Autism support group hosts celebration Saturday

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Austin resident Calanthea Thomas noticed early on in her son’s life that something wasn’t quite right. But it wasn’t until her son Cameron was 5 when doctors diagnosed him with autism.

She soon learned her neighborhood didn’t have the resources needed to help her child. Now, almost 25 years later, Cameron, 24, is doing well, thanks to The Answer Inc., an autism support group that works with dozens of Austin families and other living on the West Side.

“I didn’t know what to do 24 years ago,” Thomas said. “I wish I had more resources in my own neighborhood.”

Saturday, The Answer Inc. will hold its fourth annual parade, cookout and carnival. The free celebration will spotlight autism and other developmental disorders and also remind families they’re not alone.

Answers are often hard to find for families affected by autism and other developmental disorders. It’s especially true in low-income neighborhoods like Austin. That’s why in 2007, founder and executive director Debra Vines started the group.

“There is nothing really available to support autism in Austin. We are grateful to be that beacon of support and advocacy,” Vines said.

Vines is the mother of an autistic child, now 22. When seeking resources and support years ago, she found no support groups, recreational services or advocacy centers.

The Answer Inc. started its advocacy programs in Proviso Township in suburban West Cook County. Now serving Austin and other West Side communities, the nonprofit organization primarily focuses on autism but also supports other developmental disorders, including Down syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder and cerebral palsy.

The Answer Inc.’s goal is to share children with autism with the community – for the benefit and enrichment of everyone.

“In communities of color, resources are very limited. We are currently partnering with other agencies to provide these types of services,” Vines said.

She hopes people from Austin – whether they have a personal connection to autism or not – and beyond will stop by Saturday’s celebration, which will feature live music, dance performances and more. The event will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. at Broadview Park District, 2600 S. 13th Ave. in Broadview.

“We are encouraging all families to come out and enjoy this day,” said Vines. “Autism awareness is a message for everyone.”


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