AutismCares Marks 100 Days of Providing Critical Assistance to Families Impacted By This Fall's Devasating Hurricanes

Helping Already Vulnerable Families Affected by Autism Overcome the Disruptive Effects of Katrina, Rita and Wilma

BOISE, Idaho (Dec. 22, 2005) – AutismCares, a consortium of leading autism organizations spearheading a national emergency relief and recovery initiative, marks its 100th day of helping families on Christmas Day. The organization was created in September in response to the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina to coordinate support for the unique needs of thousands of Gulf Coast families affected by autism. AutismCares subsequently assisted families affected by Hurricanes Rita and Wilma.

Children with autism often require intensive biomedical and behavioral therapies and thoroughly planned routines. AutismCares created a network to support families whose struggle with autism was intensified by natural disaster, forced relocation and scarce resources. An estimated 53,000 families with children who have autism were affected by the three worst hurricanes.

Through its partner organizations, AutismCares has raised more than $120,000 for the relief and recovery program managed with oversight by Boise State University Center of Health Policy. In-kind donation offers were received from more than 700 people from across the country. The organization has directly assisted 126 families, and hundreds more have been supported in other ways. More than $98,000 has been spent to date to coordinate or provide needed housing and supplies for affected families. By Christmas, AutismCares will have procured 46 beds for at least 14 families.

AutismCares facilitated temporary/permanent relocation support, mobilized specialty assistance teams and provided autism-conscious supplies directly to affected families and the professionals caring for them. To address long-term needs, AutismCares is advocating and implementing proactive rehabilitation and assistance programs in coordination with officials from other relief agencies in an effort to help families begin to rebuild their lives.

“AutismCares really helped my family,” said Linda Davis, who temporarily relocated to Texas with her daughter and son affected by autism after Katrina hit. “We were living in our car because we were asked to leave the hotel when my son continuously made high-pitched screams, which is common when he gets upset. AutismCares paid for us to get an apartment, replaced the battery in our car and made sure I had what I needed to take care of my kids until we could return home. I could not have done it without them.”

AutismCares encouraged families affected by autism who were in the prospective path of hurricanes to register at www.autismcares.org and provided registered families with emergency assistance as soon as the storms passed through their impacted area. More than 320 families have been registered on the AutismCares database, including more than 200 families who pre-registered before evacuating hurricanes Rita and Wilma. All of these families were called after the storms hit to determine the level of assistance they needed.

Other highlights of AutismCares' ongoing efforts:

  • AutismCares' “Holiday Help a Child” program assisted 211 children by posting their stories and wish lists of items they needed and wanted on the AutismCares Web site (www.autismcares.org). Each child was matched up with a generous donor who provided items specific to that child's list.
  • Trained therapists from The Help Group are available at Emergency Grief Hotline (866-966-9222), a toll-free number 24 hours-a-day established to provide crisis counseling to families of children with autism affected by the recent natural disasters.
  • In October, AutismCares facilitated the first telehealth evaluation for an evacuated Katrina family to assess a child's condition, and to provide legal record for an out-of-state school to receive the child. The child's medical records had been lost during the storm.
  • Seventy family-needs assessments were handled by case managers and volunteer interns from Boise State University.

“Through this unprecedented effort, the autism community rallied together to provide critical assistance to families facing unique pressures under extraordinary circumstances,” said Peter Bell, CEO of Cure Autism Now, an AutismCares managing partner. “We've made a real difference and we will continue to do more. This is the spirit of today's autism community.”

"Families of children with autism already bear a remarkable burden, so the work of AutismCares in alleviating the problems faced by families whose lives have been so deeply disrupted is especially crucial,” said Alison Singer, senior vice president of Autism Speaks, another AutismCares managing partner. “This remarkable coordinated effort will serve as an important model should the need for a similar mobilization arise again."

About AutismCares
AutismCares is a consortium of Autism Speaks, Boise State University, Cure Autism Now, First Signs, TalkAutism, the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, Unlocking Autism, The Help Group and Princeton Autism Technology.

Visit www.autismcares.org for additional information about: the AutismCares relief initiative; current newsroom information; aid coordination for families living with autism; online registration forms for in-kind donations of transportation, accommodations, therapy and respite services; how to sign up to volunteer; and information on products needed for care packages. Trained therapists from The Help Group are also available around the clock at (866) 966-9222 to provide crisis counseling to families living with autism who are affected by Katrina, Rita or Wilma. The legal account of AutismCares is housed within the Boise State University Foundation – c/o Center for Health Policy. BSU Center for Health Policy provides fiscal oversight, as well as resources to ensure expedient and compliant public health policy and support.

About Autism
Autism is one of the fastest-growing and most prevalent childhood developmental disorders in the United States, affecting as many as one in every 166 births (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Autism is a neurological disorder that interferes with normal development in language, intuitive thought, social interaction and an ability to connect with surroundings. Approximately half of all children with autism are unable to communicate their needs using spoken words. Most are unable to accommodate changes in their daily routines. Associated problems include hyperactivity, self-injurious behavior, sleeplessness, eating disorders and gastrointestinal problems. Order and consistently administered therapeutic interventions are critical to the affected child and family's well being.

Contact: Alison Singer (212) 332-3581; Denise D. Resnik (602) 956-8834

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