Benefit to raise funds for child

Published 8:09 am Thursday, April 5, 2007

Lori Mulvihill just wants for her autistic son to have as normal a life as possible.

The only way for that to happen is for him to have intensive speech and occupational therapy, something that’s no longer possible now that his therapist — the only one in the area who works with autistic children — has stopped taking Louisiana medicaid.

“Therapy raises the chances dramatically of a child with autism developing the skills of typical children,” Mulvihill said.

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“Things that come natural to other children don’t come so easily to children with autism.”

A benefit to raise the funds needed for the care of her son, Jack, will be from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Vidalia Amphitheatre April 29. It will include raffles, food, music, games, cake walks and face painting.

Autism is a developmental disorder, a physical condition linked to the biology of the brain. Its causes are unknown.

Some symptoms of autism include communication problems, such as communicating by gesture instead of verbally, the inability to start or sustain conversation and slow language development.

Other symptoms include problems with social development, such as avoiding eye contact, being withdrawn and treating other people as if they are objects.

Mulvihill first began to suspect that something was different about her son Jack when he was about 18 months old.

Until then, his development had been normal, but at that point he stopped using single words, made less and less eye contact and stopped answering when his parents called to him.

After reading an article in a parenting magazine about autism, Mulvihill and her husband Andy took their son to a therapist. After three months, the therapist referred them to a psychologist, who diagnosed Jack with autism.

The psychologtist recommended speech and occupational therapy for two hours a day, four days a week.

The therapy worked, Mulvihill said.

“Without the therapy, Jack would still be terrified of strangers,” she said.

Now that Jack isn’t in therapy, Mulvihill doesn’t want to lose all of the progress that he has made.

“We’re hoping to find someone who can come to our house,” she said.

“You really have to work at keeping children like Jack engaged.”

Having autistic children can be an overwhelming task, said Susannah Heatherly, a mother of two autistic children and founder of The Miss-Lou Autism Support Group.

When her family moved to this area, there wasn’t any kind of support group in place, and they didn’t know what to do or where to go, Heatherly said.

“We incurred a lot of unnecessary expenses,” she said.

Because of her experience, Heatherly founded The Miss-Lou Autism Group, which meets on the fourth Monday of every month.

The meetings are open to anyone who lives or works with autism, or for anyone who just wants more information about the disorder, she said.

Mulvihill has a lot of hope for the future.

“Autism is a spectrum disease, and it can be from very mild to very severe,” Mulvihill said.

“I know parents whose autistic children are now no longer considered to be within the autism spectrum.”

April is Autism Awareness Month.