April is Autism Awareness Month Get out the party attire and mark the calendars for Saturday, April 4, when Including Kids, Inc. will host their third annual gala at the Humble Civic Center. This years’ theme is “Boots & Bling,” and a grand time is planned for all. The evening, which begins with cocktails at 6 p.m., will include raffles, silent and live auctions, casino, dinner and dancing. Festive live music will be provided by the Mambo Jazz Kings. Including Kids, Inc. is a full-time Applied Behavioral Analysis program that provides instruction, therapy, and education to children with autism and other developmental delays. They are nonprofit, and the proceeds from the gala are critical to help keep the program running. “The proceeds go directly to benefit the children,” said Jennifer Dantzler, executive director. “It is not for any future projects, it is used to help the children right now.” Director of Development Theresa Johnston is enthusiastic about the many opportunities the gala will provide. “We have something for everyone for every budget in our raffle and auctions,” she said. “For the silent auction we will have Houston Texans and Rockets autographed balls, tickets to games, dinner and theatre, hotel and casino passes, laptop and printer, lawn equipment, barbecue smoker with all the fixin’s, and jewelry galore, plus many other choices.” The live auction will include an autographed George Strait flag guitar, a crawfish boil for 50, and a large Astro’s package. The raffles include movie and dinner passes, gift certificates to area restaurants and shops and an HDTV. The casino raffle includes trips to Beau Rivage in Mississippi, a stay and dinner at Delta Downs and Isle of Capri Casinos as well. It is no coincidence that the gala is planned for April 4, because April is Autism Awareness Month. Dantzler feels it is not only important to raise awareness of autism, but to raise the level of community support for families dealing with it. “If there were enough people complaining to the insurance companies, or enough people fundraising for organizations like ours, we’d be able to do more of what we do for more parents,” she said. Support on a personal level is also desperately needed. “Give support to a family that has a child with autism,” said Dantzler. “Offer to babysit so that parents can get a break, or offer to take the kids somewhere. Anything helps,” she said. “Parents need support, not funny looks.” Dantzler also believes it is crucial to get the message out that autism is not a mental illness. “It is important that people know that it isn’t a mental illness,” she said. “It is a neurological malfunctioning, but the different symptoms of autism can be treated. A child with autism can be just as successful as any other person, if not more so.” Programs such as Including Kids, Inc. are an important part of the support, intervention and therapy that can help children with autism reach their full potential. Although Including Kids, Inc. is a full-time ABA program, they do have other support programs available. The Community Outreach Program, which is their part-time option, is available on a sliding scale basis thanks to a grant from The Children’s Fund. Saturday Support Services, which takes place once a month, is free due to a grant from Families for Early Autism Treatment. This program includes parent/professional training workshops, a sibling support group, social skills group, and daycare. Dantzler is passionate about helping children with autism, and empathetic about the struggles families can face. “We know it’s overwhelming for parents, because there is so much information out there,” she said. “We also know that there’s not one thing that fits all children with autism. But whatever they choose, it needs to be researched based and empirically valid.” A final word of advice from Dantzler: “Always keep your hope,” she said. “And most importantly, try to see the joys – if you see the world from their eyes, it really is a prettier world.” For more information about the Boots & Bling Gala, contact Theresa Johnston at 281-852-0501. Tickets are $100 per person or $1000 for a table of 10. For more information about Including Kids, Inc., visit www.includingkids.org. Photo: Including Kids, Inc. Executive Director Jennifer Dantler Shares her passion for kids at annual gala April 4.

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