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Scouting out fun for autistic kids

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For families with autistic kids, taking part in traditional childhood activities can be challenging.

But Tucson mom Holly Rasmussen wants her two autistic sons and other boys to experience the fun and adventure of Scouting.

So she has created what she says is the first Cub Scouts troop in Arizona for autistic boys, among the first such in the country, as a way to connect a growing community.

Rasmussen, the mother of Kevin, 9, and Casey, 6, formed the group recently to show her own and other autistic kids they can participate in the same activities as everyone else.

She also hopes the troop can help parents adapt to a what can be a difficult situation.

“It feels better knowing there are others out there who are in the same situation as you,” she said. “I wanted to provide support for parents as well as children.”

Though parents of autistic children can find activities and support groups at the Tucson branch of the Autism Society, Rasmussen wanted more group activities and events for parents.

“I wanted to build a resource where everyone can come and discuss doctors they have had success with, to share experiences and just feel comfortable,” she said.

The troop has monthly meetings and staged its first field trip June 23 to the Reid Park Zoo. Twenty-two families participated.

“It was great,” Rasmussen said. “Everyone was very excited.”

Wolves den leader Georgina Chandler, mother of 8-year-old Adam, was among those on the trip.

“We thought it would be a fun activity for the family,” Chandler said. “Adam loved the zoo and had a great time.”

Jessica Hoffman was looking for activities for her autistic son, Tanner, 9, when a family member came across troop information in the newspaper.

“It was really nice to find something extracurricular,” she said. “We had a difficult time getting Tanner involved in other activities because there are so few for kids with autism.”

Hoffman, a nurse practitioner, was involved in a legal battle with her public school district because she felt it was not doing enough to accommodate son Tanner’s disability.

“It was a difficult time because he was not progressing,” she said. “He was struggling educationwise and at that point, I decided to enroll him in a private school.”

The troop offers parents an opportunity to share information and strategies. Being around others and even taking trips to the grocery store can be therapy for parents of autistic children, Rasmussen said. She encourages parents to look for support if they need it.

Rasmussen said her motivation for starting the troop was to inform others about autism and the impact it has on families.

“The biggest issue is education,” she said. “We want everyone to know it’s out there and it’s a group where no one is judged, because we have all been there before.”

Troop news

The next field trip for the Tucson Cub Scouts troop for autistic elementary-school age boys is July 27, to the KGUN-TV (Channel 9) station. The next den meeting is Aug. 4. Membership for the remainder of the year is is $6. Call Holly Rasmussen at 304-6603 for more information.

What is autism?

Autism is the most common of the pervasive developmental disorders, affecting about 1 in 150 births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As many as 1.5 million Americans are believed to have some form of autism – and the number is rising. Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, the rate of autism diagnosis is growing 10 percent to 17 percent per year.

The Autism Society of America estimates that as many as 4 million Americans will have the disorder within the next decade.

Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls.

Source: Autism Society of America

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