Chilton Autism Network promotes awareness

Published 3:40 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Chilton Autism Network supporters participated in the Autism Society's Autism Walk and 5K in Birmingham on Saturday, April 6.

Chilton Autism Network supporters participated in the Autism Society’s Autism Walk and 5K in Birmingham on Saturday, April 6.

Chilton Autism Network (CAN) constituents are capitalizing on April as Autism Awareness Month by raising money and support for autism research and promoting an upcoming educational workshop about autism.

CAN hopes to spread awareness of autism through an Autism 101 workshop this fall for local daycare centers and preschools to facilitate understanding about autism symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

“The workshop is the next thing we’re doing,” CAN co-founder Donna Jennings said. “We want to equip caregivers with the tools they need to assist parents in identifying the early signs of autism and then what to do with that information to obtain help for that child. Early diagnosis and intervention is vital. Studies show that early intervention works and helps children with autism have successful and independent lives.”

Donna and her husband, Robert Jennings, founded CAN in October 2011 as a parent-led support network for families affected by autism in Chilton County and surrounding areas.

CAN is designed to connect parents, families, caregivers, educators and others affected by autism – one of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders that normally surface in early childhood and affect a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

It is a group under the umbrella of the Autism Society of Alabama, a non-profit organization that promotes autism awareness, provides resource information and autism education to the public, collaborates with state agencies to provide autism services and promotes networking in communities dealing with autism.

Jennings provided information from a study conducted by the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention showing that 1 in 50 children have autism, which does not replace the government’s official 1 in 88 statistic from last year, but suggests that autism is being diagnosed more frequently.

Regarding fundraising efforts, a team of CAN supporters participated in the Autism Society’s Autism Walk and 5K on April 6 in Birmingham and raised more than $3,000 for the Autism Society, which in turn helps fund activities for CAN.

The Clanton Kiwanis Club recently donated money to the Autism Society of Alabama and presented a check to Bama Hager, a representative of the Autism Society, who spoke to club members at their April 11 meeting.

Hager is a parent of a 13-year-old son who has autism; a trained clinical child psychologist; works part-time at the Autism Society of Alabama as the policy and program advisor; and is co-chairwoman of the Alabama Interagency Autism Coordinating Council established by Gov. Bob Riley in 2010.

“It is so important for Alabama families living with ASD to have supportive and understanding communities,” Hager said. “ASD affects every aspect of a child’s or adult’s functioning, so it is important for families living on the autism spectrum to have help at home, at school, at church, at the doctor’s office, at the barber shop or hair salon and anywhere a person may go. The more awareness that exists in a community, the easier life is for a family with a child or adult member who has ASD.”

For more information about autism or the Autism 101 workshop, visit