KAYSVILLE - One mother didn’t see a future for her profoundly autistic son.
He was nonverbal and she had little hope that he would be able to find a job or communicate with others.
But with the help of school programs, that son is taking mass transit, working with supervision at a grocery store and developing other life skills.
He is able to communicate with the help of an iPad and can now make requests and follow directions, said Laura Henderson, his mother.
“He is finding joy in life that I didn’t know he would have,” she said.
Now Henderson works with the Autism Council of Utah to help spread the word on programs available to families with autistic children.
Her group was one of dozens at last week’s Transition Fair sponsored by Davis School District. The fair, now in its sixth year, is held to help families see what agencies are available to help children with disabilities.
More than 9,000 students in the district have some type of disability, according to Kathy Chisholm, director of special education for the district.
“This gives families an opportunity to see what agencies are available as students transition from school to the world of work,” said Chisholm.
Ben Hulin was at the fair to share information about adaptive recreation for people with disabilities.
“We cater to everybody’s ability,” he said of Park City’s National Ability Center, the organization he represents.
“It’s huge, especially for individuals, and it’s really big for the families to see the growth and development in that individual with our program,” he said.
The center helps disabled students ski and snowboard in the winter, swim and bike in the summer. It also offers a high ropes course and equestrian adaptive riding and therapy.
Laura Lee Gillespie, a staff attorney with the Disability Law Center, is an advocate for people with disabilities.
Thanks to federal grants and private donors, she can help work through issues and disputes and get resources and services at no charge to individual families.
“If parents are feeling at their wits’ end, they have someone to turn to to guide them through,” she said. “We work to resolve issues as quickly as possible.”
For students planning on continuing their education at the university level, Angela McLean represented Weber State University as a disability services specialist.
“It’s important that parents investigate all the post-secondary options for their students at an early age so they can start to prepare early,” said McLean.
That way, students will know they’re not just writing essays because it’s an assignment, but that learning to write has a purpose, she said.
“It gives them more direction and help,” said McLean.
One in 47 Utah children have autism, according to Henderson.
For some, it affects them only minimally.For others, as with her son, it is more severe.
As a member of the autism council, Henderson is one of many volunteers working to inform parents of all agencies in the state that can help.
They do fundraising, all of which stays in the state, and use donations to help with education, training, support and collaborations to improve services to families, she said.
She hopes to let mothers know of a parent-support group, Moms of Autistic Kids, or Big MAKs, that can help them with the issues they face.
“Autism is not a tragedy, running out of bacon is,” reads a T-shirt they produced to share. It continues: “Also ignorance. But mostly the bacon thing.”
Having a sense of humor is important, said Henderson.
“We have to,” she said, “it’s not a lot of fun.”
Early diagnosis is important for children with autism, she said, because it allows for early intervention, which is the key.
Parents should know they are not alone, she said.
“There are supports and there are services available,” she said. “Go get the information. Reach out.”