Many families associated with NAAR were impacted by this year's tumultuous hurricane season as Katrina, Rita and Wilma roared across the southern states. While the hurricanes caused devastation to all the lives they touched, it was particularly difficult for individuals with autism to deal with the havoc.
In an effort to reach out to affected NAAR families and other members of the autism community, NAAR was proud to join with other national autism organizations, including Autism Speaks, to form
a national initiative launched to assist hurricane families living with autism. AutismCares coordinated support for the unique needs of families affected by autism by facilitating temporary/permanent relocation support, mobilizing specialty assistance teams and providing autism-conscious supplies directly to these families and the professionals caring for them. In the aftermath of the hurricanes, AutismCares will continue to implement rehabilitation and assistance programs to help these families rebuild their lives.
Two NAAR Walks Postponed Due to Hurricane Wilma
The recent occurrence of Hurricane Wilma took its toll on NAAR related activities in southern Florida. The NAAR-Miami Walk scheduled for Oct. 23 at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne was cancelled, and will now take place Sunday, Dec. 4th. In addition, the NAAR Palm Beach County walk originally scheduled for Nov. 6 at John Prince Park in Lake Worth has been rescheduled for Sunday, March 5, 2006. John Prince Park—where the walk was scheduled to take place—has been closed since the storm, used as a distribution center for ice, water and supplies. Now the cleanup of hundreds of trees will begin. Thanks go out to all involved in helping to change these dates and plan and reorganize for the new dates.
NAAR Personnel Share Their Hurricane Stories
Many NAAR families were affected by the hurricanes, and while it isn't possible to share all of their stories, we'd like to give some insight into how the autism community survived the last destructive storm of the season, Hurricane Wilma.
Michael Alessandri, Ph.D., Vice Chair, Scientific Affairs, NAAR Board of Trustees and Director of the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of Miamiadmits, “It was a really challenging time for everyone.” Families he works with at his center reported many different experiences during the hurricane and the weeks following. “Some children with autism did exceptionally well under the circumstances, while others really struggled,” he said. With the disruption of their routines, no power, no gas to drive anywhere and no school to attend, many parents had to work very hard to actively engage their children. “On the plus side, most parents could not go to work initially, and families had the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time together.” Michael credits the families of children with autism for their unending optimism and resilience. “These parents are incredibly strong, and continue to fight for the needs of their children, no matter what the circumstances are.”
Jaclyn Merens, the NAAR South Florida Regional Director, tells how Wilma affected every NAAR family in the area. “Almost every one of us was without electricity or phones for more than a week. With no electricity, our kids with autism didn't have their music, videos or other electronics to rely upon. Their routines were interrupted—there was no school for 2 weeks—and it took its toll.”
Jackie also talked about the unbelievable damage to homes and the landscape, damage that is still visible today. “Almost every street sign and traffic light was blown away - not just out, but literally blown away,” she explained. For families in the area, life became a series of lines - for water, ice, and gasoline. “When the supermarkets did reopen (without power) they had nothing on the shelves for weeks. It felt like we lived in a third world country. It was a very humbling experience,” she added.
Joyce Dooley-Rodriguez, a NAAR-Miami Walk Chairshares details about how the hurricane affected her family and in particular, her son with autism. “My neighborhood was so badly damaged that it was several weeks before I had power at my house.” She talked about the effect of the disruption on John, her son with autism. “John was starting to get really upset without the T.V. and computer, which are items of solace for him. He just didn't understand what had happened. John's needs were greatly compromised with no power--he has tremors and does not sleep well to begin with. He needs a humidifier at night to breathe properly. He has a lot of anxiety and the biggest one is a fear of the dark. Going back to school while things were upside down at home was a very difficult transition for him.”
Like many others in southern Florida, Joyce had her share of other problems caused by the hurricane as well. Her house suffered major roof damage, and her shed (with all its contents) was completely destroyed by a neighbor's trampoline that had been transformed into a large projectile by the winds. A generator that she was fortunate to obtain a few days after returning to her home was stolen right out of her backyard. When power was finally restored to her home, a dried tree branch fell on a live power line in her backyard, setting the entire backyard on fire. Luckily the fire department was able to douse the flames before they reached her house.
While these brief summaries can depict only a portion of the damage this catastrophe caused, we thank our families for sharing their stories and serving as an inspiration for us all as they move forward to rebuild their lives.
Response to the NAAR Call to Action
We would like to thank everyone who responded to the call for action to help victims of the recent hurricanes. Whether you contributed a donation of money, shelter, clothing, transportation, or other service, we thank you for your support and hope you'll join us in our continued prayers for those struggling to rebuild their lives. AutismCares continues to provide support and much needed goods for families affected by the hurricanes. For information as to how you can include these families and their children in your holiday giving, consider ‘adopting a family' or a child. For more information visit AutismCares website at
Established in 1994, the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) is the first non-profit organization in the country dedicated to funding and accelerating biomedical research for autism spectrum disorders. The organization was established by parents of children with autism concerned about the limited amount of funding for autism research. To date, NAAR has committed nearly $30 million in grants for biomedical research projects worldwide that seek to find the causes, prevention, effective treatments and, ultimately, cure for autism spectrum disorders. Walk for Autism Research is the organization's signature fundraising and autism awareness event, which is held annually in numerous communities across the United States. Additionally, NAAR was instrumental in establishing the Autism Tissue Program, a parent-led brain tissue donation program for autism research.