Autism information group in area gaining momentum

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Mike Sciortino saw the pain and anguish autism was causing his grandson, Ethan. The Cape Girardeau man decided he had to do something.

So, about a year ago, Sciortino started a group called Ethan and Friends for Autism and began holding weekly meetings for anyone interested in the disease.

At first, only a couple parents showed up. But in the past six months, the group has grown in size and significance.

Signs of Ethan and Friends' impact are beginning to show up in Cape Girardeau.

"The problem in the past has been that no one knew where anyone else facing autism was," Sciortino said. "We don't want to sit still now. There are new things going on that can help."

Ethan and Friends is on the brink of receiving 501(c)3 tax-free status and has formed a board of directors. The group is working with officials at Southeast Missouri State University on special classes for education majors interested in working with autistic children.

The organization recently received a large donation of books and other resources, and Sciortino is looking for a space to allow families to access the information.

Ethan and Friends is also working on spreading awareness to the public, said Leighanne Collier, Sciortino's daughter.

"One of the worst things about this is the loneliness we feel when we are out in the world," said Collier, whose son is the organization's namesake. "For instance, when parents get dirty looks in the store or while eating out when their child acts what others see as inappropriate, maybe they could think to themselves that this child may have good parents and it is not just a temper tantrum."

In the long run, Sciortino would like to see Missouri form a state task force to study autism and give interested parents access to "applied behavior analysis" -- an expensive therapy that requires one-on-one instruction for autistic children.

"We have to get the word out about new ideas, new medical treatments," Sciortino said. "I see good things happening here."

335-6611, extension 128

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