Supporting Families and Children with Autism
During a trip to a trampoline park, 10-year-old Kamren Winn bounced through obstacle courses. He chatted with random kids and laughed with friends.
But a few years earlier, speaking and social interactions were challenging for Kamren, who has autism and attention deﬁcit hyperactivity disorder.
His mom, Timiko Winn, began helping him with the information she learned from the internet and community workshops.
When she enrolled Kamren in Families of Autistic Children of Tidewater (FACT), she saw a significant change in her son. She credits part of Kamren’s progress using verbal communication to his time and interaction at FACT.
“They really connected with him on a one-on-one basis,” Winn said. “They have helped us out tremendously.”
He now goes to a camp for children with autism and plays various sports, including basketball and bowling. “With all the activities, it tires him out,” Winn said. “He’s more calm and relaxed.”
Such success stories helped convince the Hampton Roads Community Foundation to support FACT, a nonprofit working to improve the lives of children and adults ages six to 40. The community foundation awarded the group a cultural vitality grant totaling more than $32,000 over three years.
The grant helped FACT expand its reach with Arts Adventure, an after-school program. The grant helped 15 middle and high school students with autism spectrum disorder attend annually. Arts for Learning, which is the Virginia affiliate of Young Audiences, does arts-in-education events for schoolchildren and collaborates with FACT on the program.
According to Autism Speaks, autism refers to a “broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.”
FACT has conducted activities since 1997, said Tyler Williamson, FACT’s executive director. Last year, roughly 250 people with autism participated in one or more events.
“One thing that FACT really works on doing is getting to know the kids and who they are,” Williamson said. “The kids are always in therapy and school. They are always being told what to do or how to act. But we just take them as they are. They are children first.”
Based in Virginia Beach, FACT hosts regional programs, including an Arts Adventure program in Portsmouth and other cities.
This specific program is free to participants and is designed to help children from families facing economic hardship. Williamson said families of children with autism usually have additional costs of an estimated $60,000 yearly. That’s attributable to lost parental wages – because someone might need to quit work to care for a child – and additional expenses like occupational and speech therapy.
Williamson knows this personally. His 31-year-old brother Bryan Williamson has autism and began attending FACT’s summer camp a quarter-century ago and still participates in FACT events. Bryan enjoys hiking, playing basketball, and swimming.
Williamson said he’s thankful for Bryan and the lessons he’s learned as his brother.
“Other kids had siblings they could talk to, and I couldn’t with mine,” he said. “It was very challenging, but it’s been a huge monumental thing in my life because it’s shaped who I am. It’s made me more empathetic and more patient.”
Williamson said that learning nonverbal ways to communicate with his brother helped the two form a unique bond.
“We have secret handshakes, and I can make him laugh. I can tell his mood by his laugh.
Williamson, who previously worked as an attorney and served on FACT’s board, enjoys how FACT helps children and adults learn and grow.
“I love this organization,” he said. “It’s been part of my family.”