Linda Kuepper reflects often on her son’s past, but spends more time now looking at his future.
“Michael’s life growing up was extremely different from his older brother’s,” she said, recounting the years following his formal autism diagnosis. “He had no friends, he wasn’t able to have a social life, he wasn’t able to go out and shoot hoops or go to birthday parties.”
Michael, now 17, has seen an uptick in his social life since then, and thanks to his family, many others on the spectrum have, too.
His parents, Linda and Frank, founded the Autism Cares Foundation almost a decade ago. Based in Southampton, the Foundation’s goal is to improve the life experiences of children and young adults with autism. These experiences include music events, arts and crafts, bowling, movies, fitness activities and other social gatherings.
On Nov. 7, the Foundation is holding its Sixth Annual Race for Resources at Tyler State Park in Richboro. This is not only of the Foundation’s many activities for people with autism, but also a fundraiser and community event in support of its efforts.
“There’s an electric environment to it,” Autism Cares Foundation Board Member Fred Sciascia said. “It’s like a party, a charity event and a challenging race for runners all in one.”
The 5K, 10K and Family Fun Walk and Run make up the main events, but there is also the Autism Expo, with 30-plus local service providers present. Other activities, like a rock wall, moonbounce, face painting, a video game bus and music, will be there.
“It’s a great, upbeat atmosphere,” Sciascia said.
Sciascia originally became involved with the Kueppers in the role of financial advisor. Working for Merrill Lynch, he helped
the family plan for caring for a child with special needs.
With that perspective, he was brought on to oversee the birth of the Foundation and use his financial planning background to help sustain it.
“We’ve gotten to the point where there’s stability, but in order to keep going you need continued support,” he said. “It’s definitely a challenge.”
But Linda Kuepper is not just looking to sustain what’s already there, she wants the Autism Cares Foundation to grow.
“We’re looking at struggles faced when they get older,” she said. “The question is, what happens when I’m gone? What happens to Michael’s life?”
That’s an answer she’s hoping to find with the Autism Life Enrichment Community, the Foundation’s effort to provide long-term care for people with autism.
The idea is that, while there are resources for children like early-intervention programs and intermediate units at the schools, as people with autism age their options become more limited.
“It’s a piece of the puzzle that needs a lot of attention,” Kuepper said.
Autism does not affect life expectancy. There’s the unfortunate and inevitable reality that many may live past their parents and caretakers, and that’s what is guiding Kuepper’s efforts lately.
It’s a struggle many deal with like Nancy Jelen-Kraft, mother of two young adults with autism — Betsy, 28 and Jerry, 21. Resources at the Autism Cares Foundation, hopefully, help them grow and prepare for a successful future.
The facility will provide a safe environment no matter what, but the focus for young adults with autism will be recreation, job skills development, supervised independence and living assistance.
This race, along with other fundraisers throughout the year, will support this growth and, by association, local families in need.
“There’s so much more we need to achieve, but it must be supported by the entire community,” Kuepper said. “This is a task where we all come together.”
For information, visit www.autismcaresfoundation.org.