Raising money for a puzzling disorder

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Several thousand puzzle pieces were used during Autism Society of Ohio’s Puzzlemania at the OH WOW! Children’s Center in downtown Youngstown. The puzzle-building competition Sunday was designed to raise awareness about autism during Autism Awareness Month. Proceeds benefited educational and support programs for the organization.

By John W. Goodwin Jr.



Many people spend a quiet Sunday piecing together jigsaw puzzles, but dozens of people converged on the OH WOW! Children’s Center for Science and Technology downtown Sunday to piece together puzzles for more than the fun of it.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, the Autism Society of Ohio sponsored a Puzzlemania event at the children’s center. Teams and individuals matched skills in solving the puzzles for cash prizes.

Craig Rader, an event coordinator for the Mahoning Valley Autism Society of Ohio, said Puzzlemania is a major fundraiser for the society and a means of informing the public about autism.

“Because the puzzle piece has been accepted as the national symbol for autism, we wanted to build on that theme with this event,” said Rader. “The message we are trying to give is that one in 50 kids are diagnosed with some kind of autism. That is about one on every school bus. If you are not directly affected, it is still good to know about autism.”

According to the Autism Society’s website, autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The disorder affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause for autism.

Art Volpini is not a big puzzle enthusiast, but he is the father of an 8-year-old autistic child and understands the importance of educating the public about autism. He said events such as the Puzzlemania go a long way toward getting out the word.

“If we can educate people about autism, maybe they can see that this is not a parenting problem when kids behave differently. They remember that they remember hearing something about autism,” he said. “It’s part of making society more accepting.”

Randi Yazvac or Boardman does not know anyone with autism personally but is a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast and wanted to use that love of “puzzling” to help raise money for autism. She won the single-puzzle competition, solving her puzzle in less time than some teams of two.

“I love puzzles so much I just had to come out. I have been puzzling all my life, it’s a great past time,” she said. “I think puzzling is very relaxing.”

Aundrea Cika, director of the Mahoning Valley Chapter of Autism Society of Ohio, said she is pleased with the turnout from Sunday’s puzzlemania event.

“This is a pretty good turnout for the first time we have done this. We had a number of people come out just to show us their support and we also had a number of hard-core puzzlers,” she said.

The society will host a variety of events in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

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