Mardi Gras in Fullerton, educational programs at CSUF kick off Autism Awareness Month
Orange County Register - 4/3/2019
April 03-- Apr. 3--April is an especially busy month for Erica Howell. It's Autism Awareness Month, and the co-director of the Cal State Fullerton Center for Autism is typically involved in special activities on and off campus.
This year she will be at the ninth annual Mardi Gras for Autism hosted by Fullerton Cares. The free event, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Fullerton Train Depot parking lot, is a family festival with a number of carnival-themed attractions, including sensory zones that are suited for children of all developmental stages and for children with and without disabilities.
And on campus, Autism Awareness Month events include information on current research and communication strategies from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday in front of McCarthy Hall. Guest speaker Stephen Hinkle, an adult on the autism spectrum, will give a talk on "Uncovering the Hidden Curriculum of School: Insights from a Student" at 6 p.m. Monday at Titan Theater.
On Wednesday, a Community Awareness, Resources, & Engagement event will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of McCarthy Hall.
Howell is involved with Fullerton Cares, and for several years has attended the Mardi Gras to represent the CSUF Center for Autism, where she helps to teach and train educators who are working with individuals with autism.
"First of all the culture of the event is celebrating children with autism and disabilities," Howell said about the Mardi Gras. "It's geared toward families and engaging them with a variety of opportunities. And it's a one-stop shop for parents and kids to get access to who in the community is providing resources and support."
Parents can get information on school districts, community support, creative art programs and agency services, she said, as well as attorneys that can provide support on autism law.
In 2018 the CDC determined that approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. That narrows down to 1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls.
Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups, the CDC has said, but minority groups tend to be diagnosed later and less often.
Early intervention is the best way to ensure children with autism get the best support for healthy development, Howell said.
Larry Houser, who owns the Fullerton restaurant Bourbon Street, founded Fullerton Cares in 2010. The organization raises funds for autism charities and special needs programs in the Fullerton School District. So far it has raised almost $100,000, Houser said.
Aside from the carnival atmosphere, the games, the stilt walkers and balloon twisters, the Madri Gras will feature a Dixieland jazz band and performances by the CF Dance Academy, which is above the Bourbon Street restaurant.
"It brings typical kids and typical families to the event," said Houser, who has an 11-year-old son with autism. "Our goal is to expose those families to autism and that's what makes this event so awesome and inclusive."
The event also features a sensory zone, popular with children with autism, with little pools filled with sensory-oriented media such as water beads, rice and beans.
"When they put their hands in the pools, whatever media it is, it has a calming and soothing effect," Houser said. "It brings down their anxiety. They will just play it for hours."
Howell, who has been at CSUF since 2009, helped found the Center for Autism in 2013. The center taps into a network of community services and advocates to provide a resource for children and adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in Orange County and the Inland Empire.
The faculty is largely from the College of Education and the College of Health and Human Development'sDepartment of Child and Adolescent Studies.
Howell leads the center's educational core, which oversees campus programs like Peer-Assisted College Support, which pairs veteran students at CSUF with students with autism. The current students introduce the new students to campus life and give them advice on anything from communicating with professors to finding the best food on campus.
At CSUF, about 10 students a year are involved with peer assisted programs. "But there are a lot who don't link up and identify," Howell said.
Stephen Hinkle will discuss "Uncovering the Hidden Curriculum of School; Insights from a Student" at April 8 for Autism Awareness Week. (Photo courtesy Cal State Fullerton)
Howell talked about the importance of raising awareness of the challenges faced by those with autism. She recommends Hinkle's talk at CSUF to teachers and stakeholders working with children with autism.
"He is an adult on the autism spectrum who was in public school, and he shares his insight into experiences in public school," she said. "He never knew that kids were having sleepovers -- this hidden social world. And no one thought to explain to him how he could have done that."
"What are those social rules," she said. "His talk to so insightful and so helpful."
For information on Mardi Gras for Autism, visit fullertoncares.com.
For information about CSUF Autism Awareness Month events, email Center Coordinator Malia Masai at email@example.com
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