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"Fashion Rocks Autism" fundraiser brings attention to disorder

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Posted at 3:29 PM, Sep 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-03 11:32:28-04

There's a rousing game of Uno going on in Lisa Wiederlight's home, mainly trying to keep her 16-year-old son Joshua in check.

"Is it really your turn Josh?" she playfully asks as he throws down another card, exclaiming how much he loves to play the card game.

In many ways, Josh is like any other high school kid.  He goes to school, he likes to watch movies, he does art and loves bowling.  But life hasn't been easy for him, ever since he was diagnosed with autism at the age of 33 months.

"Little things mean more to me then they do to other people," Wiederlight said.  "I didn't hear mom until he was six. I didn't hear Happy Mother's Day until he was eight."

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It's not just the speech and learning difficulties.  Josh has also dealt with several serious medical conditions like gastrointestinal problems and seizures, which Wiederlight says is not uncommon for people with autism.  She said it took her years to find a treatment for Josh's GI problem, because doctors kept telling her it was just a symptom of the disorder.

"And it makes me sad because I don't know how many people with autism are walking around with similar GI issues and pain and not getting treated because it's just a symptom of their autism but really it's not," she said.

It's her desire for answers and action that led Wiederlight to take on the position of executive director of SafeMinds, a national group that advocates for people with autism, focuses on identifying environmental factors that can cause autism, and works to find effective treatments.

Wiederlight and her team also spend a lot of time lobbying for change in Washington, D.C.  Right now, they are working to pass "Kevin and Avonte's Law," which passed the Senate and is now in the House.  

It would provide money to train law enforcement on how to prevent and address autistic children who wander.  The law is named after two young boys who died after they wandered away from safety.

"Children are dying," Wiederlight said.  "Without making policy initiatives and just looking at research we'll never serve the needs of the autism community."

To help raise funds to continue advocating for families dealing with autism, SafeMinds is hosting a fundraiser called "Fashion Rocks Autism" on Sept. 12 at The Grand in Baltimore.  

It will be a night of style, live music, good food, and more importantly, it will be a chance for families who live with autistic children to forget about the doctors appointments and therapy sessions for just one night.

"We want to celebrate what they're going through, raise money to help make their lives easier and also raise money for research, education and advocacy," Wiederlight said.

For information on the event and how to purchase a ticket, click here.

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