Autism is a neurological disorder that impairs behavior and communication; often tragically. More than 4,000 families in Southwestern Pennsylvania have children with this disability. Their families are often overwhelmed by the enormous task of discerning and providing for their complex needs.
Existing solely on donated funds, the Autism Society of Pittsburgh – a chapter of the Autism Society of America – addresses the needs of these children through a comprehensive array of information, advocacy and referral services, which are provided to their families and the caring professionals and service providers who work with them. This includes creating, developing and improving programs and approaches in diagnosis, treatment, education, training and social adjustment.
The Autism Society of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix support for the Autism Society of Pittsburgh has rocketed awareness of the needs of those with autism to heights no other area of the country enjoys. The massive crowds and event sponsors at the PVGP car shows, celebrations and vintage auto races provide steady funding that has helped increase autism services in our region every year since the event was founded in 1983. The Autism Society of Pittsburgh exists solely on such donated funds.
According the Autism Society president Dan Torisky “In addition to sustaining all this for our growing autism population, much more remains to be done. And now, with the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Foundation in the driver’s seat – literally – we look forward with confidence to the challenges. We can’t imagine a more appropriate Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix presenting sponsor!”
The 2014 Pennsylvania autism census and the current autism incidence rate indicates more than 8,000 families are living with autistic family members in the seven southwestern Pennsylvania counties served by the Autism Society of Pittsburgh. Our information, referral and advocacy efforts — plus our initiatives resulting in new and improved services for those with autism since 1967 – are specifically focused on this demographic, as well as countless more with differential diagnoses. This is due to the wherewithal provided in large part by the support and autism awareness-building of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix.
Indeed, autism-affected families relocate here because our region has become a national leader in providing a full continuum of appropriate service options that families, as primary caregivers, may access at various times throughout the lives of their autistic sons and daughters.
In this. we take particular pride in our supportive association with the other PVGP charity; Allegheny Valley School. in promoting and ensuring a full continuum of residential service settings. including institutional. congregate. group homes. supervised apartments. as well as community housing.
Here are some of the programs funded by PVGP donations:
SPEAK Summer Camp Program – An extended school year (ESY) community-based summer program of education and recreation to prevent seasonal regression in children with autism, aged 5 through 21. One of three programs prioritized by Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services, it has served 60-90 students with autism per year since 1974 — more than 2,700 total – increasing their ability to cope more readily with the realities of our complex society. Today there are many ESY programs, public and private. SPEAK was the first and remains the standard for quality comprehensive instruction, including art, music, dance, yoga, gym, swimming, and innumerable community field trips.
Spectrum Charter School – founded in 2000 — the first of its kind in the nation to combine classroom education and vocational training for those with autism aged 12 to 21 — enabling them to transition to productive employment upon graduation. We continue to support Spectrum in their fundraising efforts, such as the annual Touch a Truck event. Another ongoing investment, underwritten by your funds, is our robotics program, in conjunction with RoboKind, Inc., using an animated, mechanical “personality” named Milo, for robot-mediated behavior intervention. We facilitated the training of staff in robotics utilization to help engage students in our SPEAK program, as well as the 2016-17 Spectrum Charter School
Law Enforcement Training – Also of significance in 2016 and 2017 is our pioneering training of law enforcement, legal and judicial professionals who encounter juveniles with autism who get caught up in our justice system. For these professionals, in probation, corrections, plus police, public defenders, prosecutors and defense attorneys and judges at all levels, we develop instruction, buttressed by PowerPoint and audio/visual training films. We demonstrate ways for them to communicate effectively with those on the autism disability spectrum. In 2016 alone, we trained 540 local and statewide magisterial district judges.
Delta Airlines and U.S. Transportation Administration staff at Pittsburgh International Airport, involving development of “Traits of Autism” video. This training film is also available at no charge to those traveling by air with autistic family.
Boy and Girl Scout leaders. We are providing training presentations to scout leaders, working specifically with the Trailblazers Outreach Program of the Boys Scouts which conducts scouting programs focusing on special
Donations from PVGP and other sources have enabled us to sustain our existing programs that have continued to prove beneficial over the years. These include:
- Autism Policy Work Group – we continue to be the nerve center and initiator of “alerts” to a local and statewide autism community list of 22,000 autism families and supporters. We continue the ongoing education and enlightenment of elected and appointed officials locally and statewide. This governmental enlightenment effort directly affects every person in and working with the local autism community and beyond.
- Autism-Resources.com – we are in the process of upgrading this parent-fed information exchange, which lists local and -statewide services and establishments recommended by parents as accommodating to those with autism, also linking it with national resource lists.
- Information and Referral – through our monthly newsletters, Face Book and other social media, we continue the collection and dissemination of information on autism, guardianship, wills and trusts, identification, research, relevant news, statutory and regulatory changes, new and pending legislation, and other information of interest and value to our autism community. We routinely field between 6-12 calls on a weekly basis from various individuals requesting information regarding available autism resources, or who have legal issues- such as guardianships, estate planning, the ABLE Act, and other representation in court – who are in need of information and referrals.
- Joey Travolta Film Camp – Major sponsor of the “Arts for Autism” film camp premier at the Waterworks Cinema in Fox Chapel. For the sixth year, campers with autism – under the direction of Joey Travolta and camp founder Carolyn Hare — are the writers, directors, actors, producers and editors, bringing their own concepts and stories to life in three short movies, a commercial and a news broadcast.
- Prospective Employer Training – Commercial, business, retail, museums, libraries, job sites across the board. Adapting existing “traits of autism” and re-scripting our existing training videos for given audiences.
- Waiver Support Broker Services – Aid those who may need assistance with finding services and support in addition to filing the necessary paperwork required of the Pennsylvania waivers.
- Autism Society of Pittsburgh App – Costs associated with maintaining the electronic communication enhancement app, which is used to advertise and promote upcoming events and communicate ongoing activities with app users.
- Higher Contact Transition Program – Utilize the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena for a year ’round day program for autistic children and severely involved adults, offering a variety of physical Includes partial scholarships.
- Sensory-Friendly Adaptive Playground – Underwritten by us, a local Girl Scouts Gold Award candidate is seeing her project come to fruition, using sensory friendly playground equipment and modified landscaping to encourage children with autism to play, interact and learn more easily.The importance of sustaining and enabling these local initiatives to grow spurs us on, along with the skyrocketing increase in incidence of autism, now 1 in 68 births and over 8.000 in the greater Pittsburgh area – and ever increasing numbers of individuals with autism of adult age. Serving them appropriately now does translate into huge savings down the road in so many other associated service areas. We pray 2018 will be yet another successful Grand Prix year. The value of your generous support for our work this year and beyond is inestimable.