Imagine having a difficulty that others can’t fully understand. That what people on the autism spectrum face, but local families don’t have to worry as much thanks to an organization called “AutismUp.”
AutismUp is a local organization that provides support to individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. But it’s how this organization was founded 12 years ago that makes it so special and unique to our region.
Bella Ponticello has a brother on the autism spectrum. She knows how important events like AutismUp’s annual “I Can Bike” camp are. That’s why she volunteers her time.
“It’s just great knowing you’re making an impact in the community and especially, these kids are so awesome, it’s awesome seeing them get up on the bike smiling,” says Ponticello. “It just really touches your heart.”
Every year, “I Can Bike” camp is offered to 40 children, ages 8 and up on the autism spectrum. The camp is supported by more than 75 volunteers who help riders develop confidence and skill. It’s just one of the many services the organization offers throughout the year.
“AutismUp is all about extending hope, providing help today and hope for tomorrow and letting families know you’re not alone,” says Ponticello. “We are all parents who are living it every single day and a goal as an organization is to grow up with our families, to grow up with individuals with autism kids that turn into adults and be there for a lifetime.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism. In the Rochester region, AutismUp supports more than 2,000 families.
“One of the things about AutismUp that’s so special is we started in 2004 with just four mothers who were mothers of children recently diagnosed with autism,” says Ponticello. “They met for the first time looking for support and resources in a coffee shop. Today, we are over 2,000 families. So when I say how important it is, it’s because those four mothers rather than stay at home and be isolated and feel frustrated decided to go out and do something about it.”
Twelve years later, the vision those four mothers had continues to impact our community and provide hope to parents like Patti Arroyo.
“It’s very overwhelming for me to watch,” says Arroyo. “Very liberating skill for her to have and learn to be able to hop on her bike and ride away with the neighborhood kids. To take a family bike ride, just overall, an awesome experience and excellent skill for her to have.”