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Jerry Davich: Autism world under seige these days

Susan Moreno CEO MAAP Services for Autism right her daughter Beth Moreno both Crown Point. | Provided

Susan Moreno, CEO of MAAP Services for Autism, right, and her daughter, Beth Moreno, both of Crown Point. | Provided

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Updated: July 27, 2013 6:18AM



When Portage police used a Taser twice on a 35-year-old autistic woman last month, the incident raised a few eyebrows. But especially from Susan Moreno.

The Crown Point woman is founder and CEO of MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger Syndrome, an organization helping families of individuals within the autism spectrum and the professionals who work with them.

Moreno, whose adult daughter is within the spectrum, distributes written information, provides referrals, conferences and forums to share autism knowledge. She also has written several books and spoken internationally, as well as provide similar services in Northwest Indiana.

“We sure wish we could have addressed the Portage police with our info,” Moreno told me after the woman’s arrest for multiple offenses including theft, disorderly conduct resisting law enforcement. “Police say they get plenty of training on handling people with disabilities. However, the verbal autistic person is a rare type.”

I’m not blaming police for their actions during that arrest, but Moreno and other advocates are convinced it could have been handled better with more education. Her organization is available and willing to help educate police departments across the region for similar situations in the future.

“Our organization has free materials available to law enforcement personnel, as well as to first responders and medical care personnel,” she said. “We also provide free trainings on these issues.”

The autism-advocacy world feels under siege these days, barraged by numerous issues on different fronts. The May 31 incident involving the Portage woman only reminded the general public, and me, of such sensitive scenarios.

Ever since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set the new prevalence rate figures at 1 in 55 for autism spectrum challenges, advocates have been pointing out just how common such incidents can be.

The autism world also has been turned upside down as a result of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, Moreno said. The section on autism used to include Asperger Syndrome and “Pervasive Developmental Disorders/Not Otherwise Specified.”

“They have now all been combined under one label — autism,” she said. “Those once diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and their families are very upset over the many ramifications of this change.”

Also, large numbers of people with autism-spectrum disabilities are now being disqualified from Medicaid waiver services in this state.

“This will create a crisis for many families, as their loved ones will not be able to go into group homes, even if the families try to pay privately,” said Moreno, whose daughter, Beth, also lives in Crown Point, in her own home.

“She has a master of arts in music and liturgy of the church from St. Joseph’s College, she is a professional singer, and she is the Spanish translator for the Autism Society of Indiana,” her proud mother said.

I will address those aforementioned challenges to the autistic world in future columns, but today’s column has two other intentions with more immediacy.

First, to connect Moreno’s organization and others like it with Northwest Indiana law enforcement agencies and first responders. Second, to help spread the word about a first-time fundraiser taking place Thursday evening for MAAP Services.

It’s no secret that autism and artistic talent have an intriguing connection, and this event highlights this mysterious fact. The organization’s inaugural art event will feature local and nationally-known artists who have autism or Aspergers syndrome.

“The stories of the artists are very inspiring,” said Moreno, whose daughter will be singing at the event. “It is amazing that they can create such beauty despite significant challenges.”

Trent Altman, an artist with autism who created the United Nations Autism Awareness stamp, will be appearing in person.

The event takes place Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Cedar Lake, and numerous pieces of artwork from the autism world can be purchased through a live and silent auction. Wine, hors d’oeurvres and a cash bar will also be available. To purchase $45 tickets or for more info, call 662-1311 or email OASIS@MAAP or info@aspergersyndrome.org.

Positive you’re negative?

Did you know that Thursday is National HIV Testing Day? I’ve been tested. Have you?

According to the CDC, 1.1 million U.S. residents are living with HIV and, of those, one in five don’t know they’re infected. On average, 50,000 Americans get infected with HIV each year and roughly 20,000 die annually from HIV/AIDS. Just under 50 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases are in the African American community, and half of those currently living with HIV/AIDS are African American, federal data shows.

On Thursday from noon to 5 p.m., The Aliveness Project of NWI and a female social club called Unikargo will be offering free testing for people ages 13 and older at Broadway Plaza, 5490 Broadway in Merrillville.

Music, refreshments, and free “safer sex” kits will be on hand, as well as free gift cards to the 27 people who are first tested. For more info, call Arlene Lyons at 985-6170 or via email at arlene.lyons@sbcglobal.net.

Like I’ve written before, are you positive you’re negative?

Young Leaders United

On Tuesday, I was invited to speak to the United Way of Porter County’s “Young Leaders United” group at the spacious yet charming Indiana Beverage building in Valparaiso.

I offered suggestions how to better connect and network with others, both personally and professionally, while meeting several impressive group members, including Melissa Marshall and Mackenna Dickt.

Young Leaders United is designed for young professionals ages 20 to 40 who are defining what it means to be a leader in Porter County. Its mission is to inspire leadership in advocacy, volunteerism and philanthropy among young professionals and I’m now a big fan of their efforts.

For more information or to join the group, contact Mackenna Dickt at 464-3583, ext.129, or at mackenna@unitedwaypc.org. Tell ’em Jerry sent you.



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