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Group to hold fundraiser for new local autism center

BY GENEVIEVE POSTLETHWAIT gpostlethwait@paducahsun.com

Saturday autism advocacy and support group Families on the Spectrum will host its first annual Aiming for Autism Skeet Shoot Tournament.

Thursday night FOTS President Krissy Ramey announced that though Saturday's activities are free  - including a corn hole tournament, silent auction, face painting, animal balloons and a whole hog barbecue feast - donations are encouraged and will help fund the future West Kentucky Autism Center.

Once established the WKAC will be a comprehensive clinic offering treatment and support for individuals and families affected by autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, Ramey said. Though the group's primary focus is autism - a range of complex disorders of brain development - the WKAC will welcome families dealing with developmental disabilities of any kind.

Ramey said their vision for the center includes diagnostic services and basic therapies including speech, occupational, physical, sensory integration and applied behavioral therapies, as well as family support, counseling and advocacy services. According to Ramey, the group already has several local businesses and physicians who have stepped up and offered their help in making the WKAC a reality. Their goal is to have the center open within a year.

"We are hoping by coming out and being very bold tonight in saying that we are going to do this, that the community will get behind us, will rally with us and will provide the funds to help us make this a reality," Ramey said to a roomful of parents, children, educators and legislators Thursday night. "This is something this community needs."

The group's goals are ambitious, but they have momentum and passion in their purpose. When Ramey and FOTS Vice President Christina Hasty first formed the group last October, they reached out to the community and found eight other "families on the spectrum." Today the group includes 126 families affected by autism, and continues to grow. Several new faces were among the crowd gathered for FOTS's announcement Thursday night.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 68 American children are identified as on the spectrum, a tenfold increase in prevalence over the past 40 years.

For local families with children on the spectrum, the diagnostic, therapeutic and supportive services they need are not available locally, Ramey said. When her own son was diagnosed with autism, Ramey said she was lucky enough to be able to take him to a specialized clinic in Florida and get him aggressive therapy. She realizes that many families simply aren't able to do the same.

Currently the nearest facilities that offer what the WKAC aims to bring to the Purchase area are 140 miles away from Paducah in Bowling Green, Ramey said. The time and money it takes to travel to and from Bowling Green, St. Louis, Louisville or Nashville for treatment can be an enormous stress on families. Sometimes the waiting lists for the initial diagnostic testing alone can take up to 18 months.

"We will not stop inside our center until we do not have a waiting list," Ramey said. "Until every child that needs to be seen is seen, and not just seen, but taken care of - as an individual, not just a person with autism. Our kids are much bigger than just a diagnosis, than that one word. And that's what gets lost in a community that is unaware of what autism really is. They're more than a diagnosis. They are still our children. They are still our future."

Saturday's Aiming for Autism Skeet Shoot Tournament, the kickoff fundraiser for the WKAC, will start at 10 a.m. and continue until about 2 in the afternoon. Events will be held at the Waldon Lodge on Colvin Lake at 779 Colvin Lake Road in Kevil. For directions or for more information, contact FOTS at 270-366-4534.

Contact Genevieve Postlethwait, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or at gpostlethwait@paducahsun.com.

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