Shelly Rakhshani adores her two “amazing boys” – Brock is 10 and Landon 7. Brock has been diagnosed with a severe form of autism. Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Rakhshani dreamt for years about starting an organization to advocate for families affected by autism. Rakhshani recently founded New Hope Autism Center (NHAC) to bring a message of hope, information, support and resources to the community touched by autism. The organization actively advocates for individuals and families affected by autism. Rakshani is now the organization’s chief executive officer and director.
NHAC is already busy in the community. One NHAC program helps families with personal care assistance. NHAC also presents informational seminars to companies about autism awareness. In April 2010 NHAC plans to hold an autism walk.
NHAC hosted a Reason for Hope Retreat in October and unveiled its new work with Project Lifesaver. Anyone related to or working with an individual with a disability or healthcare need could attend. Attendees learned new strategies for coping with the needs of people with disabilities.
Rakhshani talked about her passion for being an autism advocate and shared her personal insights with the group. “NHAC is my son’s voice and if it wasn’t for him NHAC would not exist,” she said.
Participants also discovered information about services and products available from exhibitors at the Reason for Hope Retreat-Ability Fair. Audiences were engaged by the interesting speakers during the retreat. Aaron Cross spoke about Living with Abilities. He shared fun and inspirational moments from his life. In 2004 he and his Archery Teammates shot their way to the Para-lympic Bronze medal; the first team medal for the U.S. Para-lympic Archery Team.
But one of the most potentially important things unveiled at the retreat is New Hope Autism Center’s efforts to help bring Project Lifesaver to the community. Bob Parrott captivated the crowd with his presentation about Project Lifesaver. The Project Lifesaver Program provides quick response to save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children who wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism and other related cognitive conditions.
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability and it leads to wandering behavior, according to the Autism Society of America. Two government studies indicate about 1 in 100 children have autism disorders. In a recent National Autism Association online survey, 92% of the respondents said their autistic child was at risk of wandering. Wandering can have serious consequences. When wanderers are not found within 24 hours it can lead to significant injury or death.
In 2008 Keith Kennedy, an adult with autism, wandered off from a summer camp in Wisconsin. Thousands of people searched for him. “Keith was missing for a solid week,” said his mother Linda Kennedy. “It was a week of utter hell-that ended in great joy, but great trepidation because he was very, very near death when he was found.” She wishes Keith had been wearing a Project Lifesaver device at that time.
Project Lifesaver searches average less than 30 minutes to find the missing person. Clients enrolled in the service wear a Personal Locator Unit (PLU) on their wrist or ankle. The PLU constantly sends out a radio frequency signal, which can be tracked regardless of where the person has wandered-even into a densely wooded area or a concrete structure like a garage. As soon as a client goes missing, care-givers call locally trained agencies and they are dispatched to the wanderer’s area with handheld search and rescue receivers. Only two trained searchers are needed to locate the individual.
There have been 2,014 Project Lifesaver searches nationally, all successful. Project Lifesaver works hand in hand with local law enforcement agencies to run these programs. Project Lifesaver is operating in 45 states, Canada and Australia. Seventeen Minnesota counties are using the technology-including Hennepin, Ramsey and Wright. Parrott is on a mission to bring Project Lifesaver to every county in Minnesota.
NHAC has committed to bring the Project Lifesaver Program to Stearns and Benton counties. Jodi Rajkowski, NHAC President, originally learned about Project Lifesaver from her sister who is in law enforcement.Rajkowski presented the Project Lifesaver Program to the NHAC Board. “There is a need for this program in our area and I think this is something we need to move fast on.”
That’s when NHAC started its effort to raise money and implement Project Lifesaver. One cost analysis shows: The national average of an Alzheimer’s search is 9 hours x $1,500 per hour = $13,500. In comparison, the basic cost to start Project Lifesaver for an entire county is $4,000.00.
Parrott most likely will provide the Project Lifesaver training for Stearns and Benton counties’ law enforcement once the funds are available. After the program is up and running, NHAC will play whatever role is needed to support the local Project Lifesaver Program.