potential.
Lauffenburger recommends parents who have just had an autism diagnosis in the family start out by joining a parent support group, which can be found at www.autismoklahoma.org. A support group is helpful for parents to find local tools and resources.
“It’s an isolating disorder for the whole family,” she said of autism. “It’s isolating for the individual with autism, for the siblings and for the parents and extended family. It can be life changing for the whole family when you have a support network around you.”
Those looking for ways to get involved in raising autism awareness can start by participating in the largest autism awareness event in Oklahoma, the PieceWalk & 5K. About 8,000 people are expected to participate in the event that starts at 7:30 a.m. May 2 at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. The event includes a resource fair and family-friendly activities like live music and bounce houses. Learn more and register for the event at www.piecewalk.org.
Autism Oklahoma is looking for volunteers for the PieceWalk & 5K. The organization has about 400 volunteer opportunities available throughout the year for individuals looking to give back and support the cause. Sign up for these opportunities at www.autismoklahoma.org.
Looking for more local autism resources? Easter Seals Oklahoma is another organization doing powerful things for kids with special needs. Read about their new Peer Integration Program here.