Long-running organization helps children and adults with autism
Therapy and programs give them a brighter outlook on life
Gary is a passionate record collector. Stacked in his closet are more than 1,500 pop, disco and dance albums he has gleaned from record stores across the country.
Lately he has been listening to Connie Russell's, "Don't Smoke in Bed," and Ann Gilbert's, "In a Swingin' Mood."
Because he is autistic, collecting records is not such a simple hobby for him. To protect his privacy, The Gazette only is using his first name.
Gary lives in a home run by Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children in Montgomery Village, which claims to be the largest and longest-running autism service organization in the country. A group counselor accompanies him on his outings.
Last year marked the organization's 30th anniversary, and April is autism awareness month.
In recent trips, Gary, 49, has gone to Baltimore and New York City. In May, a chaperone will go with him to Jerry's Records in Pittsburgh; in July they will go to Chicago; when September rolls around they will go to Colony Records in New York City.
"It's good quality music," Gary said of why he collects. "Second Story [in Rockville] is my favorite record and book store."
Second Story sells used books, records and other materials and is an ample trove of potential for Gary's searches.
"Gary is a success story at CSAAC," said Ayda Sanver, the organization's director of community development. "There are success stories like Gary every day, but the sad reality is that most people we see at CSAAC are not as high functioning as he is."
Worldwide, one in 110 people is born with autism, she said.
Contrary to what many people believe, scientists have not determined the cause of autism, Sanver said.
Autism is a "spectrum disorder," according to the Centers for Disease Control website.
"That means [the disorder] affects each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. People with [the disorder] share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms," according to the website.
Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder, like autism itself, are autism spectrum disorders.
There is no cure, but research shows that early intervention treatment services can greatly improve a child's development, according to the website. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old learn important skills. Services can include therapy to help the child talk, walk and interact with others.
CSAAC provides that therapy through programs that help people with autism in all stages of life, Sanver said.
In addition to the residential support program, which provides free housing and round-the-clock care for residents, CSAAC also has a vocational support program, early intervention therapy for young children, school programs for individuals between 7 and 21 years old, and an in-home support program.
Founded in 1979 by Jane Ford Salzano, the organization started as a nonprofit group home that served 4 people with autism.
The organization now serves more than 350 in 52 homes and has a waiting list of people hoping to be accepted into the program. It receives 99 percent of its funding from the state, Sanver said. In 2008, the last year reported, CSAAC received slightly more than $21 million in revenue, according to state tax records.
"There's an admissions process," Sanver said.
Some services are provided free, and people are willing to pay for others, she said.
"We consider ourselves the Mayo Clinic of autism," Sanver said.
Gary has been in the residential program for 27 years.
Searching for records online and researching exactly where to find them is part of Gary's therapy, Sanver said. His reward is getting to buy them.
"I listen to 10 or 12 albums per day," Gary said. "I search for them on my own, but they help me get there by bus."
He knows that without the group's help, his passion for record collecting would have been harder to satisfy than finding a Johnny Mathis album.
Correction: In the original version of this story, the name of Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children founder Jane Salzano was misspelled. Also several numbers were transposed. The story should have said the organization started as a nonprofit group home that served four people with autism and now serves more than 350 in 52 homes.