Two offensive linemen from the Valdosta State Blazer football team gave a helping hand at raising autism awareness as they volunteered their time to help autistic kids in the community.
Autism is a brain disorder that causes social awkwardness, the inability to communicate and odd behavior patterns, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Cameron Short, senior speech communications major, and Mesh Wokomaty, senior speech communications major, participate in the “Big Brother” program that began with Lance Helton and Kyle Fox, two former offensive linemen for VSU.
The program has existed for two years, but Short and Wokomaty have only been participating for one year.
They were asked by Helton and Fox to keep the program going after they graduated.
Each had to go through a background check.
They mentor the son of physical education teacher, Tammy Greenway and she has connected them with other parents and children.
The two seniors are instructed to meet with the children in pairs and the children can’t be away from their parents due to their autism.
Though they receive community hours for it, Short says that those hours don’t matter. “The more involved we get, the more personal it becomes,” Short said.
They both agree that this experience is one that is humbling and Short agrees that it helps a person realize the possibilities of parenting a child with special needs.
They’ve developed a relationship and a bond with these kids.
“You get a connection with them,” Wokomaty said.
These football players believe that more could be done to raise awareness. Wokomaty suggested maybe starting a small organization at VSU and then expanding it to the Valdosta community.
Early symptoms of autism include no babbling or pointing by one-years-old, no response to name, loss of language or social skills, poor eye contact and no smiling or social responsiveness.
Later indicators comprise of impaired ability to make friends with peers, impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others and absence or impairment of imaginative and social play.
According to WebMD, for every 88 children, one will be diagnosed with autism. WebMD has also said that autism has increased by 23 percent since 2006.