Area nonprofit Arc of the Central Mountains supports those on the autism spectrum and their loved ones
April is Autism Awareness Month, but for the Arc of the Central Mountains, it’s a year-round job to raise awareness, provide support networks and lobby for those with autism.
The local nonprofit was founded in 2017 and, after securing funding through Arc Thrift Stores along the Front Range, was able to open its doors in the summer of 2018 in the Aspen Professional Building next to the Post Office in Glenwood Springs.
Affiliated with the national organization, The Arc, the local chapter Arc of the Central Mountains serves Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle and Lake counties.
“There is still a lot of mystery around autism, but it really is a very acceptable and accepted diagnosis,” Arc of the Central Mountains Executive Director Jill Pidcock said. “People who have autism can really contribute to the community, to jobs to socialization and I think that just an overall inclusion in the community is super important. It is a broad, broad spectrum.”
According to autismspeaks.org, in 2013 the American Psychiatric Association combined four different autism diagnoses into one diagnosis known as Autism Spectrum Disorder. The four diagnoses were autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, and Asperger Syndrome.
Now a high school student, Pidcock’s own son was medically diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. Pidcock said that her son was average on the autism spectrum and emphasized, again, just how broad the autism spectrum was.
“You would look at him and not think that he had autism,” Pidcock said. “When he does have a meltdown or an anxiety moment, it is typically misunderstood by those around him because it is not something that you openly expect is going to happen.”
Pidcock explained how there were those who experienced many more challenges cognitively, but like her son still fit on the autism spectrum — a spectrum Pidcock referred to as horizontal, as opposed to vertical.
“People always think that Asperger’s means that children are much more advanced and have a much higher cognitive level, which typically is true but that doesn’t mean that they are not completely affected by autism,” Pidcock said of how the autism spectrum was not a hierarchy of intelligence. “It’s just a different set of needs.”
Pidcock credited organizations like the Roaring Fork Autism Network as a great support system for those on the autism spectrum as well as their loved ones. She hopes to build upon that through the Arc of The Central Mountains.
“[The Roaring Fork Autism Network] was actually created by two moms who have children who have an autism spectrum disorder, and they came together for this very reason,” Pidcock said of the network, which still exists today.
Pidcock said that support systems, particularly in rural, western Colorado communities were not always easy to find, but she hopes to continue to fill that void.
Additionally, the Arc of The Central Mountains works with state representatives and senators concerning bills going through the legislature.
“Autism is considered a pre-existing condition,” Pidcock said. “We want to make sure that any time there is something that is going to keep benefits or grow benefits … that we stay in touch with that.”
This legislative session, the Arc of the Central Mountains has thrown its support behind two bills.
HB 19-1269 deals with issues related to private health insurance, as well as Medicaid coverage of behavioral, mental health and substance use disorder services.
HB 19-1028 adds autism spectrum disorders to disabling medical conditions that authorize a person to use medical marijuana for his or her condition.
Today, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control.
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