Article & Photo curtsey of the Post Star -
Mothers of autistic children form alliance for awareness, fun
By PAMELA A. GIBBS
Special to The Post-Star
QUEENSBURY -- Three moms on a mission have pooled their talents and created a new nonprofit organization to address the needs of local families with autistic children.
On Sunday, at the first event for Upstate NY Autism Awareness, the mothers’ belief that the community is in need of such an organization proved correct.
More than 50 autistic and "differently abled" children, with 100 parents, grandparents, siblings and friends in tow, turned out for a two-hour play date at The Fun Spot.
Some kids zoomed around on tricycles brought from home, while others bounced in a play house, jumped on a trampoline, or simply wore themselves out running, jumping and laughing.
"Nobody seems to know how many children have autism locally," said
"The statistics are one out of 150 children who are in the spectrum, according to the Autism Society of America,"
Heather Walters, of Queensbury, another of the organization’s founders, said she knew her daughter Hannah, now 6 years old, was struggling with speech and communication skills at 18 months, when other children were saying simple words like "bye-bye."
On Sunday, the little girl, with her blond hair in a French braid, ran over to smile at her mother for a split-second and then was off to play some more as Walters continued.
"Hannah can’t talk, so she uses the picture exchange system to communicate," Walters explained. "When she wants a glass of milk, she shows me the picture for milk. She also has a Dynavox, a mini-computer that shows the pictures and says the words."
Walters, who also has two sons ages 3 and 10 months, said the special challenges of raising Hannah can be difficult and exhausting, but are rewarding as she sees her daughter make progress.
"She can’t say ‘I love you, Mommy,’ but she says it with actions. We have a very special bond, different than anything else," Walters said. "This morning, she was up at , thinking it was morning. Sometimes, she’s up in the middle of the night, crying, and can’t get back to sleep. It affects the whole family."
Getting families together to share resources and gain strength through knowledge were the basic concepts behind starting the organization, said third co-founder
"My little guys, Noah and Gavin, are fraternal twins, so they’re not identical, in personality or in how they’re affected, but both are speech-delayed," Howarth explained. "It’s not unusual for twins to both be autistic. I know of three other sets of twins within the Capital District."
She said her youngsters have learned how to cope in social settings, like Sunday’s play date, where heightened sounds and activity can often be overwhelming to the autistic child.
"My husband and I started taking them out when they were 2 years old, to places like the mall and the grocery store," Howarth said. "You can prepare a child with stories, like ‘Johnny Goes to the Mall,’ so they can know what to expect."
All three mothers said they want the new nonprofit to focus on acquainting families with the resources currently available in the community, while developing a schedule of events and activities that both parents and children can enjoy.
"I’m glad there’s finally something here," she said. "When your child is diagnosed with autism, you feel like yours is the only kid who has it. You don’t know anybody else — but obviously, looking around today, he’s not the only one.
"We all have a lot of information to share," Markwood continued. "We just needed a platform for it."
Family Fun Time is scheduled again for March 16 and April 13, both Sundays, from to at the Fun Spot in Queensbury. Admission is $4 per child, and parents are admitted free.
For more information on Upstate NY Autism Awareness, visit www.AutismAwareness.mysite.com or call