By C.D. DESALVO
Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the United States and affects the lives of one in every 68 children in the country. The growth of the disorder has prompted people around the country to start raising awareness for autism.
The Fort Hays State University College of Education and the student service organization Tiger Pals will take part in the first Hays Community Autism Spectrum Disorder Awareness Project from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.
The event is split into three different activities. From 1 to 3 p.m., there is a Autism Awareness Event in the atrium of the Sternberg museum. This activity is free for everyone and includes different booths by sponsors and public speakers who share their experiences with autism.
“We have more than 10 booths and a podium for speakers to come and talk,” said Dr. Raj Sharma, Special Education Director of USD 489. “The speakers are all coming with different perspectives. We have mental health, education, higher education … plus the perspective of the individuals with autism and parents of autistic kids.”
From 3 to 4 p.m., there will be an autism walk on the Dr. Howard Reynolds Nature Trails, just west of the Sternberg Museum. The walk will promote awareness, hope, tolerance and understanding.
“Along the walk, we have all the facts about autism on signs set up along the way. This way people can get to know more about autism,” Sharma said.
The final activity of the day is a “Roar Free” half hour inside the Sternberg Museum. The museum has a sound system that makes noises for some of the dinosaur displays that depict how the creatures would sound. These will be shut off for 30 minutes so people that struggle with loud noises can enjoy the whole museum.
“Sometimes noise can frighten someone with autism, so this is their opportunity to go to the museum and enjoy it,” Sharma said.
The event has been funded through the the selling of Autism Awareness T-shirts. Over 300 T-shirts were sold for the event. For the “Roar Free” part of the day, the first 100 people wearing an Autism Awareness shirt will get into the Sternberg Museum for free. After the first 100 people, the cost is $5 each for both children and adults.
“Not just one person can make a difference. All these people that volunteered have big hearts,” Sharma said. “These people were meeting every week for an hour to put this together, and I know how valuable their time is.”
The volunteer group was able to put the event together, make T-shirts and then sell them out all within a month and a half.
“We all get touched every day in our lives and at work, and we all felt that we need to do something together that raises awareness in this community and it has been a great positive thing,” said Nancy Duffy of Development Services of Northwest Kansas.
In addition to the Sternberg Event on April 22, the volunteers reminded the community to wear blue on Thursday, April 20, to stand in unity for autism awareness.
A full list of the volunteers making the event happen:
Dr. Robert Bruce Scott – FHSU Undergraduate Special Ed Program
Jackie Sakil – Marketing Manager for Employment Connections, DSNWK
Nancy Duffy – DSNWK
Mark Dinkel – Westside School/High Plains Mental Health Center
Keshawn Sewell – Tiger Pals FHSU Student Organization
Dr. Jacqueline Lubin – Advanced Education Programs
Kathryn Erk – Coordinator Student Accessibility Services FHSU
Ashley Crowley – Team Josiah 2K22
Lisa Keathley – FHSU Cheerleading
April Green – Autism Family Support Group: Hays
Dr. Raj Sharma – Special Education Director/Hays West Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative
Lindy McDaniel – Special Education Teacher USD 489
Dr. Valerie Zelenka – FHSU Undergraduate Special Ed Program
Audrey Lindenmeyer- Program Director, KVC WHEATLAND HOSPITAL
Lavonne Giess- DSNWK