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Moms create autism art walk to benefit special needs classrooms

Federal Way Mirror - 2/16/2019

When two local mothers noticed the detrimental underfunding of their kids' special needs classrooms, they decided to turn adversity into action.

Carrie Yang and her husband, Hugh, have 3-year-old twins, Alex and Ava. The twins attend Adelaide Elementary School in Federal Way.

Ava is your typical toddler, Yang said. Early on, Alex was diagnosed through Seattle Children's Hospital with severe non-verbal autism.

"He will need support and care for life," Yang said.

Their Federal Way classroom is an inclusive mix of students ages 3 to 5 years old. Most of the students have special needs ranging from Down syndrome to severe non-verbal autism.

It started with a need for paper plates.

Special education classrooms and programs are underfunded statewide, but Yang feels the lack right here in Federal Way.

"My kids' classroom is in need of basic supplies, touch pads, and computer programs that teach these non-verbal kids how to use sign language [and other ways to communicate]," Yang said. "All of this is extremely expensive. There is no money coming in to purchase these items. So I decided something must be done."

Thus, the Autism Auction and Art Walk event came to life. Yang and partner-in-fundraising, Tara Janicki, decided "every penny" of the proceeds will be shared between the Orting Primary Special Education Program and Children's Therapy Center, and a preschool special education classroom at Adelaide Elementary School.

Janicki, who owns K.T. Cakes in Orting, is providing all of the desserts for the complimentary sweet treats bar.

"This idea was ignited just three short months ago," Yang said about pulling off the big event with help from a generous network. "Without [each] other, we couldn't pull this off in the way we have."

When Yang hired Tara to make a birthday cake a few years ago, the two moms hit it off and found out they have a lot in common. Tara's son also has autism, diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder.

"We wanted this money to go directly to help the special needs classroom with tablets and programs to help these kids learn to talk," Yang said, mentioning the event is also to celebrate the teachers and paraeducators.

"My kids are absolutely thriving. They love school, they love [their teacher], they come home happy and we think Mrs. Stewart is amazing," Yang said.

This free event includes a live auction, a silent auction and an art walk showcasing masterpieces created by children in the special needs classes, available for name-your-price sale.

For kids with sensory difficulties, there will be a sensory area to escape the party if things become too overwhelming, Yang said.

Early intervention is crucial in learning basic skills, Yang said.

"My son will need care for his lifetime, that thought is horrifying as a parent," she said. "What happens when myself and his dad are not here anymore? How will he function? Will he have the skills to ask for food? To say he is cold? Or he is hurt?"

Proceeds will be a major help, but rallying support from the local community is another hope, Yang said.

"These are kids that don't have big birthday parties because they don't have many friends, or because they have social issues," she said. "So if people can show up to this one event and show these kids how we all believe in them, we are cheering them on in all they do … it will be something the kids won't ever forget."

A star-studded guest list includes Disney princesses; members of the Seattle Seahawks cheerleading squad, the Sea Gals; and other local celebrity surprises.

City leaders, programs such as Federal Way National Little League, FWNLL'S Challenger baseball, and first responders from the Federal Way Police Department and South King Fire and Rescue will also be in attendance.

"It is imperative that our special needs kids learn that the police and fire departments are their safe people," Yang said.

The more exposure to first responders, the better, Yang said.

"The Friends Project," a program that connects kids with physical and intellectual disabilities with first responders to create friendships and eliminate any fears, will also be at the event.

Teaching kids with special needs to trust police and firefighters, or even to look for their uniforms when in an emergency situation, is an important safety step.

A few weeks ago, Alex said "fire truck" as the aid car passed by with its lights on. This was the second time in his life he has spoken — a positive sign the learning is sinking in, Yang said.

The two moms have decided to make this a yearly event, but plan on changing the name to be more inclusive of all special needs, Yang said.

Autism Auction and Art Walk, in conjunction with friends of Troop 361 will be held Sunday, Feb. 24 beginning at 2 p.m. at the Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club (3583 SW 320th St. in Federal Way).

Auction items

A Ride to school (or work!) in a fire truck, courtesy of South King Firefighters Foundation

Suite tickets to the Seattle Mariners

$1,000 photography package, courtesy of JFK Studios

One month family membership plus one month of small-group training for one adult, courtesy of Federal Way Community Center

Indoor go-kart racing gift certificate, courtesy of Skykart Indoor Racing Center

Tickets to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Two tickets to Ride The Ducks in Seattle

Three-hour paint class, courtesy of Pinot's Palette

Four tickets (2 adult, 2 child) to Seafair Hydroplane Races on Aug. 4, 2019

$100 Jimmy Mac's Roadhouse gift card


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