Wanda Malone is determined to help local families who have children with autism.
She wants to keep others from the struggle her family faced when looking for appropriate therapies and resources to benefit her 10-year-old autistic son D.J.
So in 2010, Malone set up the Autism Family Foundation to provide support for families.
“We know how much effort and resources are needed for families with a child with autism,” said Malone, the Autism Family Foundation’s executive director. “We also wanted to provide those families with financial support.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest estimate indicates that one in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder.
“One of the things Wanda has done so beautifully is put a highlight on how difficult it is for families to afford all the resources that we have learned make a difference to children with autism,” said Becky Freeman-Murray, an Autism Family Foundation board member.
The Autism Family Foundation grants are in demand and have to be applied in a timely matter, she said.
“It is important to do therapy with an autistic child when he or she is open to it,” Freeman-Murray said.
Last spring, the group raised $8,000 at its first Tee It Up for Autism golf-outing fundraiser.
“One-hundred percent of the money raised at the golf outing was given out in grants to families with children with autism,” she said, noting that many grant requests came from local communities such as Aurora, Plainfield, Oswego and Naperville.
Ten local families received assistance to pay for the costs associated with occupational therapy, speech therapy and biomedical care.
“In these cases, we paid the grant money directly to the vendors,” Malone said.
Grant money also was used to pay for co-pays or other medical services that were not covered by insurance companies, she said.
However, Malone said her organization received many more requests for financial assistance than they could grant.
“In 2013, the grant committee received 22 applications, totaling more than $17,452,” she said. “We were able to award $8,000 to 10 different families.”
The Naperville family of Monica Garcia-Diaz, whose 7-year-old son Alex and 4-year-old daughter Sophia both have been diagnosed with the disorder, was one of the grant recipients last year.
Insurance coverage for autism therapy is excluded under Garcia-Diaz’s private insurance plan, because it isn’t deemed a medical necessity. Garcia-Diaz said her grant was used for therapy to regulate her son Alex’s sleep patterns.
“After going through therapy for sleep techniques, Alex is doing fantastic,” she said.
The Autism Family Foundation has been able to reach out to other families to give much-needed support to “families like ours,” Garcia-Diaz added.
The Autism Family Foundation also supports a holiday event for families with autism.
“During the holiday season, we hold an event for special needs children to meet with Santa and to receive a toy,” Malone said.
Malone, of Aurora, hopes to raise even more money at the upcoming Tee It Up for Autism fundraiser.
“I have a number in my head, and I hope to help even more families,” Malone said.