Skip navigation

Calls to Action

As Hurricane Season Gets Underway, AutismCares Invites Families of Children with Autism to Register and Get Connected

Consortium of Autism Organizations Provided Critical Assistance to More Than 150 Families and Raised $130,000 for Those Impacted by 2005's Devastating Hurricanes

(BOISE, ID - June 12, 2006) – AutismCares, a consortium of leading autism organizations spearheading a national emergency relief and recovery initiative, has raised more than $130,000 and directly assisted more than 150 families in the wake of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. At the beginning of this year's official hurricane season, families can pre-register through AutismCares' Web site, http://www.autismcares.org/, to ensure trained case managers are able to locate them more effectively in case disaster strikes their families.

AutismCares encourages families affected by autism, who are in the prospective path of hurricanes, to register for free. This allows AutismCares to provide emergency assistance to registered families as soon as storms pass through their impacted areas. More than 500 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 contacted after the storms hit to determine the level of assistance they needed.

The AutismCares initiative was created in September 2005 in response to the devastating impact of Gulf Coast hurricanes, to coordinate support for the unique needs of thousands of families affected by autism. 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 in the history of the United States.

Through its partner organizations, AutismCares has raised more than $130,000 with funds going toward supplies, housing and support case managers who work to coordinate assistance for affected families. This relief and recovery program, managed with oversight by Boise State University Center of Health Policy, created an in-pouring of funds and in-kind donation offers from across the country. The organization has directly assisted more than 150 severely impacted families with shelter, food and counseling support; while hundreds more have been supported in other ways.

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.

“We recognize the many families whose children are affected by autism and how their trauma continues to be compounded by these disasters,” said Ron Oberleitner, operations director for AutismCares and parent of a child with autism. “Katrina wreaked havoc on the lives of millions and we are acutely aware of how desperate the children who struggle with autism continue to feel to this day.

  • AutismCares' “Adopt a Child” program aided 211 children by posting their stories and needed items on the AutismCares Web site (http://www.autismcares.org/). Children were matched with a generous donor who provided items according to each child's list.
  • White paper entitled “Remote Autism Evaluation Through Telehealth Technology: 2 Case Studies” written and presented by AutismCares at the 5th Annual International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR), on the weekend of June 1 - 3, 2006.
  • Trained therapists from The Help Group were available via a 24-hour emergency grief toll-free hotline. The hotline was established to provide crisis counseling to families of children with autism affected by the 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.
  • 70 family-needs assessments were handled by case managers and volunteer interns from Boise State University in January 2006; more than 40 of these families were “Think about what you could pack into one car to flee as quickly as possible with your family. That's all some families still have," said Shelley Hendrix Reynolds of Unlocking Autism, who is coordinating her organization's involvement in Katrina-stricken Baton Rouge. "I cannot imagine being in a shelter with a child with autism, being relocated in another home for nearly a week with comfortable surroundings was difficult enough.”
  • “Think about what you could pack into one car to flee as quickly as possible with your family. That's all some families still have," said Shelley Hendrix Reynolds of Unlocking Autism, who is coordinating her organization's involvement in Katrina-stricken Baton Rouge. "I cannot imagine being in a shelter with a child with autism, being relocated in another home for nearly a week with comfortable surroundings was difficult enough.”

“This remarkable coordinated effort will serve as an important model as our community faces this current hurricane season," said Alison Singer, senior vice president of Autism Speaks, another AutismCares managing partner. "AutismCares stands ready to assist families whose lives may be disrupted throughout the next year, while also helping those whose struggles continue.”

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

Visit http://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.