Local Couple reaches out to others living with Autism
Written By Ann Gill of Coal City Courant

In the mysterious world that is autism, Hope Helps is working to put the pieces of the puzzle together for local families. Brittney Kaluzny and her husband, Robert, established the not-for-profit in 2011 with the goal of assisting local families living with autism, as well as bringing about awareness of the disorder.

The couple understands the challenges families face when a child is diagnosed with autism. Robert David, the oldest of the couples three children, was 2 years old when they learned of his disorder. "We knew something was wrong. He wasn't speaking, had poor eye contact and would just melt down," Brittney said.

An evaluation confirmed what the couple had suspected, and they initiated early intervention with the state, but say  assistance at that level is limited. Robert and Brittney set out to learn all they could about autism and the knowledge they have gained in the past two years is vast.
Autism is defined as a complex neurobiological disorder that is characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social ability and repetitive behaviors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects as many as one in every 110 children in the United States and studies show boys are more susceptible to developing the disorder--its believed that one in every 70 boys has some form of autism.
What causes the disorder remains a mystery, but Robert says environmental factors as well as genetic basis play a role. The Kaluznys say parents who suspect their child could have some form of autism should take action and have their child screened.

Autism Speaks, the nation's largest advocacy organization for the disorder, reports research has indicated that children as young as 12 months may show signs of autism. Symptoms vary but some key indicators are no response to name, loss of language or social skills, poor eye contact, excessive lining up of toys, no smiling and no babbling by 12 months of age, no single words by 16 months and no two word phrases by age 2.

After Robert David was diagnosed, his parents enrolled him in various types of therapy programs, which have been positive factors in his development. "We have an excellent team of therapists," Brittney said. Robert David currently receives speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.

The couple, through their research, decided to take dairy and gluten out of their son's diet and say they noticed  almost immediate changes in him. "When we took him off dairy, we noticed an immediate change. Within 3 weeks he had about 50 words!" Brittney said.

Improvements in their son continue, the 4 year old is now enrolled in the Unit #1 School Districts special education preschool program and is doing quite well.  The struggles of autism still continue, but Brittney and Robert remain positive and thankful for the support of their family.
"You have to hold on to hope that you're going to get through because who knows what progress tomorrow will bring" Brittney said.
The couple recently joined in the monthly discussions offered by the "It Takes a Village" Parent Support Group, which was started to assist any parent with a child going through life challenges. "It really helps to meet with other parents who have an understanding of what you are going through," Robert said.

The Kaluzny's want to raise awareness about autism, but they also hope to help families like their own who have struggled to understand what a diagnosis means. From thier own experience they know resources are hard to find and that's their vision for Hope Helps, to be that local resource for families in Grundy and Will counties.

"When our son was diagnosed we looked for someplace to go for help, but there was nothing here. We want to grow and have it known that we're here and we can help, "Brittney said.

When they first started raising funds all the money they collected was donated to Autism Speaks. "we were donating to the largest organization but none of that was coming back to our community, " Brittney said. That's when they decided to start their own organization, one that would serve their community.

In it's first year, Hope Helps raised $4,800 which was used for local scholarships, a donation to Autism Speaks, and some minor startup costs. Scholarships awarded by the group are used by families to purchase items that will benefit their child's development. One of the most requested items is the Apple iPad; they gifted two in 2011.

Robert said the tablet computer has a big impact, "it changes the way the child is able to communicate." Some of the other items requested are weighted blankets which assist children with sensory issues, trampolines and swings used for therapies.

Hope Helps set a goal of continuing handing out scholarships in the coming year. To raise the necessary funds, the Kaluzny's and Hope Helps are hosting a fundraiser for April 1st, which is the start of Autism Awareness Month, and the day preceding  Worldwide Autism Awareness Day.

The fundraiser will feature over 75 baskets filled with items donated from local and corporate businesses and organizations.. There are 3 weekend get a ways to the Wisconsin Dells and sports tickets.  Other baskets include auto, entertainment, food, spa, family fun and much more!!

There is no fee to enter the event that will be held at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church Berst Center. In addition to the raffle items, the event will include a visit from 9 to noon, entertainment, face painting, kids games and a bake sale.

Robert looks forward to the day when Hope Helps has the funding necessary to bring a sensory playground to the area.

The couple and their organization have big plans, but for now are happy with the little things they are able to do to support families living with autism.

"You have to start from somewhere and we want to be here to provide advice, direction and just a place to talk." Brittney said.

THe Kaluznys' are willing to talk to anyone about autism and encourage the calls. Their number is 815-518-5341. They are also on Facebook at Hope Helps.