Ohio Valley Encouraged To Observe World Autism Day by ‘Going Blue’ | News, Sports, Jobs

Businesses across the Ohio Valley are being encouraged to sell puzzle pieces to their patrons and display them in support of World Autism Day and the Augusta Levy Learning Center in Wheeling. Shown here, Whisk Bakery employee Jody Walters holds one of the puzzle pieces in front of the shop in Wheeling.

WHEELING – A local center that helps children with autism is asking Ohio Valley residents to show their support for the youth by going blue April 1-2.

Augusta Levy Learning Center is set to observe World Autism Day by “lighting it up blue.” This year’s World Autism Day falls on Saturday, April 2, so the center plans to observe it on Friday, April 1. The day aims to raise awareness of autism and promote acceptance of children and adults who live with the condition, said Staci Stephen, director of Development at Augusta Levy Learning Center in Wheeling.

She said Ohio Valley residents can show their support by wearing blue clothing, changing their porch light to blue, displaying blue balloons, hanging a blue string of lights or even making a blue treat. Then people can take a picture of their display of support and send it to Stephen at stacistephen@gmail.com.

The photos will then be shared on the center’s social media. Stephen is encouraging people to have fun and get creative with their displays and photos.

She is also challenging local businesses to sell puzzle pieces to patrons and display them in support of autism awareness. She said the business that sells the most puzzle pieces will receive three free weeks of billboard advertising. Billboards are also being used to promote autism awareness thanks to Lamar advertising, she said.
During April 2021, more than $20,000 was raised via the puzzle piece effort with 100 businesses participating.

Stephen said today there are many treatment options for people with autism spectrum disorder. These include behavioral management therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, early intervention, educational based therapies, joint attention therapy, medication treatment and nutritional therapy, she said.

“When Augusta Levy Learning Center was founded in 2005, they focused on early intervention, but we received countless phone calls from families needing services for older children and adolescents,” she said. “So a few years ago we started the Independence Through Intervention program for pre-adolescents and adolescents that uses applied behavioral analysis as well but focuses on pre-vocational skills.”

The students then volunteer in their communities at various businesses and use and strengthen those skills. Such work will help get jobs in the future.

“Applied behavioral analysis is based on 40 years of research and is backed by peer-reviewed studies showing at least 50% of children with autism who receive this intensive treatment become indistinguishable from other children on tests of cognitive and social skills by the time they complete first grade,” Stephen said.

She noted one way people and families with typical children can help those with autistic children is to be patient and understanding.

“What the public does not always understand is that some children with autism also suffer from other medical conditions such as Epilepsy, sleep disorders, food allergies, anxiety, ADHD, behavioral problems, etc.” Stephen said.

“Parents and siblings of individuals with autism often need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. Parents are often time exhausted because their children don’t sleep, they are dealing with other medical conditions, as well as negative behaviors.

“I have had multiple parents tell me they lost all of their friends because their main goal is caring for their child with special needs.”

Stephen said it can also be helpful for people to teach their children how to best interact with children with disabilities.

“Some children with autism are nonverbal so they may communicate in other ways such as sign language or use an assistive device that speaks for them,” she said.

“Some engage in negative behaviors that may be the result of frustration of not being able to communicate their wants and needs; It may be sensory related – the child is seeking sensory input. It may be because the child is escaping a task or it may be they are trying to gain a tangible. When you see a child with autism engaging in negative behaviors it is quite possibly because of something that is out of their and their parents’ control.”

Stephen noted the funding raised via the puzzle pieces sold at local businesses will help more families attain treatment, something that can become expensive even if one has health insurance coverage.

She said some self-funded insurance plans still result in high out of pocket costs – $1,200 to $1,800 in co-payments per month. This has resulted in less than 4% of children with autism getting effective treatment in West Virginia, Stephen noted. The center helps decrease that gap in funding with raised money during fundraisers.

“I have great faith in the Ohio Valley community. Seeing the outpouring of support and love from the community over the years gives me great confidence that the community will utilize their creativity and help us exceed 2021’s record of 100 businesses,” she said. “COVID-19 has affected a lot of local businesses, including Augusta Levy Learning Center. We thought that ‘Shop Local for Those Less Vocal’ and ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ would be a great way to, not only help raise awareness for autism, but also support local businesses. Light it up Blue and help give a voice to individuals with autism.”

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