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Event provides fun for families with autistic children, furthers education about disability

June 24, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • A.J. Lyles, 11, of Hagerstown plays in the pool Sunday with his father Ronald Lyles during the three-year anniversary celebration for Providing Relief for Autistic Youth at Yogi Bear Jellystone Park in Williamsport.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT — Ronald Lyles and his wife, Ellen, brought their adopted son A.J. out for some fun at Yogi Bear’s Water Zone Sunday and the 11-year-old was ready to go.

A.J. was diagnosed as being autistic when he was about 3 years old. His father said it is important that autistic children have a place where they can socialize with others.

“Most of the autistic kids, they like being by themselves and don’t like change. And when they can get out with kids in the same category, it gives them a chance to see and interact,” Ronald Lyles said.

Autism, a bioneurological developmental disability that generally appears before the age of 3, impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills and cognitive function, according to the National Autism Association.

Individuals with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction, and leisure or play activities, according to the association.

A.J. and his family were at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park off Lappans Road Sunday afternoon as part of the third anniversary celebration for a local organization called Providing Relief for Autistic Youth Inc., or PRAY.

Matt Dittman, president of PRAY, said he became involved in the start-up of the organization after he noticed a lack of resources for people with autism. Dittman, whose son was diagnosed with autism in 2008, said PRAY now has about 60 people on its contact list.

PRAY strives to be a reliable source of information for services and resources for individuals with autism and their families. Some of the services the organization helps with include financial and family support, and therapy referrals, according to its website.

Autistic individuals and their families were invited to the local camp and resort for a day of fun from 3 to 6 p.m. Dittman said 47 people registered to attend.

Although Lyles said state services for autistic individuals are “fairly good,” he and his wife said there need to be changes in a state waiver program for autistic people. The waivers offer assistance with programs like recreation for autistic individuals and in-home care, said Lyles, who lives in Huyetts Crossroads.

But some families cannot get the waivers, based on the severity of autism, and Lyles and his wife said all families with autistic family members should get help.

State Sen. Christopher B. Shank, who was at Sunday’s event, said he supports expanding the waivers for autistic individuals.

“Clearly, early intervention is the key with autism,” said Shank, R-Washington, adding that expanding the program comes down to funding.

There was a proposal to secure more funding for the assistance through an alcohol tax, Shank said. But the money ended up going for school construction, “which was very unfortunate,” he said.

Besides offering fun for families of autistic individuals, Sunday’s event also offered training to employees of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park. About 14 workers, including lifeguards, received autism awareness training, which is important given the high number of autistic individuals, said Trish Ieraci, public relations director for PRAY.

Ieraci said the average for people diagnosed with autism used to be 1 in 110 people but now the average is 1 in 88.

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