Tonya Rehmeyer is bringing a statewide campaign to Creston.
On April 20, local families, friends and supporters will take part in the first annual Autism Society of Iowa’s statewide Autism Awareness 5k Run/Walk. The 5k is aimed at bringing awareness and support to individuals affected by autism.
Why it’s important
For parents of an autistic child, every day is a challenge. Autism causes perplexing behaviors, including tantrums or repetitive behaviors, and makes communication difficult.
Autism Speaks, a national nonprofit, claims one in 88 children are diagnosed with autism and, on average, one child is diagnosed every 11 minutes.
Living with autism
Rehmeyer knows all too well the impact autism has on a family.
As the mother of 5-year-old Kahne, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 1/2, Rehmeyer said the experience has been exhausting and rewarding at the same time.
For Rehmeyer, her mission is to educate others about autism.
“The biggest challenge is getting people to understand,” said Rehmeyer. “It (the 5k) is about getting the awareness out. Getting people to understand that my kid’s not throwing a fit because he’s not getting what he wants. He’s trying to express what he wants. He’s trying to communicate.”
Once Kahne was diagnosed, Rehmeyer and her husband Daniel were able to work with local resources to help him.
“He goes to a special education class,” Rehmeyer said. “He’s gaining a few more words every day. He makes more eye contact now. He’s very affectionate. Like hugs and kisses and has very few melt downs.”
Rehmeyer said she and her husband try to use the same techniques on Kahne at home that are used by his teachers in the classroom for “repetition and reinforcement.”
“Daniel has been my rock through all this,” said Rehmeyer. “He is learning, as well. It has been a learning process for both of us.”
Rehmeyer said her older son Drake, who is in first grade, is very understanding of Kahne.
“I always tell people, there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Rehmeyer. “It might not always seem bright, but the littlest things make it just glow.”
Rehmeyer recalled the time Kahne called her “mom” for the first time.
“He was 4,” said Rehmeyer. “He didn’t just say the word, he looked at me and said it. Knowing me as mom, it was like the whole world had been lifted from my shoulders. It’s the little things like that, which are incredible.”
The Rehmeyers have set goals for Kahne, who is making great progress.
“We just had to rewrite his goals because he’s already met and bypassed the goals we had set for him,” said Rehmeyer.
Rehmeyer said Kahne played “patty cake” for the first time last year.
“Just getting him to imitate was a huge milestone,” said Rehmeyer.
She said the experience has taught her patience.
“It’s not in the mom’s manual, let me tell you” she said.
Evan Winborn’s family has experienced similar struggles.
Like Rehmeyer, Creston City Councilman Loyal Winborn said consistency is important in treatment of autism.
Winborn said his son, 10, “has periods of learning and unlearning.” He said Evan will make great strides learning over the school year; however, when summer vacation rolls around, Evan regresses if he is not consistently exposed to a learning environment. To keep Evan stimulated, Loyal takes Evan to the library and keeps him active in activities in the community.
“It was difficult to find daycare for Evan when he was young because of his needs,” said Winborn.
However, as Evan made progress, he was able to participate in more traditional classrooms.
“It changes year to year,” said Winborn. “Some teachers are open to it, others can’t handle it or just don’t have the training for it.”
Winborn said the effects of autism are frustrating to Evan.
“He is self-conscious,” said Winborn. “It causes him to have panic attacks.”
According to Winborn, Evan experiences outbursts on occasion, which cause him to rock back and forth or slap his own arms, which are common actions of individuals with autism.
Winborn believes his son’s autism was a result of receiving vaccinations at 6 months old.
“It’s controversial, but I saw it with my own eyes,” said Winborn.
Winborn said his son reacted to the vaccinations with seizures and a fever over 103 degrees.
Before Evan was diagnosed with autism at 1 year old, Winborn said it was labeled as “developmental delays” or “childhood seizures.”
While medication is available to treat some symptoms of autism, Winborn said he chose to treat Evan without them.
One way Evan is battling autism is through “relational therapy.” This type of therapy is a family-based behavioral treatment, which helps an individual with autism think flexibly, appreciate different perspectives, cope with change and integrate information from multiple sources such as sights and sounds.
“He (Evan) does not have any pain or headaches,” said Winborn. “And until he can communicate how he’s feeling —I am just afraid of over-medicating him.”
Winborn said his wife Staci helps greatly in balancing the care of Evan and his brother Xander, 9. Staci will spend time with one of the boys, while Winborn spends one-on-one time with the other.
How you can help
With the help of Michelle Hicks from Creston’s Area Education Agency (AEA), Rehmeyer was able to bring the 5k to Creston.
Registrations are now being accepted for the Autism Society of Iowa ‘s inaugural statewide Autism Awareness 5k Run/Walk.
Creston participants may register at http://autismia.org by clicking on “Creston” or by calling Kris Steinmetz at (515) 327-9075.
Everyone is welcome to walk at no cost. However, for those who include $20 per participant with their registration will receive a T-shirt and one raffle ticket. The raffle is for a mini trampoline and indoor/outdoor water table donated by Walmart. There will also be items for sale including autism awareness magnets and keychains and puzzle piece cookies made by Kustom Kakery.
Registration will begin 2:30 p.m. April 20 in room 124 of the performing arts center at Southwestern Community College and the 5k will begin at 3 p.m.
For more information on The Autism Society of Iowa’s statewide Autism Awareness 5k Run/Walk, please call (515) 327-9075 or visit http://autismia.org.
The fundraiser will include a raffle of a mini trampoline and indoor/outdoor water table donated by Walmart, sale of autism awareness magnets and keychains, and puzzle piece cookies made by Kustom Kakery.