Shining a Light on Autism
Raising Autism Awareness in our Community
April is national Autism Awareness month and throughout Lancaster County, local businesses and organizations are joining together to help raise awareness for this complex diagnosis. Here at Characters Pub, we are honoring the strides the Autism Spectrum Connections and LINK of Elizabethtown College have made in educating our community with our April Celebrity Bartending Night on Wednesday, April 29th from 5:00pm – 8:00pm. The evening was inspired by our bartender Bill Davis and his dedication to providing a loving, meaningful life for his son Chris. Joining in this very special evening of support for Autism Awareness is an extraordinary line-up behind our bar from Bill’s friends in the #DowntownLancaster restaurant community. We are excited to welcome celebrity bartenders Josh Funk of Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, James Futty and Kevin Brown from The Fridge, and Joe Devoy of Tellus360.
While this is a special event, the emphasis on autism advocacy is a constant focus for Bill. Bill and his son Chris have been challenging the stereotypes of autism since Chris was born. Diagnosed with autism at birth, Chris has experienced numerous obstacles concerning his eating, speaking, sleeping and self-injurious behaviors. However, these challenges never deterred Chris’s father Bill from providing the best possible resources and attention to help his son grow. On a mild spring afternoon, we sat down with Bill, author of the books; Breaking Autism Barriers: A Father’s Story and Dangerous Encounters: Avoiding Perilous Situations with Autism, to learn more about Chris, his story, and ways to help raise awareness for this significant cause.
CP: Your son Chris was born with autism and early on doctors advised that Chris be institutionalized. You refused to give up on your son and began a center that specializes in Applied Behavior Analysis therapy (ABA). What advice or insights can you offer families faced with the challenging decision of what steps to take following an autism diagnosis?
Bill: Get started, don’t deny or feel guilty. Empower yourself with knowledge about the resources, therapies, and medications that are available to you and your child. Understand that this is not the end of the world, you can talk with family and friends for support. Remember to treat your child like a child first, they are not an experiment, and trying to understand the “whys” to your child’s behaviors will help you determine the best course of action to help them grow. Modify techniques to discover what works for your child and remind them that they are different in a beautiful way, and that they are loved. For a child with autism, everything is a process, from responding to a question to getting ready in the morning. Try to frame situations so your child can better understand what is happening and what is coming up next.
CP: Applied Behavior Analysis therapy is defined by Applied Behavioral Strategies as, “a discipline that employs objective data to drive decision-making about an individual’s program. That is, data is collected on responses made by the individual to determine if progress is being made or not; if there is no progress under a particular intervention, we need to reevaluate the program and change it so that the child begins to make progress.” Can you please explain some of the techniques or methods used in ABA, and how this approach has helped Chris grow and flourish.
Bill: Simply put, ABA is a method of teaching that focuses on rewarding positive outcomes. Play and conversations are very important to helping your child build their understanding of their surroundings. Building on associations and using teaching moments can help your child make connections. Through a partnership with Rutgers University, Chris received these therapies, which were very innovative at the time. They helped us figure out how Chris learns and the best methods to communicate with him. It is an ongoing process to try to figure out what the best techniques are for your child. Try not to get discouraged, you are learning too.
CP: According to a study published in conjunction with Autism Speaks, autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys. This is a staggering number and many families may be feeling overwhelmed. What are some resources you found helpful and would suggest to other families?
Bill: Knowledge is key. Connect with local organizations that offer community resources, information on local laws, as well as access to great teachers and support meetings. Learn about state regulations regarding special education, and empower yourself with a legal understanding in order to know your child’s rights. There are many websites that offer information for parents, including Wrights Law, where you can look up cases and get informational books. Cure Autism Now (C.A.N) is also a great online resource for families as well as ASERT, which is a Pennsylvania based resource center. Read often. Two books that have brought autism awareness into the public conversation are; Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Try to take in as much information as you can on the laws, education outlets and resources for your child. Conferences are also a great way to make connections and gain a better understanding.
We want to thank Bill for taking the time to speak about this powerful topic. The following is a video Bill and Chris shot for The Autism Site. This video further explains their experiences and the growth Chris has displayed.
Please feel free to leave any comments or questions for Bill in the comments section below. For more information on how you can help advocate for individuals with autism, please contact Lancaster Autism Services.