Autism Awareness Month

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Autism is a neurological disorder that often affects communication skills. Nationwide, cases of the developmental disability are skyrocketing. Here at home, for example, the number of kids with autism in the Rockford School District has jumped 15 percent in the last two years.

As part of Autism Awareness Month in April, the Culvers on Harrison Avenue in Rockford is donating 10 percent of its proceeds from 5-8 p.m. on April 24 to local autism programs. In the past, funds raised have been used to purchase special touch-screen computers for autistic students in the Rockford Public Schools as well as tools for speech therapy.

The group of ladies behind this event has been working for months to put it together. Their story is a lesson for us all on how we can work together to change our community for the better.

Walk into this local coffee shop and you might not see it, but sit at this table among these women and no doubt you'll feel it. They have an energy that motivates, and that's exactly what they're hoping to do: motivate all of us to learn more about autism.

"We just want to make the public aware of how much it's growing and there's support out there and if your child is diagnosed you're not alone," says group member Debbie Walter.

Debbie's son Grant has autism. It's a disorder that affects the brain, usually impacting the development of social and communication skills. One in every 166 kids in the U.S. has it.

"That's going to impact our public school system, it's going to impact our community, it will affect everybody in some way, shape or form," says Dianne Boone.

But autism doesn't have to be a life sentence. Diane Boone knows that firsthand. If you peaked into her home now you'd never guess her son Nils, who's also autistic, wasn't even talking a year ago.

"All the research has shown that the thing that can make the most difference in the life of a child who is autistic is if you get early intervention and get it pretty intense," says Boone.

Grant too has made drastic improvements because of local programs. He's now immersed in a regular 1st grade classroom. His success and Nils’ success can be duplicated.

"It's very phenomenal, the more we can get the programs coming to the community the more programs we can get the kids involved with," says Walter.

"It touches so many lives and it's just good to be able to help one another," adds Boone.

They're the perfect example of how a small group, working together toward a common goal, can make a difference and teach all of us a little more about who is part of our community.

If you don't already know someone with autism, chances are you will eventually. It's estimated that every 21 seconds a child who will have autism is born.