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Evening passersby on Main Street may have noticed that Edmond Town Hall has taken on a blue cast, and a colorful banner hanging over the front door explains the reason why.
April is Autism Awareness Month, and the local founder of a grassroots autism support organization called FUN — Families United in Newtown — continues to take steps to ensure that hundreds of local families with members on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are not forgotten.
Linda Jones, who lost her 16-year-old son nine years ago, strives to honor him and all the local families who are challenged by the disorder, which globally affects approximately one in every 45 children. The late Tyler Jones struggled with many of the same issues children and young adults on the spectrum are facing in their lives every day.
So she formed FUN with the support of her husband, Duane, and surviving children Lindsey and Austin as a way to engage students who are around Tyler’s age when he passed away and who are members of the Newtown High School Honors Society, to engage and socialize with local youths on the spectrum while providing respite for their parents, siblings, and other caregivers. The organization hosts monthly get togethers, recreational or respite activities monthly during the school year.
The final FUN respite event for the year is Sunday, April 8, at the Newtown High School Cafetorium from 3 to 5 pm. The event, which is free to participants, includes DJ dancing, an egg hunt at 3:45 pm (outside, weather permitting), pizza, and a relaxing yoga lesson with Sharon Poarch at 4:30 pm.
Attendees can peruse and purchase autism related items, including autism puzzle piece pins and sweet treats for $1 each. For those wishing to support the cause who cannot make the April 8 event, donations and autism awareness pins are available throughout the month at Bagel Delight at 30 Church Hill Road, Butcher’s Best at 125 South Main Street, and Pemberely’s Consignment at 605 Main Street in Monroe.
FUN’s annual benefit concert is scheduled for Sunday, June 3, from 4:30 to 9 pm, at the Newtown Congregational Church, 14 West Street. The multifaceted event will include honoring Honors Society seniors for their services ahead of graduation, and the concert will bring back New Jersey’s YouTube Sensation Jodi DePiazza, who will be joined by numerous local musicians performing music with an ‘80s theme.
Jodi began improvising piano at age 3 and started taking lessons at age 7 despite her struggle with ASD.
In October 2012, pop star Katy Perry invited Jodi to perform a duet during “The Night of Too Many Stars” at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, televised on Comedy Central and to date has more than six million YouTube views. The following year, Jodi returned to “The Night of Too Many Stars” to accompany “Weird Al” Yankovic in his Star Wars parody tune “Yoda.”
Last year, she returned to the event to perform the Andra Day hit “Rise Up” with the Actionplay Chorus and Tony winning actress Cynthia Erivo who recently starred in the motion picture The Greatest Showman.
Prior to the concert, which will be in the main church, attendees can participate in the FUN Pizza Challenge, where ticket holders get to sample and vote for their favorite Pizzeria. The top vote-getter will receive a recognition prize from FUN. There will be both a raffle and silent auction, with dessert and dancing to ‘80s DJ tunes in the Great Room following the concert.
Every April, Autism Speaks kicks off World Autism Month beginning with United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.
Joined by the international community, hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes, and communities around the world, light up blue in recognition of people living with autism.
Autism-friendly events and educational activities take place all month to increase understanding and acceptance and foster worldwide support.
According to information provided by Ms Jones, while the cause of autism remains unclear, current studies show genetics and environment both play a role in the autism prevalence increase.
Other key data points include:
*More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined;
*An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States;
*ASD is estimated to affect more than 3 million individuals in the US;
*Approximately 100 individuals are diagnosed every day with autism in the US;
*Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the US;
*Autism costs the nation more than $238 billion per year, a figure expected to significantly increase in the next decade;
*Autism receives about five percent of the government research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases;
*Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism;
*While there is no medical detection or known cure for autism, thousands of children have shown significant improvement resulting from early diagnosis and use of effective interventions.
The increase in prevalence rate cannot be explained by better diagnosis alone, according to information from Ms Jones. Some have suggested that autism is just being better diagnosed today versus years ago and that many cases of intellectual disability are now being coded as autism.
This would also assume that the experts diagnosing autism before did not know what they were doing, but this is not true. Autism is the only disorder dramatically on the rise while mental retardation or intellectual disability, Down syndrome, and cystic fibrosis remain relatively the same. A January 2009 UC MIND Institute study refutes this notion.