MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- Editor’s note: April is Autism Awareness Month.
When Diane Blocker’s three-year-old son was diagnosed with autism, she faced reality.
“I cried for about two weeks, because you have a way you see your life, and the more you learn about autism, the more you learn that’s not the way it’s going to be,” she said.
Then she did what moms do. She looked for information and resources.
“I came to terms with it and worked with the cards I was dealt,” said the 14-year Marine Corps veteran who left the Marine Corps after her son was diagnosed and has worked in the Maintenance Center Albany Safety Office since last August.
While her search led to the conclusion that local information and resources about autism were limited, it produced a positive result with the Autism Awareness Walk scheduled for 10 a.m. April 14 at The Parks at Chehaw.
Blocker’s organization, SOWEGA Autism Resources, has joined with four other organizations to sponsor the free walk as part of Autism Awareness Month in April, which is also the Month of the Military Child.
The one-mile walk is just for fun and donations will be accepted to help SOWEGA Autism Resources.
Since she was an active-duty Marine when her son was diagnosed, she turned to MCLB Albany for help and was put in touch with other parents in Albany. But when she attended one local support group, she says she discovered their frustration over the lack of information and resources.
“I went to a support group that had seven parents and everybody was just so frustrated because there wasn’t much help,” said Blocker.
She then set out on her own quest for information and when she finished, Blocker decided to share it with other parents and caregivers for autistic individuals so they could benefit from her research.
“I had all this information piled up on my kitchen table and wanted to make it available,” Blocker said.
This led to her forming SOWEGA, or South West Georgia, Autism Resources Inc.
Besides sharing information with others, Blocker wants to work with local educators to promote educational opportunities in the schools.
Currently, Dougherty County offers classes for special needs individuals at Sylvandale School, but Blocker says autistic individuals learn best when they are grouped with average students, so putting them in classes with other autistic individuals stymies their learning.
She says more than 1,000 children in Dougherty County are going untreated for autism, and because of a lack of educational opportunities in many areas of the nation, many autistic individuals are home schooled.
“Most of the parents I know quit their jobs, like I had to, and they home school. I’m a single parent, so I couldn’t home school,” said Blocker. She provides her son with 40 hours of weekly therapy and credits that with him making developmental progress.
The number of people diagnosed with autism is growing. Blocker says it’s a fast-growing developmental disability and some estimates claim that up to one in every 150 children is now autistic, compared to 10 years ago when the number was one in 10,000. And four out of five are boys.
“All proceeds from the walk will go to work locally to provide information packets to newly diagnosed families, provide training to local special education teachers and to help train therapists in Applied Behavioral Analysis and fund the therapy for underprivileged families,” she said.
The group’s Web site, www.SoWeGaautismresources.org, offers links to resources, and Blocker wants to expand it to include personal stories.
“I’m working to get other parents to write stories about their experiences, the problems and successes. But what’s there now is about local and state resources,” she said.
Blocker said the Autism Awareness Walk, 10 a.m. April 14 at The Parks at Chehaw is open to all and is free. But she asks that walkers pre-register by calling SOWEGA at 894-4055 or 883-6288. Walkers can also register at Chehaw the day of the walk.