Parade offers fun, information

AUSTINTOWN — Johnny West had a long day that included a visit to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, but he still had enough energy and determination to make a few two-pointers.

“He’s a wonderful, easygoing guy. He loves garage sales and spending his money at the Dollar Tree, and he loves to pick out his own groceries,” West’s mother, Alice West, said about Johnny, 38.

As a child, her son was misdiagnosed, but he is nonverbal and on the autism spectrum. He used to attend the Leonard Kirtz School in Austintown, but is now a client of Turning Point Counseling Services Inc., which took him to Cleveland, Alice West said, adding that he also has a widely diverse musical appetite that includes country western, rock ‘n’ roll and Celtic.

Mother and son also were among those who came to Thursday’s second annual reverse parade, where he received cheers from members of Austintown Middle School’s sixth-grade boys basketball team for making a few baskets.

The team was among the estimated 48 community vendors that offered a variety of resources, information and items for those with special needs during the two-hour drive-thru-only event geared toward those on the autism spectrum and other conditions. Available was everything from safety tips to information on vaccines and public health, Emily Martinez, the MCBDD’s director of community services, noted.

The term “reverse parade” was coined during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

The Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley organization partnered with the MCBDD because April is Autism Awareness Month, Martinez added.

The board serves about 1,900 Mahoning County residents of all ages with various special needs. At least 30 percent of them are on the autism spectrum, she noted.

An estimated one in 36 children age 8 and younger is on the spectrum. That high figure doesn’t necessarily point solely to an increase in the incidence of autism, but to better assessment tools and earlier diagnoses, Robin Suzelis, the Autism Society’s executive director, noted.

Consequently, autism characteristics are typically being caught sooner. In addition, more inroads are being made into rural areas, which often had been overlooked, Suzelis explained, adding that many young people on the spectrum benefit from occupational and speech therapy, as well as interventions such as applied behavior analysis.

Also available are so-called wobble chairs, designed for those on the spectrum who may have sensory challenges that make it difficult for them to sit still in a conventional classroom seat. Such chairs move gently and help with self-regulation as well as calming the person, Suzelis continued.

“Anything that helps the kids attend class and do well is what we want,” she said.

For her part, Suzelis and other ASMV members gave away fidget toys, which help many better manage stress and anxiety. In addition, the members were distributing fliers about the ASMV’s annual Mahoning Valley Warrior event June 3 at the Canfield Fairgrounds.

Also at Thursday’s reverse parade was Carmen Melendez, the community marketing representative for CareSource.

Its offerings include a Life Services program, which offers one-on-one coaching for up to 24 months and connects clients with legal assistance and other resources; reward programs that provide rewards for healthful habits such as getting routine dental and eye exams and recommended shots; and a managed-care plan via Medicaid.

Also offered are health care plans through the marketplace for Medicare, Melendez noted.

The Youngstown City Health District had a table and vehicle from which members handed to attendees information about its wellness clinic and immunizations that include COVID-19, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, hepatitis A and B and chickenpox.

Stephanie Champlin, the Niles-based Fairhaven Foundation’s executive director, was busy passing out information about its second annual Ability Walk & Roll event Aug. 26 at Eastwood Field in Niles.

The gathering is in collaboration with the Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Portage boards of developmental disabilities, and is free for those with such disabilities, Champlin said.

Others that participated in the reverse parade were the Austintown police and fire departments, the YMCA of Youngstown and the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, which set up a pop-up library.


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