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Play ball for autism!

On August 12 the Children’s Fine and Performing Arts Foundation (CFPAF) held their “Play Ball for Autism!” event at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park. The CFPAF is a nonprofit that uses targeted resources to increase the availability and quality of arts-based events, programs, productions and digital media for the next generation.

Charleston heat wasn’t enough to keep people from participating as there was a terrific turn out, showing how much the Lowcountry supports this cause. The stadium was full of kids and their families enjoying the different activities that consisted of playing in the jump castle, painting, eating popsicles and watching puppet shows. There was even an appearance from the Sesame Street character Julia, a character introduced in 2005, who has autism. This event was also a great opportunity for families to learn about the different programs and studies that have been implemented to offer support to those with autism.

There were a number of organizations present at the event to help spread information about different services that can offer support to autistic children; local organizations included the Lowcountry Autism Foundation (LAF), MUSC’s Project Rex and SPARK, the Beautiful Gate Center, and the Parent Training and Resource Center (PTRC).

LAF’s mission is committed to enhancing lives of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families through individually designed programming, advocacy and awareness efforts. LAF aims to provide necessary support for all individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and helps to equip communities with the necessary knowledge and tools to create an environment suitable for people with all levels of abilities. LAF offers a number of services, which include family support services after diagnosis, behavioral intervention, art therapy, Autism + OM and many other activities that involve the children as well as the rest of the family.

One of the activities I witnessed first hand at the event was art therapy. Children used a variety of paintbrushes and even their fingers to paint on canvas. The woman in charge of the painting showed me the different brushes and how each brush offers a different movement, which provides release to tension in different muscles. According to LAF, art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals. Along with art therapy, another program that LAF offers is yoga. Through its yoga program, LAF helps individuals to combat anxiety, improve behavior, meet sensory needs, empower parents, support siblings, promote self-care and enhance lives.

Project Rex is a MUSC treatment initiative dedicated to providing services, support and treatment to children and young adults who struggle socially. SPARK is a free online study that aims to speed up research and advance the understanding of autism through the collection and analyzing of DNA derived from a saliva sample to study the role of specific “genes” that have an impact on the development of autism. The BGC is a center-based, full-day, year-round learning environment that aims to educate the whole child and addresses behavioral, social, communication, academic, coping, health and daily living skills based on the individual. The goal of the PTRC is to provide free individualized support and training to parents accessing special education services for children with disabilities through their Peer-Parent Mentor Program and this program is available to families in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester Counties.

Beth Bogush, who serves as executive director and artistic director for the CFPAF, helped to put this event together. Bogush stated, “The goal for this event is to implement a full creative atmosphere for these children and for this to be the beginning of a national platform for this issue.” Another individual who helped make all of this possible was Dr. James Yanney. Dr. Yanney is a maxillofacial surgery specialist with more than 32 years of diverse experience, operating in both Charleston and Oregon. As stated by Bogush, “Dr. James Yanney is a wonderful man with a heart for children.” Certainly many such loving people, shining examples in our Lowcountry community, helped make the event a memorable one.

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