Connected by a Cause
● By Style
Photo by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group
When Connie Mariscal’s son was diagnosed with autism in 1998, the complex range of developmental disorders within the autism spectrum remained largely mysterious.
“A diagnosis back [then] brought little to no assistance,” she explains. “Implementing a scientifically based program to help my son achieve his best outcome was the only way that I could help him.”
That same year, Mariscal began donating her time to Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT), a Sacramento-based nonprofit dedicated to providing valuable resources and information to families touched by autism. Through a combination of mentorship and monthly support meetings, social and recreational events, and fundraising, FEAT serves hundreds of local children and their families annually. “My personal goal and mission,” Mariscal says, “has always been to not have one more mother, father or family shed a single tear as a result of not receiving proper assistance or intervention [and] treatment for their child.”
Founded in 1993 by parents and treatment professionals, FEAT’s founding members began with a goal of improving early autism intervention services in the Sacramento area. Through a combination of grants and fundraising, they were eventually able to provide intensive early intervention training to both parents and local health care professionals with the help of therapists from the UCLA Clinic for the Behavioral Treatment of Children. “FEAT is the only organization that is with families…in their school, regional center, social security, or any other agency meeting,” Mariscal explains. “We guide parents through every process personally and professionally.”
According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, approximately 1 in 88 children has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and although ASDs occur in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, they are nearly five times more common among boys than girls. Additionally, the CDC reports that medical expenditures for those with an ASD are up to 6.2 times greater than for those without an ASD.
FEAT parent Lisa Jeffers has been involved with the organization since 2010 and says it has been “a beacon of light” for her family, which includes two children on the autism spectrum. “I have never met so many friendly people who are willing to sacrifice their time [and] effort and give so freely of their knowledge to help others,” she says. “I feel understood and supported by families and friends who have joined this great organization. It is great to meet others and make friends with those who have similar struggles, dreams and wishes for their children.”
“As the years have progressed, I have had families tell me that if it were not for FEAT they would not have known the many options and avenues their children could have taken,” adds Mariscal. “Personally, my son is now 19 and getting ready for college. The road ahead is still filled with many unseen troubles, as well as adventures, and knowing that FEAT is there to help makes life that much easier to manage.”
For more information, visit feat.org.