A local non-profit organization is working hard to give families the tools they need after receiving a diagnosis that can sometimes seem daunting for parents.
The RTAAF CARES Program is part of the RT Autism Awareness Foundation and started as a pilot with a grant from the Rochester Area Foundation in late 2015.
Since its start, the program has helped roughly 20 families learn more about how to raise a child who has been diagnosed with autism.
And, what's even more, thanks to the generosity of a lot of donors, this 10 to 12 week program for parents is free!
The program meets once a week for an hour and a half, and each program session helps 4 or 5 families.
As part of a partnership with the Mayo Clinic, the RTAAF CARES class gets a lot of clients sent its way from Mayo.
RT Autism Awareness Foundation Executive Director Randy Schmidt told us the goal of the program is to help parents understand they have a place to turn to for resources, and a place to go where they can know that they are not alone.
"It feels like the end of the world, it's the most traumatic, or one of the most traumatic things, right, that a parent can go through. This class intends to give them some hope and some perspective on it. And hey, it's not the end of the world. It's a different journey, it's a different path for your child. But it's not the end of the world," said Schmidt.
Since the program's start at the end of 2015, there have been five sessions and roughly 20 families helped, each family now armed with the tools needed to navigate this life journey.
We met up with one parent who took part in the program, Heather Smith, whose 4-year-old son Cale has autism.
Cale was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism in the summer of 2015.
"He wasn't very verbal, he was screaming a lot, he couldn't tell me what he wanted. And I just knew that wasn't really typical for his age,” said Smith.
A little over year after his diagnosis, Cale is nothing short of thriving.
He now is in preschool and after school goes to the Rochester Center for Children for a couple of hours, to hang out with other children just like him.
"When we went back after a year of having the diagnosis, she actually said he is more mild to moderate on the spectrum," said Smith.
Smith said she owes it all to the education and information she received through the program.
She said another added benefit of the program is meeting other families dealing with the same things...she said she's even stayed in touch with the other families she met in the program!
Smith said the program has given her hope that her son will be able to live a normal life.
"I want him to be able to do things on his own and play sports and go to school and be in a general education classroom,” said Smith.
As for the program, Randy Schmidt said the next session starts next month and there are spots open!
If you are interested in learning more about the program or even becoming a part of the next session, visit the following website:
Also worth noting: the RT Autism Awareness Foundation will be having their annual gala event next Saturday, January 21st. You can also get more information about attending that even on the RTAAF website.