On Saturday, April 27, central Illinois families are invited to enjoy several hours of sensory-friendly activities during Autism Support of Central Illinois’ Family Fun Day and Walk. The annual fundraising event raises money and awareness for Autism Support of Central Illinois, an organization that provides outreach to local autism families via sensory-friendly events, grants, educational opportunities, resources, support and more. This free event is open to the public and will feature activities for children of all ages and abilities at the Hope Pavilion at 5220 S. Sixth St. Road from 10 a.m. through 1 p.m. A walk around the outside of the building will occur at 11:30 a.m., weather permitting.
Family Fun Day highlights will include the Wild Times Exotics petting zoo, gaming stations for older children courtesy of Noonan Grand Rentals, a bubble bus, the M&K Parties Trackless Train, iPad grant awards by Miss Illinois, Grace Khachaturian, balloon artists, sensory activities provided by The Autism Clinic, fingerprinting courtesy of the Springfield Police Department, a Springfield Fire Department fire truck, the AirEvac Life Team helicopter, autism merchandise for sale, a 50/50 drawing, raffle items, snow cones, food trucks and more.
The Family Fun Day and Autism Walk is the only annual fundraiser hosted by Autism Support of Central Illinois and is crucial to funding the many other programs and services that are provided to local autism families by the 501(c)3 nonprofit comprised entirely of volunteer parent and professional board members. This organization has been around since 2002 when local parents of autistic children began the central Illinois chapter of the Autism Society of America. In 2018, the group broke away from the national organization in order to keep its funds local and offer more direct support to autistic families in central Illinois, a move which resulted in a name change to Autism Support of Central Illinois.
Throughout the year, Autism Support of Central Illinois works closely with community partners to host, free of charge, a wide variety of sensory-friendly activities for autism families. Such events include story and craft time on the last Sunday of every month at 10 a.m. inside Barnes and Noble (January through October), horseback riding events at Bright Star Equestrian Center (next event is May 11 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.), family events at Glow Golf (next event is May 19 4-6 p.m.), roller skating at Skateland South (next event is June 8 4:30-6:30 p.m.), film showings at AMC 8 (next event is a showing of Toy Story 4 June 29 at 10 a.m.), exploration events at the Kidzeum (next event is July 13 5:30-7:30 p.m.), plus bowling events at King Pin Lanes, swim sessions at the Christian County YMCA and much more. Other community partners include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, which provides volunteers and additional resources for these events, and Merrill Lynch, which will be providing financial literacy education to families later this year.
Deanna Planitz, the Autism Support of Central Illinois office manager, coordinates with community, national and statewide providers to create educational materials for families who seek to better understand the autism diagnosis and find support and services for their loved ones. Available resources include tips on how to handle common issues that autistic families are likely to encounter, such as how to get children to sleep and how to deal with feeding complications, to more specific issues, especially those that may arise around the holidays, such as social stories for Halloween, and much more. Additionally, grants such as the Blake Penner Memorial Grants assist central Illinois families with therapy costs (such as ABA, speech, occupational or equine therapy, and swim lessons, camp programs or other needs) while the iPad/Yourpad Technology Grants coordinate with area schools to give iPads to children and young adults with autism who would not otherwise have access to them.
The Autism Support of Central Illinois office is staffed by Deanna Planitz four days per week, Mondays through Thursdays. Families wishing to access available resources or learn more about the organization are encouraged to connect via social media by searching Autism Support of Central Illinois on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the office at 585-1421.