CBS 6 shares voices from Richmond's autism community

Posted at 10:15 AM, Apr 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-30 10:18:48-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- CBS 6 is working to create a more inclusive community in and around Richmond, Virginia. As part of Autism Awareness Month, CBS 6 dedicated an entire evening broadcast to telling the stories of individuals living with autism, families impacted by autism, and organizations helping those in Central Virginia impacted by the condition.

Autism impacts one in 36 children across the United States. One of those children is Ben Ratner.

GeNienne Samuels introduced us to Ben's parents Sarah and Todd Ratner. They said the help their family has received from the Faison Center, a school for children and a center for adults with autism, was critical to understanding their son.

"Really because of here, he's able to tell us what he wants and needs and that's really been life-changing. For us and for him," Todd Ratner said. "The Faison Center let us be a family. I don't know that we would have been equipped to give Ben everything he needed for as long as he did without all of the progress that he made."

'Faison Center let us be a family,' says dad of 'sweet' man with autism who landed in jail

The Faison Center is not alone in Central Virginia in helping individuals with autism live fuller lives.

The Next Move Program and Tablespoons Bakery offer young adults with developmental disabilities on-the-job training.

Caroline Coleburn spoke with 23-year-old baker Kemani Turton-Jones about how the program has made him feel like part of a larger family while providing him with the skills he needs for continued success.

Meet a baker serving up smiles at Tablespoons

Tablespoons Bakery is, of course, just one of the Richmond-area businesses looking to hire and train individuals with varying skill levels.

The Metropolitan Business League (MBL) holds events for business owners who want to expand their workforce by hiring people of all abilities.

Allison Hunter, MBL Director of Programs & Operations, said individuals with disabilities were very dependable and motivated to do great work.

"They're your best employees," Hunter told Joi Fultz. "Why not look at that and of those individuals for your workforce?"

These Richmond businesses are hiring people of all abilities

The JP Jumpers Foundation is another Richmond-area nonprofit that has worked to provide opportunities for children and adults with special needs in Central Virginia.

For founder Pam Mines, the mission to help those with autism is personal.

Her son JP was diagnosed with autism before his third birthday.

JP is now 18 and will soon graduate high school.

After he receives his diploma, JP will start his job at Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center as part of Project Search, a hands-on training program that allows students with disabilities to work in healthcare facilities.

Meet the JP behind amazing autism-related nonprofit 'JP Jumpers'

Latonnya Smiling-Freeman has advice for parents with children on the autism spectrum — “get educated about autism and how to approach it."

Smiling-Freeman has a lot of experience in that area.

Of her four children, all three boys live with autism.

"I feel like they gave me purpose," Smiling-Freeman told Jake Burns. "Jacob and Austin, you never know what you're going to get, but they're always funny. And then Vance, he's very serious and takes things very literally."

Smiling-Freeman said what they learned when the boys were younger has set the family “up to be in a good space right now."

Through work with professionals on autism-specific behavioral therapy, the Freemans learned of the routines that work well for each of their kids.

Family with 3 'very different' sons with autism: 'Get educated, be kind'

The Sunday morning service at Destiny Community Church in Richmond went a little off-script this month. Bishop Ernest Moore Jr. said he was guided by his spirit to educate his members about autism.

The South Richmond church opened its doors to the Autism Society of Central Virginia and introduce participants to an Autism 101 session.

"Sunday is about enlightenment about autism and how it impacts people and how do we make room for them," Moore told Shelby Brown. "That’s really what we are passionate about. Making room for those that may be left out."

Moore was hopeful the service will be a comfort for families impacted by autism.

"Our objective is that we will become a hug for those that want to worship and be a part of the faith community," Moore said. "We also want to train other faith communities, so hopefully this will be a new coalition. That is really my vision as a bishop to do that all over the city and the region."

Bishop likens special Richmond service to 'hug' for families: 'Sunday is about enlightenment'

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