From Grassroots to Gardens
● By Alesha Damerville
Written by Janne Siegel
“Rather than seeing Autism as a disability, I prefer to see it as a different ability,” said Lisa Lorenz, Executive Director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program (“YVAP”).
Lorenz’s involvement with Autism came from having an autistic son, now 23, who went through the Steamboat Springs, Colorado school district from kindergarten through 12th grade. Lorenz was a 7th-grade science teacher for twenty years and the consummate activist for her son and others with autism to ensure they received the educational opportunities that would support them in reaching their goals.
Lorenz said it was a preschool teacher at Northwest Colorado BOCES who encouraged several of the mothers with autistic children to get together for support and brainstorming on how to be the best advocates for their children in the Steamboat Springs school system. In 2002, the group formed the Yampa Valley Autism Program, a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation.
In 2009 YVAP offered their first program, the Community Cultivation Program, which provides opportunities for the children to gain a sense of independence and confidence by working in an operating garden, growing and harvesting flowers, herbs, and vegetables, said Lorenz.
“In addition to the Community Cultivation Program, we offer Extracurricular Activity Support, Education Resources, Social Cognition Therapy, Respite Services for the families, and Support Group Meetings. We are also able to provide emergency financial, and family support as we recognize that the strain on families can be overwhelming,” said Lorenz.
Lorenz said having resources for the family is a critical component of the YVAP mission.
“Our goal is to have a healthy family. For a child to be successful, the family has to be healthy,” she said.
Lorenz said that advocacy and public awareness also serve as critical components of the Program, both concerning the individual autistic child and as to the families impacted.
“Autism impacts the whole family emotionally because autism is such an intensive disorder. It can be difficult to control, and there are so many unknowns. Will my child drive? Will my child work? Will my child go to college? Often the answer is ‘I don’t know,'” said Lorenz.
Babette Dixon, one of the founders of YVAP with Lorenz, said her son James, now 20, is independent and thriving in the Steamboat community, which Dixon credits to YVAP and its programs.
“James is an artist and has an electric bike which allows him to get to his studio on his own. His verbal skills exploded with the help of YVAP programs. He has the confidence to get around in the community by himself. My dream is that every community could have such a program in place. The work is amazing. James would not be where he is without YVAP,” said Dixon.
For more information about YVAP and their programs, please visit the website at yampavalleyautism.org.