By LOIS KINDLE
Tanya Hines’ youngest son Avery was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2006. Two years old at the time, he wasn’t talking, had just begun walking and started banging his head when upset.
“In looking for support back then, I found very few resources in the local autism community,” said Hines, a military wife. “I was taking my son to doctors, therapy and a private school in Tampa and Sarasota.
“When other military families began reaching out to me over the years, I began thinking about starting an organization to provide parents the resources used by me and others I knew, based on our experiences.
In 2019, Hines, her husband James and licensed occupational therapist Amanda Grozdanic founded Experienced Autism Alliance, a nonprofit organization parents of children with autism could turn to and be linked with local resources. Hines is its executive director, her husband (who retired from the Army in May after 25 years) is secretary and Grozdanic is treasurer.
They’ve established four initiatives:
• A grant program funded by private donations, which helps recipients purchase adaptive equipment not covered by insurance. An example would be a custom-made adaptive bike for a child or adult based on either’s specific needs. Hines said her Riverview-based organization will cover up to $1,500 of the cost.
The grant program also will provide up to $1,500 for the creation of a safe space for a child whose meltdowns include self-harm and/or property destruction. This can include wall padding, plexiglass windows, handyman repairs of damages, installation of a calming swing and the like.
To apply for either type of grant, visit https://www.ea-all.org or call 813-324-5312.
• Experienced Autism Alliance has also begun offering free workshops.
“Our goal is to host one monthly, featuring a specific topic and guest speaker to provide tips, training and resources for parents and caregivers,” Hines said. “We recently had an ADA therapist present Taking Autism on the Road and talk about managing public meltdowns, providing safety and more. Our next speaker could be a speech therapist.”
Hines said this program is still in its formative stages. The charitable group is currently looking for local sites to host its workshops.
• The Experienced Autism Alliance also provides links to a plethora of resources at https://www.ea-all.org/resources1.html/. Parents can find camps; inclusive parks; dentists; neurologists; ABA therapy services; contacts for occupational, physical and speech therapy; and legal help on the site, as well as links to advocacy and support groups.
• Partnering with Evidence K-9, the alliance has started a new safety program offering free, scent preservation kits to families with autistic children. These would be used to pre-collect and preserve an autistic child’s unique scent, which could be used by law enforcement canine units should the child become lost.
A $1,500 community enrichment grant from the HCSO was used to kick start the program and purchase 100 kits, Hines said. On Oct. 23, Experienced Autism Alliance will be giving away kits from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Scent Drive & Trunk or Treat at the South Pointe community clubhouse, 10520 Southern Pointe Blvd, Riverview.
According to the American Pediatric Association, almost 50 percent of children with autism in the United States go missing at least once before they reach age 17. The kits can help parents find these children quickly and bring them home safely.“This organization and its work are my passion. It’s everything I wanted it to be,” Hines said, noting the fact that having an autistic child has given them credibility with other parents, something to which they can relate. “We live this every single day, and we understand what these parents are going through.
“I feel we can truly make a difference,” she said.
If you’d like to support the Experienced Autism Alliance, visit https://bit.ly/2WZN4BV/. Gifts of any amount are greatly appreciated.