Autism diagnosis leads Simpsonville family to Project HOPE

Becki and Tommy Plumer felt that something wasn’t quite right with their son, Jack, early on.

At 18 months old, he couldn’t link his words together, his mom said.

Then he had trouble grasping a crayon.

And he couldn’t engage socially with people.

Eventually, their sweet little boy was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and their search for help led them to the Project HOPE Foundation.

“It's been a blessing for us,” Becki Plumer said. “He has just thrived with this program.”

The foundation provides services to more than 200 children with autism including education, support and individualized applied behavior analysis therapy. It also offers social groups and other programs for adults.

The nonprofit was co-founded in 1996 by Lisa Lane and Susan Sachs — now both executive directors — after their sons were diagnosed with autism and services were hard to come by.

Lane said that with the condition now affecting 1 in 68 children, the need for Project HOPE’s services is more critical than ever.

“Literally hundreds of children are waiting for services, and that number is growing every day,” she said.

“Unfortunately, most funding sources do not cover the cost of providing autism treatment," she added. "We rely on the generosity of our supporters to be able to provide these life-saving interventions for children, youth, adults and families who are living with autism.”

One of the foundation’s major fundraisers is An Evening of Hope, a gala event that begins with a cocktail reception, dinner, and live and silent auctions followed by music and dancing.

The auctions include items such as two tickets to see “Hamilton” at the Peace Center with dinner and hotel, two VIP passes to watch a live filming of America’s Funniest Videos in Hollywood with airfare and accommodations, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and a hot tub from Hot Springs Pools & Spas.

Last year, the event raised more than $1 million. This year’s event is being held on April 28 at the TD Convention Center.

“Last year’s Evening of Hope gala was a phenomenal success,” said Sachs. “We are always amazed at the generosity of this community. As an organization, we know that every minute matters and every dollar counts. "We hope to once again raise lots of dollars so that we can provide many more minutes of service.”

The Plumers, of Simpsonville, spent three years on a waiting list to get Jack into Project HOPE, Beckie Plumer said. And while they waited, Tommy, a vice president at Synnex Corp., launched a golf tournament to benefit the school.

Since Jack, now 11, began going to Project HOPE three years ago, he’s made incredible progress, his mom said.

“At HOPE, classes are so small. It’s only eight children and a teacher and assistant,” she said. “They can pinpoint where he needs to be."

Socially, she said, Jack is now able to understand other people's facial expressions and vocal tones and engage with them. And academically, he's making great strides, improving in writing and math especially.

"He is a completely different child," Plumer said. "At HOPE, he gets understanding and support. We'll stay as long as we can."

For tickets to An Evening of Hope, go to www.projecthopesc.org/eoh.

2017 Hope Gala

Autism can sometimes be devastatingly dark ... but we are determined to bring light through our range of services. To fund these services, we rely on generous people like the 530 who attended our Evening of Hope gala on Saturday. Want to see what these dollars are important?  Take a look:

Wofford College Turns Blue for Autism

 The main building at Wofford College turns blue for autism.

The main building at Wofford College turns blue for autism.

(March 29, 2017 FOX Carolina)
SPARTANBURG, SC (FOX Carolina) -
Wofford College is turning blue and shining a light on autism. It's all part of the Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue campaign.
Wofford's Main Building will be lit in blue starting on April 2 for World Autism Awareness Day, and stay that way throughout April for Autism Awareness Month.
"This is something that is near and dear to my heart. I felt compelled to bring it to Wofford as I am an autism parent," said Crystal Crawford, who organized Light It Up Blue on the Wofford campus.
Crystal Crawford's son was diagnosed with autism five years ago. 
"We have a son named Will who is about to turn 9 who was diagnosed with autism when he was 4," said Crawford. 
Crawford works in admissions at Wofford College and says she hopes to raise awareness about autism, by shedding some blue light on the disorder. 
"My hopes are that people will ask questions and inquire about what is it, what does it mean for a college student here on campus, and how can I better serve or communicate with them," said Crawford.
Guest speakers addressed the need for raising awareness about autism on college campuses.
"I think we need to bring a lot more attention to our friends with autism who are older and who are in the college setting," said Joanna Hayes, a case supervisor with Project Hope Foundation.
Students also talked about what it is like to be in college and have autism.
"90% of learning to live with autism is probably just learning to recognize it for what it is," said Zachary Howell, a sophomore studying intercultural studies at Wofford.
Howell says that part of learning to live with autism is educating others, and he hopes the Light It Up Blue campaign will do just that.
Find out more about the Light It Up Blue campaign here
Copyright 2017 FOX Carolina (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
 

What gift do I give a family raising a child with autism?

Holidays can be especially challenging for these families. Parents may struggle to muster excitement about shopping for a child who will refuse to open the present. They often spend their large family gatherings tucked away in a solitary room with a child who can’t tolerate the crowd. They may mourn the fact that their child won’t be sitting on Santa’s lap … or participating in a school program … or whispering with siblings about what presents await.

So what do you get this family?

For 50¢, you could send a note of encouragement to the parents. Let them know that you care. Mention any progress you have seen – a fleeting smile, better eye contact, more intelligible words.

For $5, you could deliver a fancy cup of coffee to a weary mom. Many children with autism are unable to sleep through the night; consequently, their parents are generally sleep-deprived.

For $50, you could fill up their car with gas. Children with autism often have therapy schedules that require frequent trips all over town. Their families frequently pay for these therapies out-of-pocket.

For $500, you could buy an iPad (a great “go-in” opportunity). This device is worth its weight in gold for children with autism. Tremendous apps are available - flashcards, educational games, entertainment options, even whole communication systems. 

Whatever the amount you can spend, your gesture will be appreciated!

Just a Minute

Sometimes you are minding your own business, when a split second encounter sneaks up and threatens to knock you off balance. Two pretty girls, shopping at the grocery store before heading off to college, catch a glimpse of your handsome 21-year-old son. At that moment, he is standing still and straight – not walking in his signature jerky gait, elbows flapping at his side … not biting the back of his arm in frustration because he can’t verbalize the thoughts in his head … not flicking his wrists back and forth in rapid-fire motion. For that moment, those two girls see him as a potential date, a potential boyfriend, a potential husband. And just for that moment, an entire parallel life for him flashes before your eyes.  

He starts walking; they realize the situation; and you scramble to regain your balance.  

Moment over. Ever onward! 

AAh-Choo!

Allergy season … Admittedly, I am a robust sneezer – meaning that I produce an obnoxiously loud sneeze. The volume and intensity are truly beyond my control. However, my 20-year-old son with autism, who has limited conversational skills and an equally limited tolerance for noise, has worked persistently for years to develop my ability to do so.

With every sneeze, he comes flying to my side, with hands clamped firmly over his ears. “Too loud!” he pronounces, before scuttling off to quieter corners. Feeling both rebuked and sniffly, I make efforts to stifle the next explosion, but inevitably it comes. And Colby rushes back to reprimand me once again.

We repeat this pattern ridiculously often before I finally realize that we – or at least, 

I – need a change.

Using our tried-and-true ABA techniques, within a few practice sessions, we replace “Too loud!” with the solicitous “Are you ok?”

So now Colby still rushes through the house to acknowledge every sneeze. His “Are you ok?” meets his need to note my transgression. But now I feel cared for instead of chastised. Reinforcement works both ways! Win-win!

Disney Theology

From the day he was born, Ms. Nita was part of Colby’s life. She came in twice a week to help us keep our house tidy … but more importantly, she helped us keep our hearts happy.

When Colby was diagnosed with autism at the age of 17 months, Ms. Nita became friends with the parade of therapists who came into our home over the next decade. Although not a computer savvy person, she learned to trouble shoot his Dynavox machine that “spoke” for him, giving him a voice for the first time at age six. And she rejoiced when he finally spoke clearly enough for us to understand some words at age eight. She cheered every skill and championed every effort.

When Ms. Nita died suddenly, I struggled with how to explain her absence to Colby, who still, at age 20, has huge gaps in his understanding of language and his ability to use it. For the first time in his life, his Monday and Wednesday afternoons would have a Ms. Nita-shaped void.

Her kind daughter allowed us to have some private time in the funeral home – with Ms. Nita in her casket.

We approached the coffin cautiously and Colby gazed at his beloved Ms. Nita for several minutes. Wanting to be sure that he didn’t confuse “death” with “sleep,” I encouraged him to touch her hand. He patted her repeatedly and finally announced, “statue,” with a questioning look.

I jumped on that concept with a great sense of relief. “EXACTLY, Colby, she doesn’t need her body anymore so all that is left is like a statue.” I rambled on for a bit about her leaving her unnecessary body behind as Colby stroked her hand, occasionally murmuring, “statue.”

Thinking we had managed to get through a tough situation relatively well, I started to ease us out of the room.

Colby, however, was not through. He plopped himself down on the loveseat at the end of the casket and stared off into the distance.

All of a sudden, he snapped to attention and proclaimed, “LIGHTNING!”

Drat.

I knew exactly what he meant.

“Hercules?” I asked, and he nodded enthusiastically.

Like many on the autism spectrum, Colby is a Disney aficionado, with an uncanny recall of every scene. Like most parents of kids on the spectrum, my Disney knowledge has been honed by thousands of hours in front of a shared screen.

I knew without a doubt that Colby was waiting for a lightning bolt … the same sort of lightning bolt that struck the Zeus statue in Hercules, bringing it to life.

Laughing out loud, with tears in my eyes, I knew Ms. Nita of all people would appreciate his Disney theology -- and love his plan to bring her back.