In yesterday’s post, our brand ambassador Dagmar Obert introduced you to one of our Winter Charity partners, the Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children (CSAAC). This organization champions the cause of people with special needs, helping them live full lives while actively working to change society’s perception and attitudes toward autism.

CSAAC logo

The people behind CSAAC generously gave of their time to answer some questions in this exclusive interview, sharing insights with us about the charity, their work, and what inspires them in their mission of enabling individuals to achieve their highest potential.

1. Could you tell us more about your charity and its advocacy?

CSAAC is a nationally recognized leader in developing state-of-the-art services for people with autism, and serves as a model for other agencies developing community-based housing, employment, educational, and early intervention services. We advocate not only on behalf of the children and adults we directly support, but also on behalf of the greater autism community so that services across the nation are integrated and community-based, and that individuals diagnosed with autism do not live their lives in isolation. CSAAC’s Supported Employment program was the first of its kind in the United States and, today, enables many CSAAC individuals to perform jobs within the community and at over 60 different employment locations. In addition to its robust supported employment program, CSAAC currently operates 51 community living residences for 135 residents throughout Montgomery County, a 10-acre school site for children aged 7 through 21, an early intervention program for newly diagnosed toddlers and children to age 7. Across all programs, CSAAC serves nearly 300 families impacted by autism.

Early intervention is key
Early intervention is key

2. What inspired you to start this charity, and how did it all begin?

The founding families who launched CSAAC in 1979 saw a future where adults with autism lived, worked and played in the community, where they were not limited by the walls and restrictions of institutions. Headquartered in Montgomery County, Maryland, CSAAC is a private, non-profit agency which provides direct support to children and adults diagnosed with autism across their lifespan.

3. In what ways does the CSAAC give back to the community?

Many of the adults we support are members of other charitable clubs. We encourage self-advocacy and individualized interests. One organization that many of the adults we serve are involved in is the Aktion Club, which is an arm of the Kiwanis Club. The members of this club work toward the community and national goals of the Kiwanis and have leadership positions with the club.

CSAAC’s kids thrive on interaction, just like their peers
CSAAC’s kids thrive on interaction, just like their peers

4. What challenges does your organization usually face, and how do you overcome them?

Typically, our largest challenges revolve around funding for services. The majority of our funding comes from the State. However, with the ever-increasing number of individuals being diagnosed with autism (a ratio of 1 in 68), state resources become quickly diluted as funding has not kept up with the need for services. In this day and age, everyone knows someone who has a family member impacted by autism. CSAAC encourages those families who are directly impacted to reach out to their friends and neighbors to assist in advocacy.

5. If there is any misconception regarding people with special needs that you would like to correct, what would it be?

CSAAC was founded on the belief that individuals with autism can live, work, and play in the community. There are states throughout the US where individuals impacted by autism remain institutionalized. CSAAC has proven that children and adults living with autism can live in the community, work, and go to school with their peers and recreate alongside each of us. When they do, everyone benefits.

Individuals are armed with skills allowing them to contribute to society
Individuals are armed with skills allowing them to contribute to society, and express their creativity

6. If you could give any advice to families that are dealing with autism, what would it be?

First of all, families need to know the signs of autism and that information can be found on our website. For those families who suspect their developing child is exhibiting some of the signs of autism, we have a link to the initial screening tool, the M-CHAT checklist, which can help you determine if your child exhibits some of the basic signs of autism. The M-CHAT is a 15-minute questionnaire that families can self-administer. There is also a scoring tool on our website. If the answers provided yield red flags, the child should be seen by his or her physician for further evaluation. The second piece of advice would be that they are not alone. There are services in most communities throughout the US, and with the rise in autism, so too is there a rise in understanding and support options.

Balsam Hill is proud to support this worthy cause, and we encourage you to do the same. Watch out for upcoming posts for more information on how you can help out our partner charities.

All photos courtesy of CSAAC

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