KindTree – Autism Rocks


by Gaye Lee Russell
Eugene Daily News

Since opening their doors and arms to the community in 1997, KindTree – Autism Rocks organization has become a driving force in aiding children, adults and families living with autism in the Eugene area. According to KindTree’s mission statement,

“With heart and enthusiasm, KindTree – Autism Rocks, an all volunteer organization, promotes activities to enhance the lives of persons with Autism.”

Not limited to just one offering, KindTree has a diversity of art programs, shows and sales, scholarships, seasonal events, recreational activities, community news publications, talent show productions, counseling and outreach programs available to create community for people with autism and those who support them.  All activities are planned to raise awareness and understanding of autism in the wider community.

The word “Autism” has become more widely used in our collective vocabulary.  Once a seemingly rare developmental disorder, autism has become phenomenally pervasive in communities world wide. The causation of autism still remains a mystery even as the incidence rates continue to rise. The need for community-based support systems for people with autism and those who support them has also increased.

Nobody knows for sure what causes autism, though many causes have been postulated, from an atrophied cerebellum to food allergies or a reaction to trace amounts of mercury in some mumps-measles-rubella vaccines. The condition seems to be genetic.  According to the National Center For Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 150 births result in some form of Autism nationally.  Oregon’s rate of diagnosis is about 1 in 91 students.  The rate among military families is 1 in 83. Four out of five children diagnosed with autism are males.

Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics that may be associated with Autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. Essential features are typically but not necessarily manifested before age three. Autism may include autism spectrum disorders such as but not limited to autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified, and Asperger’s syndrome.

The most misunderstood presumptions about people that are afflicted with autism is that they are unable to lead productive lives and assimilate into society.  This is an extreme falsehood because there are so many levels of autism affectation. It affects each person differently both in intensity and how it affects each core area. Autists’ range of IQ is similar to that of non-autistic people. There are also many brilliant and successful people that have autism. Some autists function with the aid of medication and some without. According to Dr.Temple Grandin, a noted autistic who is an author, speaker, cited expert in many publications and video producer,

“A treatment method or an educational method that will work for one child may not work for another child. The one common denominator for all of the young children is that early intervention does work, and it seems to improve their diagnosis.”

KindTree – Autism Rocks provides programs specific to the needs of autists and for the development and expression of their talents and abilities. The KindTree – Autism Rocks Art Program is a program that has blossomed into popular annual art shows and sales of art work created by local autistic artists, including framed and celebrated original art works of all kinds in 2011, with hundreds of images from over 50 artists. Art shows appeared at the Pizza Research Institute, the Lane County building, the Atrium, the empty LaFollette Gallery building, the Village Health Clinic and the Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove. Some of these artists now have businesses of their own and are mounting solo shows. Framing the art for Autism Artism costs over $2000. Supporters like GreyWolf Projects and the Lane Arts Council ask for your help to keep providing a quality presentation to give these artists a real chance to grow their ability to communicate with the world.  KindTree – Autism Rocks also publishes and distributes paintings by its artists in the form of original greeting cards. The art program has expanded from 5 to 68 participants.

KindTree – Autism Rocks also facilitates the autism community with an annual summer autism camp located at the Camp Baker Boy Scout Camp. The annual camp/retreat is the core and founding activity of KindTree – Autism Rocks. The retreat is designed around the needs of those living with autism, hosting parents and caregivers in a relaxing, safe and nurturing environment. Providing a time for rejuvenation and solidarity, the retreat is a sanctuary where autists are accepted and enjoyed for themselves, not forced into a procrustean neuro-normal mold.  The camp offers a wide range of activities including swimming, canoeing, fishing, talent show, arts and crafts, campfires and s’mores, nature walks, family networking, healthy meals and many more structured activities. KindTree – Autism Rocks does everything they can to make it possible for people to feel safe, feel loved, feel at ease, and have fun. Since 1997, the summer autism camp/retreat has expanded from 12 to 160 participants.

The KindTree – Autism Rocks Peer Support Group, conceived for people with high-functioning autism and Aspergers, has been meeting monthly for three years. Cheryl Nel Applegate, a retired professional in the developmental disabilities field, is the facilitator. There are regulars with new arrivals often joining; they range from 19 to 50 years old. They share stories and discuss different challenges posed by living with autism spectrum disorders. The peer support group has expanded from 6 to over 20 participants.

Young people transitioning to adulthood have need of life skills classes and groups, recreational art classes, gardening programs and better access to quality community inclusion providers can look to The Peer Support Group, going strong since 2000.  Most importantly for KindTree, it is a place where autists can be themselves – safe, free, forgiving – a place in which the friendships and community, which come to life at the summer camp/retreat, last all year long.

In addition to the Camp/Retreat, the Art Program and the Peer Support Groups, the KindTree -Autism Rocks “Reaching Out–Reaching In” newsletter goes out to over 1100 households. Their eFlash! goes out monthly to over 700 e-mails. The newsletter is made up of writings by people with autism spectrum disorders, a community-wide calender, reports on medical discoveries, upcoming KindTree – Autism Rocks events, and other news in the autism community.  KindTree – Autism Rocks also has an award winning interactive web site, that has news and information and other important links. The web site hosts over 700 visitors each month.

With the growing rate of autism spectrum disorders in Lane County, it has become increasingly important to create community for people with autism and those who support them. KindTree – Autism Rocks’ endeavors to instill a true sense of self through the support of a caring and understanding community, by empowering individuals with their own voice in their own lives. Mary-Minn Sirag, President, KindTree Productions Inc. believes,

“We can do more of it, all year long with your help. To Serve And Celebrate People On The Autism Spectrum Through Art, Recreation And Community.”

KindTree programs and projects all seek to be fun and instill positive attitudes regarding the experience of autism, as championed by the phrase “Autism Rocks!”

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