by Terry Rogers
Until her daughter, Ava, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, Kelly Voshell said she had no idea what it was. For that reason, she feels it is critical to education people about autism and to encourage inclusion.
“We started Ava’s Angels, a group of family and friends who treasure Ava who is now 11,” Voshell said. “We have gathered for seven years to support her and other families who have loved ones on the autism spectrum. Our group raises money that we donate to Autism Delaware which advocates, supports and provides information and direction to those affected by autism in Delaware.”
In 1991, there were 152 public school students in Delaware who were diagnosed as autistic. In 2017, that number had grown to 2,109. Autism Delaware says that it is difficult to provide an exact figure on people with autism in Delaware because not all people affected utilize public systems that allow them to be tracked. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 1 in 59 children under the age of 8 have some form of autism and that autism is four times more common in boys than girls.
Autism is known as a spectrum disorder which means that symptoms and characteristics can present in a wide variety of combinations. Although autism has a certain set of behaviors, people with the same diagnosis can act very differently which means there is no standard “type” of person with autism.
“The most important thing to understand is, whatever the diagnosis, individuals can learn and function productively and show gains from appropriate education and treatment,” the Autism Delaware website states. “Autism Spectrum Disorders may include Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Rhett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder as well as autism that is not other wise specified. All of these are no longer separate but fall under Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
Ava’s Angels raise money for programs offered by Autism Delaware, including POW&R, Family Support and Advocacy.
“POW&R was created to provide assistance to adults with autism so that they are able to find employment or volunteer at businesses in their communities,” Voshell said. “POW&R stands for Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation. Autism is a lifelong disorder and those who are on the spectrum may need supportive services to live independent lives as they age. This was why POW&R was created, to provide adults with autism the opportunity to work.” In addition to special programs like POW&R, the funds raised go to provide families with assistance and advocate for those who are on the spectrum.
Ava’s Angels will participate in the Autism Walk planned for April 4 at Cape Henlopen State Park. Another walk will take place at Bellevue State Park on April 5. Voshell said that people who want to help can volunteer at either of the walks or start a team to raise funds. Donations can be made to Ava’s Angels at https://m-autismdelaware.akaraisin.com/20086/team/283675.