Health & Wellness

Resources for families coping with autism focus on community

When Laura Slatkin learned that her young son was severely autistic, she cried herself to sleep. That night was back in 2000, and her feeling of sorrow was quickly replaced by action.

“I woke up the next morning and my husband to me, ‘You know Laura, this is a waste of energy,'” Slatkin recalled on TODAY. “'This is just negative energy and you’re not helping anyone.'

“That’s when we decided we were going to roll up our sleeves and do something about it,” she said.

The first thing she did was look for an appropriate school for her son, David, but found none where they live.

“We were shocked that in our community, New York City, one of the most important cities in the world, there was nothing,” Slatkin said.

In 2002, she and her husband, Harry, founded the New York Center for Autism, which focuses on education, community outreach and research. In 2005, the center created a charter school for kids with autism. Laura Slatkin is also the co-founder of New York Collaborates for Autism, which along with New York-Presbyterian Hospital, is planning to open the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain this year.

Slatkin appeared on TODAY with Lisa Goring, vice president of family services at Autism Speaks and Eric Peacock, co-founder of MyAutismTeam.com on Tuesday, World Autism Awareness Day, to discuss their efforts to help families with autistic children and adults.

Autism is one of the autism spectrum disorders, a group of developmental disabilities that can cause social, communication and behavioral problems that vary in degree. A government survey released last month found that 1 in 50 schoolchildren has autism, higher than an earlier federal estimate of 1 in 88 kids.

Autism Speaks has four parts to its mission — research, advocacy, awareness and family services.

“Our goal is really to connect families with resources that can improve the outcomes for their children the young adults and adults with autism,” Goring said.

Peacock, who has a nephew with autism, is also joining families through his site, a social network for parents with autistic children.

“The whole purpose is you want to be able to find other parents just like you and learn from them so you don’t feel that you’re reinventing the wheel or that you’re alone,” he said.

When the site was launched two years ago, it had 30 parents. Now, Peacock said, 40,000 parents from around the country are interacting online.

“You can ask for advice, you can get tips, you can get referrals on providers but most important, you can get support on a day-to-day basis from other parents who understand what you’re going through,” he said.

While there is no cure for autism, most children will benefit from getting services early on, said Slatkin, whose son and his twin sister are now 14.

“It improves the outcome for an individual with autism, most certainly,” she said. “For my son, though, he’s severely affected by autism so even though he had 40 hours of therapy a week, it was challenging. But for most people, it really advances them.”

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