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McLaren's Oxford campus to go blue for autism



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March 27, 2013 - Beginning April 2, the McLaren Oakland medical campus in Oxford will be bathed in the soft glow of blue lights to help raise awareness about autism.

The color of the 385 N. Lapeer Rd. facility's exterior lights will be changed to blue in honor of the "Light It Up Blue" initiative, which commemorates World Autism Awareness Day and kicks off Autism Awareness Month.

McLaren Oakland's Oxford campus will join the many iconic landmarks, hotels, sporting venues, concert halls, museums, bridges, retail stores, homes and communities around the world that participate in Light It Up Blue annually.

Employee Jackie Filarecki, who works in billing at the Oxford location, suggested McLaren take part in the awareness campaign. She has a 27-year-old son named Blake who has autism and like so many parents she wants to know what causes it.

"One in 88 children are now diagnosed with autism," said Filarecki, 54, of Metamora. "What is going on? They need to find out. With that many children, there's something wrong."

According to the organization Autism Speaks, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.

"These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors," according to www.autismspeaks.org. "They include autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified and Asperger syndrome."

Those who are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum can have intellectual disabilities, difficulties with motor coordination and paying attention, and issues concerning their physical health. Some autistic individuals have enhanced abilities when it comes to visual skills, art, math and music.

According to Autism Speaks, "there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism."

"Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. A number of these are sufficient to cause autism by themselves," according to www.autismspeaks.org. "Most cases of autism, however, appear to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development."

Not knowing exactly what causes autism is a source of frustration for Filarecki. She believes should could find some peace if she at least knew why it happens.

Her son's autism has severely limited his ability to verbally communicate with others.

"He understands everything, but he has very little speech," Filarecki said. "If he definitely wants something, he can ask (for it) with a word (like) bread or milk. If he definitely does not want to do something, he'll tell you no."

When he's upset or agitated, Blake will rock back and forth, something he's done since he was a child.

Autism is more common in boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the U.S.

Blake began exhibiting symptoms of autism when he was 2½ years old. Prior to that, he was speaking, but then, Filarecki said he began "regressing" in terms of his speech and he wasn't playing with his toys in appropriate ways.

Filarecki and her husband of 34 years, Steve, sought medical help for their son, but their initial visit bore no fruit. "His pediatrician said (his behavior) was because we didn't have a TV in the house," she said.

Not satisfied with that diagnosis, they took Blake to the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor where he was properly diagnosed with autism.

Raising a child with autism wasn't easy.

"It's completely different from raising a normal child – if there is such a thing as a normal child," Filarecki said. "My husband and I are the only ones who know what it's like day in and day out. I don't think people really understand or really know unless they have a handicapped child, too."

"It's difficult. You take each day one at a time and you do what you can," she added.

Blake still lives at home, but Filarecki and her husband do their best to give him a full and active life.

Blake is a part of the Growth & Opportunity program in Lapeer, which provides him with both work and social activities.

"It's like a community," Filarecki said.

Steve takes his son to workout at the gym every day and Filarecki sometimes brings him to her workplace.

"Blake is a sweetheart," she said. "Every time we go into the office, all the girls just love having him there. They spoil him."

Filarecki hopes that campaigns such as Light It Up Blue and Autism Awareness Month will help people become more understanding and patient when they encounter someone with autism.

People need to put themselves in the autistic person's shoes and imagine what it would be like if they couldn't communicate to others what they're thinking or how they're feeling, she said.

"If they could say exactly what they were thinking, they would," Filarecki noted. "There are just times they can't."

Instead of staring or turning away, she urged people to ask questions because that's the only way to truly learn.

McLaren Oakland will be selling blue autism awareness bracelets and all of the proceeds will be donated to the Light It Up Blue campaign.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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