Puzzle pieces are appearing on cars around town and printed on the backs of register receipts at area grocers, all in the name of raising awareness of autism.
The puzzle piece is a symbol for autism, a brain disorder that affects a persons communication and social skills, according to the Autism Speaks Web site, which is dedicated to funding research and raising public awareness of autism.
All during April, which is designated as Autism Awareness Month, Fort Mill mom Sherry Allen and local autism advocate and former Mrs. South Carolina Patty Mercer, also of Fort Mill, have dedicated much of their time to the cause. Allen and Mercer both have a son with autism and hope to raise awareness of the disorder.
Together, they visited local police and fire departments early in the month and delivered magnets shaped like puzzle pieces, urging the departments to put the magnets on police and fire vehicles. They also handed out literature about autism, and spoke with department officials about the disorder in the hopes that they, too, could spread the word to those who need help or can offer assistance to the cause.
Allen became involved with Autism Speaks and the Autism Society, another autism advocacy group, after her son, Jared, was diagnosed seven years ago. After receiving the diagnosis, Jared spent years in intensive therapy, including physical, occupational and speech therapy. He also underwent sensory integration therapy, which Allen credits as one of Jared's most effective treatments.
The multiple therapies kept Allen and Jared in and out of doctors' appointments throughout the week for several years. Thankfully, Allen said that she had resources available to her through her job that helped pay for therapy. She wonders what she would have done financially without that help, and credits Autism Speaks and the Autism Society with helping those who don't have the resources that she did.
That's why she got involved with the organizations, she said, and with Autism Awareness month.
"Obviously, there are so many people that do not [have the resources] and when I look at Jared and where he is at today, it is singularly because of that therapy we had and how intensive it is, and to think about those kids who don't have that option is tough," Allen said. "Sometimes, it's just a matter of knowing who to go to and what resources are out there."
Allen continues to be involved with the organizations to help other parents and children struggling with autism, but also to get continuing information and resources for herself and her family. Jared has shown improvement since his diagnosis and now is "very high functioning," his mom said, including integration into regular classrooms.
However, every month brings new challenges.
"Just when we think we've got it figured out, something new comes along and hits us over the head," Allen said.
"Every day is still just a little bit different. That's what keeps me involved, staying up on what is new, happening. if there something other people are doing that are working well and it's something I can do to support him."