Guest Blogger: Wendy Fournier, President of National Autism Association, on the Importance of Autism Awareness

Today marks the second anniversary of Charity by Design‘s Piece of the Puzzle Charm Bangle in partnership with the National Autism Association (NAA). As a guest blogger, Wendy Fournier, President of National Autism Association, discusses the impact Alex and Ani has had on NAA and how we all need to work together to raise awareness for this often misunderstood disorder.

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April is Autism Awareness Month, and just last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys) are now diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder – a 30% increase in just two years. It’s estimated that there are now 1.2 million children in the U.S. affected by Autism. The statistics are staggering, but they’re just numbers. Behind those numbers are families – real families who are desperately struggling to meet the needs of their children. The National Autism Association (NAA) was founded, and is run by parents. We not only understand the struggle that many of these families face, we’re living it.

About 2 ½ years ago, we had the pleasure of meeting Vice President of Alex and Ani’s Charity By Design Team, Nicki Maher, on a beautiful, sunny day in Newport, RI. Nicki asked a lot of questions and I was thrilled to realize that Alex and Ani was not simply looking for a non-profit to make a donation to, they wanted to make a real difference for people affected by autism. Today marks the second anniversary of our partnership and I can say that the difference they’ve made has been huge. Alex and Ani has become NAA’s largest supporter, allowing us to help more families than ever before.

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At NAA, we put much of our focus on the needs of those who are severely affected by Autism and are at high risk of injury, physical abuse, bullying, restraint & seclusion in schools, and wandering. Similar to those with Alzheimer’s, almost half of children with autism are prone to wandering or eloping from a safe environment. In the last two years, 44 children have tragically lost their lives – most of them by drowning.

To address the wandering issue, NAA developed the Big Red Safety Box program, providing information and life-saving resources to keep kids safe. To date, we’ve been able to provide these boxes free-of-charge to 10,000 families across the U.S. This program is saving lives by helping families to implement a multi-layered approach to safety for their children. Here’s a note we recently received on our Facebook page: Thank you so much for the Big Red Safety Box, I just received it and it’s amazing!!!! What you are doing for the individuals on the spectrum in regards to safety and awareness is incredible!! Once again, thank you so much!!!!”

Last year, because of our partnership and funding through Charity by Design, we were able to create an exciting new program called Give A Voice. It provides non-verbal individuals with an iPad and assistive communication software with voice output (as seen in above feature image). We’ve awarded iPads to people ranging in age from 4 to 31, giving many of them a way to effectively communicate their wants, needs and feelings for the first time in their lives. Imagine the frustration of not being able to express that you need something, that you feel sick, or are in pain. And imagine the incredible joy of a Mom hearing “I love you” for the first time.

If you have the Piece of the Puzzle Bangle in your charmed arms collection, thank you! Wear it proudly and know that the help, hope and positive energy you’ve provided is deeply appreciated. On behalf of all of us at NAA, I extend our heartfelt gratitude to you, and to the amazing Charity By Design team at Alex and Ani, because when they say “made in America with love,” they really mean it.

With hope,

Wendy Fournier, President
National Autism Association

To learn more about autism and NAA’s programs, visit www.NationalAutismAssociation.org.

P.S. Here’s how I wear my Piece of the Puzzle Bangle. I’d love to see how you wear yours! Also, be sure to visit us on Facebook or Twitter!

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This post was written by Brendon Cunha