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Thursday, 18 April 2013 19:54

2nd Annual Autism Fair and Carnival Showcases Different Resources Available for Unique Disorder

By Chelsea DiSchiano | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — About once a week, Julie Marks and Mary Fornabia receive phone calls from frantic parents whose children have been diagnosed with some form of autism and have no idea what they’re supposed to do next. 

After realizing just how many families in the Capital Region don’t know what resources are available to those with children or relatives on the autism spectrum, Marks, who works at Saratoga Bridges, and Fornabia, who works at the Parent Network of the Capital Region, decided to connect and create an information fair where the public can discover all the resources available in the area. 

The first Autism Fair and Carnival took place last April and was a breakout success with 30 vendors and about 500 attendees. This year, both Marks and Fornabia are hoping to see an even bigger turnout at the fair, which will take place at the Intramural Gym on the Skidmore campus Sunday, April 21 from 12—3 p.m. This year has already seen an increase in vendors—jumping from last year’s 30 booths to 46 that will be present this year.

“Having one place to go to where you could find out about all kinds of services in your community—nothing like that had ever been done before in the Capital Region,” said Fornabia, who works as a special education resource specialist at the Parent Network. “In creating this fair, we found what those services are and that there are a lot more out there than what we realized.”

Though Fornabia and Marks have spearheaded the creation and production of the fair, they both said they owe much of their success to the event’s biggest sponsor, The Law Offices of Wilcenski & Pleat, PLLC., and over 20 psychology students from Skidmore who have volunteered their time to help coordinate the event. 

The Skidmore students will help out in several different ways, from guiding cars to the parking lot at the campus entrances to supervising children at the fair’s play areas and bounce house.

“The students are exceptional and last year helped us out tremendously,” Marks said.

“It’s essential to have them because they supervise the children and man the bounce house and make sure they’re safe and comfortable,” Fornabia added. “For parents that’s really important, because to walk into an event like this and walk around vendors while holding the hand of a child that may be very sensitive to what’s going on—the noise, the loudness, and those kinds of things—it’s very important because many times parents of kids with autism have a very difficult time getting out into the community, whether it’s food shopping, going to the bank or gathering information like this.”

Fornabia also said that it’s often hard for parents of autistic children to take them in public because of the common misconceptions made by the general public. 

“Someone with autism could look just like you or me, so you may see a child in a store having a tantrum or see someone having a meltdown or acting in a way that might be quirky or odd and they may have autism—and the public may think those parents are either not being good parents or not disciplining their child or that that’s a weird person,” Fornabia explained. 

For that reason, Marks and Fornabia emphasized the importance of the fair in educating not just families or individuals on the autism spectrum, but also in educating teachers, employers, service providers and the general public. 

“Parents who just found out their kid was diagnosed need to be educated, and not only do they need to be educated, but they want to be educated and they want to learn—but there’s no single place you can go to get all the information you need. You can’t go to a library and open a book and find all the information you need,” Fornabia said. “Even in our school settings, children with autism are integrated into regular settings. It’s no longer the day and age of self-contained classes where you lump all kids with disabilities into one class—children with autism are integrated into classes so teachers, parents and the public all need to be educated.”

Marks also spoke as to why it’s so important for employers to be educated on autism issues as well.

“[Employers] hire people on the spectrum and don’t know it, and that’s okay—people on the spectrum are really intelligent and able to get typical jobs, but an employer may have this quirky employee who has no interpersonal skills or says things that are politically incorrect or they’re failing on their job, and an employer doesn’t understand that, ‘Wow, there’s something more to this,’” Marks said.

Several colleges will be present at the fair to showcase the different college programs and resources that are available for those on the autism spectrum, which Marks said has been a huge request from parents. 

The fair will have plenty to offer for children with autism and their parents, as well as the public. There will be an arts and crafts and face painting area, a bounce house and a quieter area with sensory toys for the kids, all of which will be supervised by Skidmore students so that parents and relatives can be free to walk around and visit the 46 exhibitors that will be present. Representatives from Best Buy will also be on hand to showcase different iPad apps that are available for kids on the autism spectrum and will show how to use them. Finally, there will also be a full directory with details and contact information for each exhibitor that will be made available to all attendees.

The 2nd Annual Autism Fair and Carnival is open and free to the public. For more information on the event, contact Julie Marks at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Mary Fornabia at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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