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Autism fundraiser brings in food, fun and family

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By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

Wendy Jacobson and Dani Wykes spent a fun Saturday and Sunday at the Tapps Island clubhouse raising funds and awareness for an important cause in their lives.

Jacobson and Wykes set up the fundraiser to benefit the Birth to Three Developmental Center in Federal Way.

Birth to Three is a private, nonprofit organization that works with children up to 3 years old with various developmental disabilities, including autism.

Jacobson, who lives on Tapps Island, and Wykes, a Lake Tapps resident, both have children who were helped by the program.

Jacobson's 3-year-old son, Tyler, was diagnosed with autism when he was about 2 years old.

Wykes has three children who have been diagnosed with autism. Her son, Parker, is 4 years old and was diagnosed shortly after turning 3. Her twins, son Presten and daughter Keelie, were diagnosed with the same disorder.

Both Wykes and Jacobson told stories of the challenges a family faces when a child is diagnosed with autism.

“My pediatrician told me I was a bad mom,” Jacobson said. “She told me I was raising my son wrong and she told me it was all my fault. She said I wasn't giving him a proper diet. I was going crazy. I had no idea what to do.”

Jacobson found another doctor who told her to have her son tested for autism. When she found Birth to Three she was able to get some help with her child.

“The teachers at Birth to Three help the children learn how to behave in the world,” Jacobson said. “It really makes a big difference. I started with a kid who couldn't talk; now he laughs and can play tag.... The impact they have made on our children will impact us for the rest of our lives.”

Wykes added when raising a child with autism, “nothing is normal. My pediatrician kept telling me Parker was a boy and he would grow out of it. At first we thought he was deaf. One of the problems is the medical community does not recognize it. We were never told to look somewhere else.”

Once Wykes tested her son for autism she discovered the disorder. Her twins were tested and also found to have the disorder.

Both women said another problem facing families is the cost of treating a child with autism, which can be overwhelming.

Jacobson said insurance companies refuse to pay for many of the therapeutic needs of these children.

“They are no movies or designer clothes,” Jacobson said. “You do what you have to for your child.”

Maryanne Barnes, the executive director of Birth to Three, said any child who needs services will be helped.

“We ask any parent who has a concern, regardless of the family's ability to pay, to call us,” Barnes said.

Parents do not need referrals from a doctor or a diagnosis to have their child assessed by the organization.

Liz Munk, an occupational therapy teacher at Birth to Three said, “we try to look globally at the child. We try to see where the impairment is and see if they can understand the world using their senses. We want them to be able to take care of themselves.”

Sharmaine Kopperl, a teacher who specializes in autism, said every child is different and has a different set of needs.

“We want to improve their quality of life and communication skills,” Kopperl said. “We want them to be able to make friends and be part of the community.”

Lauren Roussel, a teacher and autism specialist, said she was volunteering when she was an undergraduate student and began working with an autistic child, “and I really loved it.”

Barnes noted one of the most important issues with autistic children is early detection and early treatment. Treatment at a young age gives a much better chance for the child to find the skills necessary to live in a community.

Birth to Three can be contacted at 253-874-5445 or on the Web at www.birthtothree.org.

A Web site with information about autism is www.firstsigns.-org

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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