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April is National Autism Awareness Month

Observer-Reporter - 4/20/2018

Autism became more universally recognized in the mid-1990s, believes John Phillips.

But several of the consumers at Riverside Horizons in Charleroi were already in the system before a diagnosis of autism was determined.

"It is now being recognized because of awareness," said Phillips, supervisor of Diversified Human Services Inc., Riverside Horizons.

Phillips said the program serves four consumers who are diagnosed with autism and six who are on the autism spectrum.

"But that doesn't mean that some of our older individuals are not on the spectrum as well," said Phillips.

April is National Autism Awareness Month, first declared as such by the Autism Society in April 1970.

Riverside Horizons, located at 250 Chamber Plaza in Charleroi, is a community participation service. It is qualified under Bureau of Autism Services and the Office of Developmental Programs.

"Our program serves those with developmental disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum," said Phillips. "We teach each individual as an individual."

One such teaching concept is supportive or inclusive recreation, whereby people with disabilities are given the opportunity to participate in recreational or community-based activities. The goal is to be supportive for those who can go out into the community.

For example, some individuals of Riverside Horizons volunteer at the Greater Washington County Food Bank in Centerville or bowl at Charleroi Lanes. Some consumers make weekly trips to shop at Aldi's or Walmart in Rostraver Township. Some volunteer at the agency help desk and central kitchen.

Others learn cooking skills and exercise, in the Charleroi program home.

"For a lot of our consumers, this program is a community partner; you're safe here, you're not judged," Phillips said.

They also teach the Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS. Those with developmental disabilities with little or no communication abilities use PECs to communicate.

According to the National Autism Resource, "the goal of (PECS) is to teach children with autism a fast, self-initiating, functional communication system. PECS begins with the exchange of simple icons but rapidly builds 'sentence" structure.'"

Riverside Horizons serves 35 individuals with a staff of 12.

"They are truly a dedicated team who see their work as a true vocation, serving those in need in our community," Phillips said.

Phillips said Autism Awareness Month provides an "opportunity to focus on and encourage others to better understand the gifts and, to a lesser degree the limitations, of what is called autism and autism spectrum disorder."

"It is a misconception that people with autism are not experiencing or generally dulled to stimuli and events of the world around them," Phillips said. "We try to develop services that promote greater independence, satisfaction and acceptance."

What does Phillips hope the public learns about autism?

"It should be understood that many people with autism are experiencing and even hyper-experiencing stimuli and events of the world around them," Phillips said. "And that it is sometimes hard to know what to pay attention to. That the terms of relationships or interactions are based on internal determinations of relevance. Their terms, not your terms."


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