By: Gwen Williams
In 1970, the Autism Society launched the first National Autistic Children’s Week which later evolved into Autism Awareness Month. In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly established World Autism Awareness Day as April 2. As for Limestone County, every day is Autism Awareness Day thanks to Sheriff Josh McLaughlin.
The second week of January, Sheriff McLaughlin contacted me about an idea that came to him in March of 2022 to have one of the Limestone County vehicles custom designed for Autism Awareness. Over the last year, he had consulted with some of trustees that possess the talents to pull this off. All they needed were the funds, and that is where Herbs & More, Athens Alabama Pickleball Association (AAPA), O’Reilly Auto Parts, and private donors came into play.
The sheriff had the idea, his trustees had the talent, and the fundraiser was born. The first person I contacted was Jennifer Bridges, Vice President of AAPA. With her expertise in organizing fundraisers and love of pickleball, we were going to rise to the challenge! The work began, and over the next few months, Chase Spitzer put together the pickleball tournament that took place in April 21-22 at Athens Recreation Center. Billie Fry created Autism Awareness tee shirts. Behind the scenes, David Chasteen (AAPA president), Teresa Gale (AAPA treasurer), and Rhonda Weatherford (AAPA board member) were busy too. It takes a village, and we have a great one!
The crew that was responsible for the custom detailing of the Tahoe resides at the Limestone County Jail. Sheriff McLaughlin used the resources he had in-house, the talents of trustees. The crew did the design and airbrushed all the art by hand. You would never think this job was done at the jail in a make-shift plastic hung-on-the-walls paint booth. The finished Tahoe is perfection. Please go by the Limestone County Jail at 101 W Elm Street and see for yourself. To say the fundraiser was a success is an understatement. Not only were the funds for the design of the Tahoe raised, but on May 8, Jennifer Bridges presented Stacey Givens, Make a Way Foundation, with a check in the amount of $1419.
As many as 1 in 40 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. In collaboration with researchers from Drexel University, Harvard Medical School, and George Washington University, 1 in 27 boys identified with autism and 1 in 116 girls identified with autism.
On an average, autism cost an estimated $60K a year through childhood, with the bulk of the cost in special services and lost wages related to increased demands on one or both parents. Over the next decade, an estimated 707,000 to 1,116,000 will enter adulthood and age out of school-based autism services.
Once again, the people of Limestone County come together to support those in need. When you see the Autism Awareness Tahoe around the county, you will be reminded of the dedication Sheriff McLaughlin has for others and how he is helping those under his watch to rise above their present circumstances to serve others.
By: Gwen Williams