Neighborhood to Host Community Autism Awareness Event on Saturday

Arlington resident Brenda Denton said having a strong relationship with her neighbors paid off when her teenage son, who is on the Autism spectrum, recently wandered away from home for a second time.

The first time Matthew left his home without permission three years ago, it took Denton more than four hours to find her teenage son in a neighbor’s backyard. But thanks to an emergency plan she created after that incident and communicating about her son’s special needs with her Arlington neighborhood association, Denton said neighbors were able to help her find Matthew in less than 45 minutes when he wandered away from home again this past February.

“In my situation three years ago, I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know what to do,” Denton said. “Then I became involved in the neighborhood and they’ve helped me a lot. You never raise a child alone. You need a community.”

Because of her experience, Denton wants to raise awareness about how families and neighborhoods can work together to help keep children with special needs safe. Her neighborhood, Webb Britton Estates, is hosting a Community Autism Awareness event this Saturday that will feature special needs advocates and parents Danny and Cathy Whittington.

As parents of an autistic son, the Whittingtons will share a unique perspective and also ideas for neighborhoods and first responders to communicate effectively and respond appropriately when a child goes missing or needs help.

The Whittingtons have completed many training sessions and seminars in the Arlington area and work closely with the Arlington Police Department and the City of Arlington.

The meeting, open to the public, is set for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 22 at the Southeast Branch Library Community Room, 900 SE Green Oaks Boulevard.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. About 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder, which is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with autism typically have difficulties with communication, behavior, and social relationships.