Autism awareness 1
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Rocks collected during Fort Rucker’s Autism Rocks event March 19. The rocks were painted by Fort Rucker youth to help raise awareness for autism. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
Autism awareness 2
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: Army graphic) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Army Community Service’s Exceptional Family Member Program will help Fort Rucker observe Autism Awareness Month in April with activities and an information campaign designed to spread awareness, promote acceptance and ignite change.

The month’s campaign will feature information tables set up at the Lyster Army Health Clinic Lifespace Center, the lobby of the Soldier Service Center in Bldg. 5700 and the Center Library where people can learn more about the disorder during National Autism Awareness Day April 2, according to Amanda Goodson, Fort Rucker EFMP coordinator.

“What we do during autism awareness month is seek to raise awareness about the disorder, advocate for people with it, and educate the community about autism – what it is and what life is like for people with autism,” Goodson said, adding that awareness banners will be posted throughout the post to help with the effort. “We want people to be aware that they’re just different. They’re very intelligent, they just see things in a different way than we do, so we ask people to not be judgmental or to separate them because of their uniqueness – we need to celebrate those differences.”

Preparation for the month began a while ago, kicking off with the Autism Rocks painting event at Lake Tholocco March 19, and also the distribution of rock painting kits to Parker Elementary School, and the child and youth services middle school and teen center, and the school age center, she said.

The effort ended up collecting more than 150 rocks, Goodson said, adding that the youth of Fort Rucker did a great job on the art project.

“There are heroes painted on them, ladybugs, bumblebees, abstracts, rainbows, flowers – all sorts of things,” she said. “We left the design open for them to paint whatever they wanted on the rocks and then we’ll add the stickers to emphasize they are for raising autism awareness. They all looked great – the rocks collected from the middle school and teen center looked amazing.”

Before the start of the month, the rocks will be hidden primarily on the story walk trail at Beaver Lake, but also at other locations around the post, such as Lyster, the library, the elementary school and CYS facilities, Goodson said, adding that, in partnership with the Center Library, April’s story walk will feature a book called “Janine,” about how the story’s protagonist navigates through life with special needs.

People are welcome to hold on to the rocks they find, or hide them again for other people to find, she said. “We’re just looking to bring smiles to people’s faces and engage with them, especially when that is so difficult to do because of the pandemic.”

EFMP will also host its resource group April 22 from 6-7 p.m. via Microsoft Teams for a guest speaker from the Beacon of Hope on applied behavioral analysis, a therapy commonly used for people who have autism, Goodson said.

The event is open to everyone on post, but it would probably be most valuable for professional care providers at CYS, parents, and others who work with or care for people with autism, she added. Pre-registration is required. To get registered, people just need to send an email to usarmy.rucker.imcom-fmwrc.mbx.dmwr-acs@mail.mil or call 255-9277.

People who would like to learn even more about autism can go online and visit Military One Source at https://www.militaryonesource.mil/. Goodson also recommends the Autism Society and Autism Speaks, which she said she uses during her classes on autism.

For more information on EFMP, call 255-9277.