WILKES-BARRE — Austin Vanchure often finds a trip to the grocery store challenging.
The 8-year-old is affected by affected by autism spectrum disorder.
Trips to the bowling alley, on the other hand, can be a different story.
At least Saturday’s Parents & Professionals Autism Bowl 2014 was. The event, sponsored by John Heinz Rehabilitation/Allied Services Autism Outreach, provided free bowling, snacks and gifts for children with autism.
Over 300 people attended the event, which filled fifteen lanes. Attendees made new friends and great memories, according to participants.
Traci Vanchure, Austin’s mother, said she was grateful for the opportunity the event provided for those affected by autism to socialize with others and simply “have fun.”
“Socialization is often a major problem for autistic children,” said Vanchure. “Events such as these provide a chance for them to meet other children like themselves in a positive atmosphere of acceptance.”
She also emphasized the need for families affected by autism to meet other families challenged by the disorder. She said not only do family members share experience and hope with each other, they often are able to provide helpful information and access to resources available in the community.
“Parents and Professionals,” is the brainchild of Dolphus Teart and Julie Miller-Holbrook. Eight years ago, Miller-Holbrook, a speech pathologist at John Heinz Rehabilitation Center, and Teart, a parent of a child affected by autism, found they shared a common vision of families affected by autism gathering for socialization and support. When funding became available, they were able to make that vision a reality.
“Events such as this provide a safe healthy positive environment,” said Teart. “We understand some behaviors often labeled as unacceptable in the community.”
Since the organization was founded, it has brought families together at such venues as the movie theaters, skating rinks, Steamtown National Park and the Philadelphia Zoo. Over 6,000 young people and their families have been served by the organization.
Teart said not only do the events provide a recreational outlet, but also opportunities for the children involved to learn such skills as waiting in line and appropriate communication skills.
Miller-Holbrook said the organization chooses events such as bowling and movie attendance simply because they are age appropriate. He stressed the need for those with autism to participate in typical activities in a community setting.
The organization’s goal is to supplement social and peer support opportunities for persons with autism spectrum disorder, their parents, teachers and therapists; and to welcome as many families as possible, without regard to organizational affiliations or home communities.