In an effort to promote Autism Awareness, Cornerstone Autism Center has created a Happy Video and HappyBecause.org. One of our employees wrote a letter to Ellen DeGeneres in the hopes that she would help promote our video. Here is what Haleigh Schoon wrote to Ellen.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released new data on the prevalence of autism. It suggests that today in the United States, an estimated 1 in 68 children are living with autism spectrum disorder. With these prevalence statistics on the rise over the last several years, there has been a great increase in the discussion about this disorder. While this open dialogue has been positive in many ways, there has also been an increase in questions, misconceptions, and confusion surrounding ASD. It seems as though there is a widespread perception that all children on the spectrum look a certain way, act a certain way, and have the same behaviors. Every child with autism also has his or her own struggles. No two children are alike, so there is no “one size fits all” intervention strategy. Thankfully, there is a very special organization in Indiana that I am blessed to work for that has one central goal: to make a positive impact on the autism community.
Cornerstone Autism Center is dedicated to helping children with autism reach developmental milestones. Through intensive, 1 on 1 applied behavior analysis therapy, our staff achieves progress with children of varying functioning levels on the spectrum. Programming is designed for each child based off of their individual needs. Social skills, daily living skills, self-care, verbal skills, feeding, and behavioral support are among the many areas we focus on every day in order to help our kiddos achieve their maximum potential. Our goal is always to transition our kiddos to the least restrictive environment possible. They are capable of success, independence, and social relationships. We just help to get them past the barriers that stand in their way of achieving these things.
Cornerstone’s founders, David and Debbie Ide, were personally affected by this disorder when one of their twins was diagnosed with autism in 1999. After seven years of countless evaluations, assessments, doctor visits, and therapy sessions, David left his 20 year sales career and moved his family from Orange County, California to Zionsville, Indiana. Indiana was and still is on the forefront of progress made in the world of autism, as it was one of the first states to have an insurance mandate allowing children with autism access to necessary, intensive therapy services. After living here for several years and establishing connections in the autism community, David and Debbie met a Board Certified Behavior Analyst named Ken Weadick and something clicked. They recognized Ken’s clinical knowledge and expertise and decided to partner with him to start a new center. On July 9, 2010 Cornerstone Autism Center opened the doors to clients at their first center in Greenwood. Nine months later, the West Lafayette Center was born. We are currently serving 83 children across both centers and counting!
One of the countless reasons I love Cornerstone is the strong emphasis put on employee and family fulfillment. Coming from a business background, David and Debbie knew that when employees feel valued in the workplace, performance and morale will be higher. They also knew as parents of a child with autism that when families are supported and empowered their child will be more likely to progress. Out of that came our three legged mission statement: “Maximize those who struggle. Embrace those who love. Fulfill those who serve.” Through our dream manager program, educational reimbursement program, continuous trainings, social events, and other countless acts of generosity by David, Debbie, and Ken, our staff members have been enabled to reach goals that would have otherwise been difficult to achieve. Pounds have been lost, miles have been run, loans have been paid off, homes and cars have been purchased, degrees have been earned, and the list goes on and on.
With parent trainings and consultations, our clients’ families have been able to equip themselves with the skills necessary to utilize effective strategies in their own homes. No longer do our clients’ parents have to feel as though they cannot take their child into the community for fear of losing control of a behavior. A typical part of life hindered by sensory difficulties is haircuts. We have solicited the services of a stylist to come and provide haircuts to clients that need them every six weeks. We prepare them for this through desensitization programs. On the day of the haircut, our clinical staff helps the child work through anxiety and they are able to get a haircut in a judgment-free environment. People who have limited exposure to autism do not often realize the amount of stress that can accompany situations that most consider routine.
When David passed away unexpectedly last March, his friends and family, as well as the Cornerstone family, were shaken to the core. Many concerns and uncertainties surrounded his death. His passion for this field and his drive to make a difference was unprecedented. Many wondered if the loss of one of our leaders would negatively affect the work we do. While the loss of David Ide was devastating for the people of our organization and the autism community as a whole, we feel that the truest way to honor his memory is to carry out his dream of helping as many children as we possibly can. We continue to grow and explore new ways to make the lives of our clients easier.
David was proud of the effect we were having on the autism community, but his vision was bigger. In December of 2009, Cornerstone Autism Foundation was developed. Through this foundation we have been able to donate iPads, build a sensory room, and provide funds to not-for-profit agencies serving individuals on the spectrum. Cornerstone has also collaborated with a local movie theater to provide viewings of popular children’s movies once a month with the lights in the theater turned up and the sound of the movie turned down. Because many children with autism have issues with certain sensory stimuli, it is difficult for them to watch a movie in a dark, loud theater. This a luxury many neurotypical people take for granted. We call this program “Lights Up, Sound Down” and it is funded by the foundation. The project funded by the foundation that we hold nearest to our hearts is the “Splash Pad” built in Greenwood, Indiana in memory of David. This is an area in the town park where children can come engage in water play. There is a tree planted in his honor and a bench for people to sit and enjoy time with their families, like David always did.
We, as an organization, do not believe that one “picture of autism” exists. Every child on the spectrum has his or her own personality and spirit. They each have their own individual dreams, talents, and goals. Every family affected by autism has its own needs and concerns. Their journey is a bumpy one but it is not all negative. Cornerstone’s goal in making this video is to give the world a glimpse of the fascinating and unique children we get to work with every day. We hope that releasing this video will raise awareness and shed light on the beautiful side of autism. To accompany the video, we have also created a website (www.happybecause.org) to show anyone who visits it that children with autism have a lot about which to be happy. Many of the things that our clients love are common things that make most any child happy. When you look into the smiling faces all over that website, it is easy to see they are not much different from their neurotypical peers.
Cornerstone Autism Center is a remarkable place. It has been a blessing to our clients, families, and staff. While we are only located in Indiana, there are resources all over the country offering services and support for families affected by autism spectrum disorder. With more research and awareness about autism, even more resources will become available and more people can be helped sooner. April is National Autism Awareness Month. Please help us spread the word about autism. Every child deserves to be “happy.”
April 8, 2014, Debbie Ide