FEAT hopes for center for autistic children

When Wendi and Garritt Fauria's son Dave was 13 months old, Wendi had suspected something was wrong for quite some time. He never had pointed at anything like 1-year-olds normally do and didn't respond when they called his name. He had stopped smiling and babbling. The last word he had spoken was "Mama" on Mother's Day at 11 months old.

"He was kind of like taken from us," said Wendi Fauria, 36, of Dave, who is now 4 years old. "His spirit - it was gone."

She took him to a doctor and was told that he was fine, then she got a second opinion. Following that examination, Dave was diagnosed with autism.

"My son just now is starting to say a few words," said Fauria. "Ten percent of those with autism never speak."

One in 166 children are diagnosed with autism, according to the Autism Society of America, which states that according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, autism is growing at a startling rate of 10-17 percent per year. At this rate, ASA estimates that the prevalence of autism could reach 4 million Americans in the next decade.

Autism is defined as a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.

After her son, her only child, was diagnosed, Fauria, who lives in Gardnerville, tried to locate a support group in Carson Valley. She couldn't find one so she decided to create her own Valley chapter of Families for Effective Autism Treatment.

"We started FEAT in October 2003 when my son was diagnosed," said Fauria.

The first meeting was held in June 2004. Just two months later following a suggestion by her father, David Semas, FEAT held its first Autism Benefit for Children, a charity dinner concert at Semas' ranch in the Foothills. That event raised $40,000, with $25,000 in proceeds going to FEAT. In 2005, FEAT once again held a dinner concert, this time raising $60,000, with net earnings of $39,000.

This year, with the help of Mario and Diane Antoci who donated use of Genoa Lakes Golf Course, FEAT hosted two events on Aug. 4-5. Called the ABC Weekend, the Buffalo Creek Invitational golf tournament raised $55,000, with a net profit of almost $35,000 and the Evening at the Comstock featuring David John and the Comstock Cowboys, with about 400 people in attendance, raised $75,000, with almost $55,000 going to FEAT. In total, the weekend raised $130,000, with more than $85,000 going to families with autistic children in Northern Nevada and to a fund to build an autism center.

"It's just amazing in all of Northern Nevada, the generosity of people," said Fauria. "It really touches my heart. We really live in a great community."

Three couples who have autistic children originally formed FEAT, but two had to leave the board or their children wouldn't qualify for benefits. Toni and Allen Gumm and Phil and Barbie Stein still act as advisors. Wendi Fauria's brother Greg Semas has joined the board as president and Fauria is the treasurer.

One of FEAT's goals is awareness, since early detection can make a huge difference in getting results from therapy in an autistic child.

"I want to create awareness," said Fauria. "The longer parents wait, the more difficult for the child."

Fauria said there are "countless therapies," plus special diets and vitamin supplements.

"The two main modes of therapy are ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis), which is intensive one-on-one therapy, or there is Floor Time, which is playtime therapy," said Fauria. "Those two therapies are very beneficial," she said.

FEAT's biggest goal is to build a center for autistic children in Northern Nevada.

"Our goal is to build a center for kids," said Fauria's father, Semas, "so people who have an autistic child - they'd be able to bring them someplace where they can get free therapy."

Semas is one of the biggest benefactors of FEAT.

"This is about kids, this is about our future," said Semas. "If we can just help them now through therapy, you'd be shocked at what they can become.

"It is our version of No Child Left Behind. Whatever stage that child is in, the more therapy they get, the better they'll grow up to be."

A center for autistic children in Northern Nevada would give them the venue to be able to offer full-time therapists, according to Semas.

"In Northern Nevada there are 300-plus families out there with autistic children," said Semas. "There are over 1,200 in the state of Nevada. We must find out why this is happening - to get a cause and find out how to cure it. But there are millions of kids who have it and we must help them be all they can be."


Families for Effective Autism Treatment, Carson Valley


Autism Research Institute


Autism Society of America


Children and adults with autism:

n May not understand what you say

n Appear deaf

n Be unable to speak or speak with difficulty

n Engage in repetitive behaviors

n Act upset for no apparent reason

n Appear insensitive to pain

n Appear anxious or nervous

n Dart away from you unexpectedly

n Engage in self-stimulating behaviors like hand flapping or rocking

Source: Autism Society of America


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