Autism Awareness Week

The statistic may be shocking, but it’s true. Today, one in 150 individuals are diagnosed with the debilitating disease known as autism, a complex neurobiological disorder that often lasts throughout a person’s lifetime.

Autism is more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. Families facing autism often have staggering medical bills. With this in mind, students at Edmond Memorial High School are looking to raise $175,000 for this cause during their school’s annual Swine Week, which takes place Saturday, March 8, through Friday, March 14.

Sticking with the “swine” theme, as they have since the mid-1980s, it is called “Pirates of the Carib-bacon.” Students have to pay to get into the events during Swine Week. Funds raised will be given to the non-profit Oklahoma Family Center for Autism (OCFA).

Noor Tahirkheli, student chair for Swine Week, met with the Edmond Outlook to discuss why they chose autism to highlight in their fundraiser.

“We want to get the word out about autism,” Tahirkheli said. “Any and all donations are welcome. We want to help out as much as we can.” The money that is raised during Swine week will remain in Oklahoma.

Tahirkheli stressed the importance of helping families and how important it is for children with autism to be around “neurotypical” children, that is, children that don’t have autism. Additionally, the organization they are hoping to help financially is trying to make their cause known locally and statewide.

“The Edmond Family Center for Autism (EFCA) is trying to get a facility,” Tahirkheli said. Ideally, the organization would have an office donated to them. The high cost of renting and maintaining a place would only reduce the amount of money available to help families dealing with autism.

They want to do more than just acquire a facility. They also want to continue adding programs that help families. Parent education, e-newsletters, a website, monthly support group meetings, and training for people to work with children at local churches are among the projects that EFCA provides or is working on.

Sadly, for many couples who have a child diagnosed with autism, the divorce rate is sometimes as high as 90 percent. The OFCA wants to help preserve families by providing educational programs and workshops for Edmond families in the coming year.

The EFCA was founded in 2002 when two families began meeting over coffee to discuss how they could help families and children dealing with autism. Nearly six years later, EFCA is working with 350 area families and addressing their issues via programs and literature.

Local resident, Angel Hamilton, is the mother of a child with autism.

“My daughter was fine, a completely normal 18 month old,” Hamilton said. “In just a matter of three days she lost her ability to speak and perform as she had before.” It took two years for Hamilton's daughter to regain her speech.

Researchers still are puzzled about the cause. This is why the Autism society chose a puzzle piece for their logo.
However, Hamilton stresses a couple of points. “Parents can get through this,” she said. “Together we can overcome this and soon parents can see these wonderful children begin to bloom.”

If you have a family member with autism and would like to be added to EFCA’s e-mail list, please contact Melinda Lauffenburger at Angel Hamilton can be reached at For more information, or to assist in raising money, contact the Student Council at (405) 715-6618, or call Natalie Jester at (405) 826-2907 or Noor Tahirkheli at (405) 412-7080. All donations are tax deductible and checks can be made payable to EMHS Swine Week.

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