Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane relief for families with autistic children

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:15 AM |  

USA Today reports on the efforts of Unlocking Autism to aid Gulf Coast families with autistic children.

The article is not only a testament for a worthwhile effort in time of crisis, it shows how a private organization can spring up virtually overnight to respond in a time of crisis. It shows how a private group can learn and plan for future events. It shows that not all Americans are flummoxed and helpless and waiting around to see how the government responds.

Of course, that this particular group of parents is not waiting for government intervention on their behalf is not surprising.
Autistic kids get special attention

By Janet Kornblum, USA TODAY

When evacuees displaced by Hurricane Katrina were sent to shelters, Shelley Hendrix Reynolds knew it would mean trouble for families with autistic kids.

"I was frantic to find these families," says Reynolds, president of Unlocking Autism, a national support organization based in Baton Rouge for families with autistic kids. The group put out a call for shelter workers and others to look out for families of autistic children, who have an array of special needs and behaviors, such as running away, that would make staying in a shelter difficult at best.

So far they have raised $50,000 to give to often cash-strapped families. They have helped 56 families with everything from a $100 gift card to buy food to helping find a donated car, says Reynolds, whose son, 9, is autistic.

Two weeks ago, Unlocking Autism helped launch a separate organization, AutismCares, a coalition of autism groups intended to help with longer-term needs, such as finding therapists, housing and jobs, Reynolds says.

AutismCares has created a database that will allow families dealing with autism to register online, so if they're in a hurricane or other disaster zone, they'll be called by volunteers to make sure they're all right and see what kind of help they need.

"Earthquakes can happen in California," Reynolds says. "You have tornadoes in Kansas. It's not like things don't happen all over. ... This is the first time we've ever realized what families might be going through if they had an autistic child."
Contributions to help with this effort can be made at the Unlocking Autism web site.