Hometown Hero A Voice for Autistic Children Realtor® offers support to her local autism community.
Some medical experts say that 1 in 166 children in the United States will be diagnosed with autism this year. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have classified autism—a complex brain disorder that inhibits an individual’s ability to communicate, form relationships and interact with people—as the fastest-growing developmental disability in the nation.
“It’s more common than pediatric cancer, childhood diabetes and AIDS combined,” says Susan Maxwell, a sales associate with Premier Realty Group in Stuart, whose own son was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old.
As a liaison for parents of children with autism throughout the Jensen Beach community, Maxwell helps parents cope with their child’s diagnosis by sharing information about her now-9-year-old son, Matthew, and the progress he has made. Her son is enrolled in a special program at Jensen Beach Elementary that’s designed to integrate autistic children into regular classrooms. She says that about 10 children initially attended the program but that it’s grown to about 40 students.
“Before I had Matthew, the only thing I knew about autism was [the movie] ‘Rain Man,’” she says. “What we’re trying to do at the Jensen Beach Elementary program is help people understand that children with autism can go on and do wonderful things in our society. The diagnosis isn’t the end of social experiences for their child or family. A lot of these children are going to college and holding down jobs. Our focus [is on] helping them grow to be productive and valuable members of our society.”
When Maxwell’s son was diagnosed, none of his therapies was covered by insurance because autism wasn’t classified as a physical or neurological disorder, she says. “Families bankrupted themselves paying for treatment, or they [just] went without it. All the programs that we were paying for when Matthew was younger are now offered free—speech and occupational therapy— at the elementary school.”
There is no cure or definitive cause of autism, says Maxwell, but amazing strides have been made in recent years to help these children. “Whatever the cause, it’s something that we deal with, and parents like me are just so blessed and fortunate to have so many therapists and teachers working with our children.”
Maxwell also helps raise money for the program through various fund-raisers and charity golf events, and helps with the organization’s monthly parent get-togethers and a support group. “Our social group is with the moms and dads once a month. We also do golf days with the dads. It gives us camaraderie and lets us talk with others who understand. I want to tell everybody that autism is not the end of the world. It’s just a different world.”
She also donates a portion of her commissions to benefit classroom act-ivities as well as the Martin County Autism Program. Want to Contribute?
To contact Susan Maxwell, call her at (772) 486-4642, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit www.GabeSanders.com