NAPA joins effort to ‘fix’ Autism

Joy Pople 11/04/08More articles
People might wonder what autos and autism have in common, other than the first three letters of the words.

It started at a meeting of the Napa Auto Care Center business development group in Syracuse.

"We were looking for something that was worthwhile to give to the community," said Greg Hudson, owner of Hudson & Mowins in the village of Baldwinsville and president of the 35-member group.

They learned that some of the best research on autism is being done at Syracuse University. The guys who know how to fix cars are now raising funds to help develop web-based training for parents and professionals who work with autism. Thirty-five Napa Auto Care Centers have fliers and donation boxes labeled "Autism: Together, we can fix it ... faster."

Autism is presently occurring in an estimated 1 in 150 children. This means that each person or somebody they know is likely connected with autism. Autism can affect any family, any child, despite race, ethnicity, income, lifestyle or education.

Dr. Doug Biklen, Director of the Facilitated Communication Institute at Syracuse University, and his assistant, Marilyn Ann Chadwick, met with the Napa Auto Care Center owners. They explained that in spite of years of research, autism is still, by and large, a mystery. They are discovering new pieces to this puzzle and are focusing on facilitated communication.

"We need to get the word out about how to support communication in a way that builds toward independence and speech," Chadwick said. "We have underestimated and undervalued the potential of people with autism."

Hudson & Mowins is the only local Napa Auto Care Center that is participating in the Autism public awareness and fundraising project. Hudson, carrying on the community-minded spirit of his grandfather and father, has a couple of nephews who are affected by autism. This is his second year as a school board member.

"Marilyn and Doug introduced us to Jamie Burke," Hudson said. "and it's amazing what he can do."

Through facilitated communication, Jamie said, "I think people may assume that if we cannot outwardly speak this to others, that we are content to sit back and stay in the shadows. Let me say explicitly, we are not."
He envisions doors being opened to young people like him, "letting all ease joyously through."

The Baldwinsville School District works to help children with special needs with the goal to integrate them into classrooms.

"We have an assisted technology team and evaluate the special needs of each student and what piece of technology will help the students become more independent," said Jeanne Dangle, Baldwinsville Superintendent of Schools. "The number of students with autism spectrum has increased significantly in the past five to eight years.”

Donation boxes appeared this spring at the local Napa Auto Care Centers. The first goal is to develop a web-based training system for facilitated communication. People come from as far away as the West Coast to SU to learn the methodology, but not everyone is able to come personally. A new, web-based system will make training for parents and educators much more broadly accessible.

"We must presume competence of the people with whom we work," Biklen said. "If we do that, then our work become clear: work hard and with invention to find ways for them to show us their abilities."

The next goal is to develop a Center for Therapeutic Arts to provide an innovative environment for learning and development. Such a center could be a model that could be expanded to communities across the country and around the globe.

"We have big ideas, too," Hudson said. "We are thinking that this could go nationwide."

He plans to present a fundraising proposal to Napa Auto Care centers around the country.

CATEGORY: General Business
EDITION: Baldwinsville Messenger

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