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Autism Empowerment bowl-a-thon lets good times roll

Columbian - 4/24/2017

April 24--HAZEL DELL -- A Sunday bowling event for people with autism spectrum disorders was as much about having fun and raising money for future events as it was about seeing and being seen, said Karen Krejcha, executive director of Autism Empowerment, a local nonprofit that serves the autistic community.

"There's a lot of negative stuff that comes out during Autism Awareness Month, and a lot of people talk about the gloom and doom and really bad things," she said. "We want people to know that we're human beings like everybody else."

She pointed to the cross section of bowlers who packed Husted's Hazel Dell Lanes, all different ages, nationalities, incomes and places on the autism spectrum.

"We always strive to be able to support everyone and be inclusive of everyone, and so a lot of folks here today are on the spectrum, and they're all different levels," said Krejcha, who is on the autism spectrum.

Sunday marked the second year for the group's bowling event. Autism Empowerment also organizes a few other larger events throughout the year, including a summer picnic, along with service activities, support groups and social clubs.

The nonprofit also publishes a quarterly magazine, Spectrums, that has close to 25,000 readers throughout Southwest Washington and the Portland area.

Rhiannon Severin volunteers with Autism Empowerment. Her 14-year-old son, Chase, who is on the spectrum, goes to the group's monthly social hours for teens.

He usually isn't the bowling type, but he was having a good time Sunday, she said.

For the social club, the kids usually just hang out or play video games, she said.

"It's the one time he gets social interaction with other kids, aside from school," Severin said. "He's made some really good friends within the group, so it's been really nice."

Chase was diagnosed when he was 9, Severin said, and the family got involved with Autism Empowerment not long after.

It's been good for her son, she said, but also for the rest of the family.

"It's nice to have the support and, you know, talk to other parents," she said. "Hear their stories and relate, not feel so alone with everything that's going on with him, and know that he's not just by himself, that there are so many other people and kids that are just like him."

The adult group used to meed at the Arc of Southwest Washington, but it has grown so much that they're meeting at Stephen's Place, a disabled-adults home, said Alexis Curtis, 34. People come from as far away as the Oregon cities of Gresham and Salem, she said.

Curtis went to the bowl-a-thon with her mom and dad, Sheila Homchik and Art Curtis. Homchik said it's good that her daughter has somewhere she can meet people she has things in common with and can share experiences with, adding that Autism Empowerment also helps connect people with other resources for adults with autism.

That there is more out there as far as social opportunities and resources for adults on the spectrum shows some progress in the wider culture, Homchik said. When Alexis Curtis was young and first seeing doctors, autism wasn't really on anyone's radar, so she wasn't finally diagnosed until around 2013.

"We're happy for her, that she's got some place to fit," Art Curtis said.

Krejcha said last year's bowling event raised about $3,500, but this year's event hadn't reached half of that by the afternoon.

Events like Sunday's give the guests, who may not have many social opportunities, an accepting place to be themselves, Krejcha said.

No one will look at anyone funny if they cover their ears for loud noises or take a break from all the social stimulus, she said.

"People just go with the flow," she said. "It's a very loving accepting community."

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(c)2017 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

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