Autism awareness events offered

10 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — April is National Autism Awareness Month, and to bring awareness, support families and raise money for the Aroostook Autism Support Group, several events are planned throughout the month, including the Autism Challenge.

    From a presentation by national author and honorary speaker Deborah Lipsky of Houlton, followed by a benefit dinner with an auction, to a benefit 5K run and walk, there is something for everyone in the community to show support. The Autism Challenge is a collaboration of CompetitorME, the University of Maine at Presque Isle and TAMC. All events are open to the public.
    The Aroostook Autism Support Group, based in Presque Isle, is comprised of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents of children with autism. Sharing of resources, successes, failures and encouraging one another through the emotional aspects are some of the many benefits they give one another while navigating the autism disorder spectrum.

    “TAMC is pleased to join in the county-wide effort to raise awareness about autism,” said TAMC President and CEO Sylvia Getman. “Our team at Aroostook Pediatrics is involved in this effort, along with other TAMC team members who are impacted by autism or otherwise want to lend their support. It is great to see the community come together in this way. We encourage all to join in the activities and events planned throughout April.”

    “We’re so pleased to lend our support to the Autism Challenge and to host one of the many events that will help create greater awareness in the region about autism,” said Mary Lawrence, UMPI’s coordinator of conferences and special programs. “The hope is to fill the house for the benefit dinner and live auction, and we are very pleased to welcome the community to our Campus Center for such a worthy cause. We look forward to how the funds raised during the evening will help the Aroostook Autism Support Group to support local families.”

    The weekend will kick off Saturday, April 26 at UMPI, where Lipsky will speak starting at 5 p.m. in the Multi-Purpose Room, located on the second floor of the Campus Center. This will be followed by a dinner and live auction. The cost is $20 per person, with all proceeds benefiting the Aroostook Autism Support Group. There is a maximum of 100 seats available; tickets can be purchased by contacting CompetitorME or at the door. Any providers attending the event will be granted Category 1 CME credits by TAMC.

    The Autism Challenge will be held Sunday, April 27 at the Presque Isle Middle School track. A 5K run will begin at 10:30 a.m. with registration beginning at 9:30 a.m. This is a fully supported running race with awards. Entry is $20 per person; children 18 years and younger are $10. All proceeds from the 5K run benefit the Aroostook Autism Support Group.

    Following the run, at noon, the Walk for Autism will be held, also at the track. Registration will begin at 11 a.m. for the walk, with all proceeds benefiting the Autism Society of Maine.

    “Autism is an increasing diagnosis many families in our community have to deal with,” said Jonathan Kelley, CompetitorME owner and race director. “The Aroostook Autism Support Group was started by two mothers who have children with autism as a means of sharing their stories to help others navigate the resources in northern Maine. In developing the Autism Challenge, it was important to offer events everyone in our community can participate in. Having a national author speak, coupled with a dinner and live auction and two fun events in the 5K run and walk, we can all show our support. How often is that the proceeds to such an event stay local? They do for the Autism Challenge!”

    “This challenge is not only about raising awareness, it is about raising hope,” said Maeghan Swanson, co-founder of the Aroostook Autism Support Group. “Hope for all of our autism angels that they will be understood, supported and loved by a community that does not pass judgment, but rather encourages them to grow, learn and live in a safe and nurturing environment.

    “By keeping our funds local, we will be able to give back to families, educators, therapists and many more so that all of the children and adults on the autism spectrum can reach their full potential in life,” she said. “Whether it is hosting a workshop for educators, creating events for families, handing out safety kits to help keep children safe, and so on, our goal is to help in any way we can to ease the financial burdens, create safe and nurturing environments, and above all promote autism awareness, education and support in Aroostook County.”

    In addition to the Autism Challenge, there are other activities planned for the month. The Aroostook Autism Support Group has coordinated these events:

    • The Wintergreen Arts Center, in conjunction with the Aroostook Autism Support Group, is holding an open studio for families who have children with special needs from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, April 5. This event will offer a variety of sensory activities, along with a puzzle piece project. Thanks to a generous donation from Garrett and Julie Sheehan, this event is free, but space is limited. Please call or email Wintergreen to reserve a spot.

    • Aroostook Autism Support is hosting a sensory-friendly screening of the children’s animated film “Happy Feet” Saturday, April 12 at 10 a.m. at the Braden Theater. The lights will be turned up, sound turned down, and all will be encouraged to sing, dance, move and otherwise enjoy the film. This screening is open to anyone who might normally have some sensitivity in going to the movie theater. Cost is $5 per person and this includes ticket, popcorn and a drink. Tickets can be purchased in advance from Lisa Brewer or Maeghan Swanson or at the door the day of the event.

    • Aroostook Autism Support is hosting a music and movement class with Wendy Zubrick Saturday, April 19 from 10-11 a.m. at the Easton Elementary School gym. This class will include songs, fine and gross motor movements, artistic expressions and social interactions. This event is free and is a parent/child class.

    “Being the mother of two young girls in today’s world can be scary and being the mother of two young autistic girls today can be downright terrifying,” said Lisa Brewer, co-founder of the Aroostook Autism Support Group. “As parents, we rely so much on the professionals for the answers to our questions, but the truth is, autism is still such a mystery and, not for lack of trying, there aren’t many black and white answers.

    “Awareness is so important; awareness makes the unknown less terrifying and awareness breeds acceptance and — at the end of the day — that is what I want for my girls. I want them to be the best that they can be, and I want them to be accepted for who they are,” she said. “Aroostook County is a unique place; these small communities and these people are so supportive of each other and genuinely care. I encourage people to get on board and be part of the process, because together, when everyone does a little, there is no limit on the progress to be made.”

    Local organizations or groups looking to support the efforts of the Autism Challenge monetarily or with auction items should contact CompetitorME at