Annie Hamilton’s 8-year-old son, Jackson, is on the autism spectrum. Not long ago, he hardly spoke, he wasn’t toilet trained, and he hated going to school. Annie often felt terribly alone as she tried to cope with her son’s unhappiness.
Then Annie discovered the Foundation for Autism Resources (FAR), a nonprofit group that arranged for Jackson to have 40 hours of free therapy a week.
“He’s come so far,” Annie marvels. “He was hardly talking before. Now if he wants ice cream, he can ask me for ice cream.” For the first time, mother and son — and father, Nic — can go together “happily” on walks and to stores and restaurants.
FAR, founded two years ago, is aiding 15 children, ages 2 to 12, from low-income families in south and central Indiana. “We want to extend the opportunity for all children on the spectrum to reach their fullest potential,” says FAR Director Shana Ritter.
FAR provides funds so children can work with therapists who use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a strategy endorsed by the American Psychological Association and the U.S. Surgeon General. ABA relies on rewards, rather than punishments, to teach skills such as how to use the bathroom or use words. It is often complemented by other tech- niques, including occupational and speech therapies.
FAR got its start when a group of ABA therapists started talking about how they might help the children their organizations had to turn away because parents couldn’t afford the fees. One of those therapists was Ritter’s daughter, Ilana. Although Ritter, FAR’s first and only em- ployee, isn’t an autism expert, she has spent her entire career working on extending educational access, most recently at The Equity Project at Indiana University, whose stated mission is to provide evidence- based information specific to issues of school discipline, school violence, and special education.
Ritter says there are plenty of success stories like the Hamiltons’. One she cites is a child with autism who was able to play a board game with his siblings for the first time after an ABA therapist worked with his whole family.
FAR refers children to ABA providers in Terre Haute, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Bloomington. It is funded by both corporate and private donations, and has also relied on crowdsourcing. FAR’s annual Tapas Wine & Jazz benefit at Indianapolis’ Broadmoor Country Club is set for August 21. For details, visit autismresource.org