New resources are available for families dealing with autism

Aaron Bly, Founder of Kids and Dreams, with his son Trae.

Since 2004, the rate of American children with autism has more than doubled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For families here in central Nebraska some resources have recently become available.

"When parents find out that their child has a disability, regardless of the disability, they go through the grieving process," Renee Engel, Director of Special Education for Grand Island Public Schools, said.

For Clifford and Carrie Thibodeau, they've been through that process three times.

"We never really thought about whether they were all going to be on the spectrum or if it was just going to be him," Clifford said.

Their children Shelby, 19, Jimmy, 13, and Cheyenne, 11, all have autism.

"Research would show that autism is hereditary and could follow–so if you have one child with autism, the chances of you having another child with autism are greater," Engel said.

According to the CDC, if parents have one child with autism the second child has a 2 -18 percent chance of being autistic–that risk even greater in older parents.

Luckily for the Thibodeaus, they're not alone.

"With Trae, just over the many years, we just felt that we could provide something for children and families that are experiencing autism," Aaron Bly, Founder of Kids and Dreams Foundation.

12 years ago, Aaron Bly and his wife Kerri adopted their son Trae.

"He was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. He couldn't walk or talk until he was about two and a half," Blye said.

After years of therapy, Trae is exceeding doctors' expectations, giving the Bly family a sense of hope, which made them want to extend it to other families going through a similar journey. This motivated them to create the kids and dreams foundation.

"It turned out to be more than just helping families that have kids with autism. We're focused on helping with bullying and really just providing hope for those families, no matter where they're at,” Bly said.

The organization holds an autism conference for parents of autistic children to mingle and learn more about the disorder.

The foundation even hosts a weekend camp for autistic kids, ‘Operation Shine Camp.’

The two–day camp gives kids a chance to make friends–doing activities like swimming, horseback riding, and even zip lining.

"It feels like I was flying through the air," Trae said.

Bly said this is a good experience for parents, too.

"To be able to have them come and see their kids do amazing things at camp –things that they maybe didn't think they could do and just build that self–esteem for the kids and bring hope for the families. We're happy to do that," he said.

Engel said ‘Operation Shine Camp’ is exactly what autistic children need– an outlet for social freedom.

"A lot of times they stay very much within their own point of view," Engel said. “They have difficulty with executive functioning and taking other people's perspective so those are definitely skills that we have to purposefully and intentionally practice and teach them," she said.

Engel said it's about transitioning autistic children from one activity to the next.

She said sometimes you have to introduce them to social norms in small doses because many have different sensory needs.

"Learning how to cope with the sensory input that they have on a daily basis. Some of our students of high sensory needs. It might be their sensitivity to smells, sounds lights," Engel said.

Research shows that up to 80 percent of Autistic children have troubled sleep patterns which means many of their parents don’t get much rest.

Another goal ‘Operation Shine Camp’ has is giving parents a weekend of respite. For the Thibodeaus, it doesn't happen often.

"Any alone time that we get is usually–he has off on Wednesday so when we take the kids to school, sometimes we would go and just have lunch at Olive Garden," Carrie Thibodeu said.

The Thibodeaus said they want their kids to reach for the stars in life.

"Have them see themselves as any other normal child with the same goals and the same dreams," Clifford said.

Cheyenne wants to be a veterinarian while Shelby is looking at a career in meteorology, while Jimmy will most likely need living assistance forever.

"Every student, even if they have a disability, is bigger than just their disability, and we always want to keep that in the forefront of educators to consider those individual needs." Engel said.

Carrie wants parents dealing with autism to remember one thing.

"Don't take one person's word for it and say, 'well this is what you got' because that's not what you got. There is–nothing is impossible and there are no limits. Nothing is impossible and there are no limits. The only limit is the one you set," she said.

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