Arizona Giving and Leading: Seeds for Autism

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See how Seeds for Autism helps young adults with the disease develop various skills in the vocational facility.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona giving and leading looks at an organization helping young adults with autism grow. Producer Shana Fischer introduces us to seeds for autism.

Shana Fischer: Seeds for autism is a vocational facility that works with young adults with autism.

Mary Ann LaRouche: We train young adults who basically transition from high school and needs more skill development, life skill development, social skill, and we're teaching them vocational training as well.

Shana Fischer: Mary Ann created the program and knows firsthand how autism can impact a family.

Mary Ann LaRouche: I started seeds for autism for my brother, who was diagnosed in the '70s. After he graduated from high school, my family were disillusioned as far as what to do, and it was really a moment of panic for us. So we put him in a few different programs, but they were really below his skill level. And it didn't really embrace him to learn and to continue to develop. So we just watched that happen for several years.

Shana Fischer: Mary Ann took a leap of faith and followed her heart, starting seeds for autism in her back yard. Now she has a large training facility and dozens of students working inside of it. Everything the students do here creates a functional item that can be sold. The students earn a stipend and bonuses for hard works, with the eventual goal that some will find work outside of the facility.

Mary Ann LaRouche: The goal is to take the students on a path from learning to earning, and so the students are learning with their artisan who's are professionals in their skills, how to create and weaving, and ceramics and welding, and wood turning, they're sewing and doing jewelry work.

Shana Fischer: Students work with volunteers to create the items. Linda Wade is a weaver. Several times a week she comes to seeds to work with the students.

Linda Wade: In any type of volunteering there's a satisfaction that you're accomplishing something. And I have looked forward to my days coming here to help.

Shana Fischer: Mary Ann says with so many children diagnosed with autism these days, we need to understand how to help them more effectively.

Mary Ann LaRouche: I think what people think of autism they don't understand that autism grows up. And we always associate autism with children. And the children are going to be adults some day and they're still going to be impacted by autism, it doesn't go away. They may learn and refine some of their social skills, we hope, but they still have an impact by that, and it interferes with so of the things they can accomplish.

Shana Fischer: Along with learning vocational skills, the students are also gaining social skills. Something Mary Ann says is often difficult for those with autism.

Mary Ann LaRouche: It's incredibly important for these young adults. This is the first time many develop friendships.

Shana Fischer: Sadly Mary Ann's brother Paul passed away before he could see all that she had accomplished in his honor. But she has no doubt he would be proud of her.

Mary Ann LaRouche: For him, I think he would gain so many of the skills, and just to have friends, that was an important piece that was missing in his life, was to have people he could be around and share the things he was interested in. He's still with me, and he's a part of the program still. He's been in my heart every day, and the driving force of why I come here.

Ted Simons: Seeds for autism rely on donations to keep going. For more information on the group's products, head to their website, seedsforautism.org.

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