April is the designated month to raise awareness for autism.
Program Manager for Autism Related Services at the Bowen Center Barbara Terry has 30 years of experience in special education in public schools. She received an increasing number of young children with autism her last years of teaching. She retired from public school teaching five years ago, but she still wanted to develop programs with autism initiatives, since that is something that Kosciusko County was lacking, she said.
Within the last five years, Terry developed social thinking and social groups in Kosciusko and surrounding counties. She said that Warsaw was the home of the pilot site. These groups include social groups, in home services and play project interventions for children with autism.
“In the last five years, there have been a lot of services that have been developed here, precisely for the reason that there wasn’t anything here,” Terry said.
Even with the programs, there was one thing that the Bowen Center still did not offer, and that was an Applied Behavior Analysis intervention. After speaking with the owner of Lighthouse Autism Center and collaborating, these ABA services have been operating out of the Bowen Center for the last year and a half.
Terry said collaborating with parents also has been beneficial. She started a collaborative parent support group with Lakes Area Autism Network three years ago. This group holds monthly meetings at Winona Lake Brethren Church throughout the school year. They also will have guest speakers attend the meetings, and Grace College students assist with child care during the meetings. Last fall this support group held a 5K race to raise awareness, and Terry said it was successful and a considerable amount of funds were raised.
All of these autism initiatives were made possible with two years of grant funding. The K21 Foundation, Kosciusko REMC and Kosciusko Community Foundation have supported the initiatives.
“It’s been great community support,” Terry said.
Terry said that not only are initiatives being taken outside of the Bowen Center, but they also are being taken inside the schools. She said the Bowen Center provides social groups inside the schools.
“We work really well with Warsaw schools,” Terry said. “We refer children back and forth, and work together to be on the same page and work with the families.”
To raise even more awareness for autism, Terry is in the process of bringing a training event from the Center for Autism at Indiana University to Warsaw. Terry said all of the initiatives so far to raise awareness has increased enrollment with both Lighthouse Autism Center and the Bowen Center.
“I think it’s just a matter of people being aware that there are services here,” Terry said. “They don’t have to travel so far away.”
This awareness is important for two reasons, Terry mentioned. She said autism is increasing, and some who are diagnosed did not have access to early interventions except for what the schools could offer and this could pose a problem after graduating.
“There’s a real need for services and training,” Terry said.
Autism Society of Indiana District 2 ally Colleen Spano assists six counties, including Kosciusko, to learn about resources regarding autism. Spano has been an ally for two years and she enjoys raising autism awareness and providing workshops, she said. She also said that if interested, the Autism Society is more than happy to come and do an awareness training with anyone.
“It’s really satisfying because all of the allies have a child with autism, so we’ve been there. We have been through same experiences as parents who call us. It’s very hard and you feel very lost and frightened,” Spano said. “It’s very rewarding to take some of that fear out and make it a little less challenging for families.”
For more information about autism awareness, visit www.bowencenter.org or reach Terry directly at 574-265-6325. There is a newsletter for the support group available for anyone who wants to be added.
(Story By The Times Union)