Saturday, April 2nd, 2011
With 1 in every 110 children diagnosed, chances are high that you do. And though today is World Autism Awareness Day, it’s a good time to remember that these families can use our support and understanding all year long. That can come in many forms: It might mean attending a walk, such as the ones sponsored by Autism Speaks that are taking place all spring. It might mean simply inviting a child with autism over to play, or including him or her in your own child’s birthday party. Or it might mean supporting a company that promotes the cause. Lindt USA, the chocolate makers, is one such company. Among their initiatives: For every free e-card you send from LindtGoldBunny.com, Lindt will donate $1 to Autism Speaks.
Earlier this week, two of us here attended an awards luncheon sponsored by Lindt. Every year Lindt recognizes three Unsung Heroes—people who are making a positive, unique, and lasting impact in the lives of families affected by autism—with a trip to New York City and a $5,000 prize. (They’re pictured above, along with Lindt USA president and CEO Thomas Linemayr.) Deputy Editor Diane Debrovner and I were honored to be on the judging panel, and to meet the winners in person:
Connie Erbert (left), who lives in Wichita, Kansas, has long been a champion for families with autism. She directs the Community of Autism Resources and Education program at Heartspring, she founded a camp for children with Asperger’s Syndrome and high-functioning autism, and started autism awareness walks that have so far raised more than $120,000.
Kerri Duncan (second from left), of Springfield, Missouri, realized more than a decade ago that her community needed a school to serve children with autism—so she started one herself, opening the Rivendale Center for Autism and Institute for Learning. She recently partnered with Specialized Education Services Inc. and plans to open schools all over the country.
Bonnie Gillman (far right) lives in Tustin, California, and in 2006 started the Grandparent Autism Network after her grandson was diagnosed with autism. GAN’s mission is to help grandparents better interact with and understand their grandchildren, as well as help grandparents support their own children. Bonnie has planned 42 free events for GAN’s 800 members and serves 34 communities in California.
It was so touching to hear how these women have improved the lives of families affected by autism. To learn more about the condition, including signs and treatment, and real parents’ stories, check out our extensive coverage.