A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Autism Society of the Hudson Valley

In 1981, Mark and Laura Storch learned that their four-year-old daughter Jenny was on the autism spectrum. At that time, only 4 in 10,000 children were autistic (today it is 1 in 80). The condition was considered psychological and widely attributed to “refrigerator mothers,” cold maternal figures whose uncaring nature caused their children to retreat inside themselves and refuse to speak or make eye contact.

When the Storchs received Jenny’s diagnosis, she was already enrolled in a therapeutic school in Woodstock called the Children’s Annex. Another child in her class, Michael di
splayed similar symptoms. Michael’s parents, Sis and Roy Gonye, Laura and Mark, some special educators, and the owners of the Annex decided to research autism. They learned about the Autism Society of America, founded in 1965 by Dr. Bernard Rimland, father of an autistic son, who first proposed that autism was a biological rather than a psychological condition.

In 1985, the group of parents and educators decided to form a local chapter of the ASA. Today the chapter has meetings once a month, usually in Kingston. A core group of members, mainly parents and educators, work together to plan community events. Their big fundraiser is an annual Autism Walk, which is held at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds and hosts up to 5,000 people. This will be the fourteenth year of the walk, which turned into a dynamic resource fair with information and vendor booths. Of course, people with autism are very welcome. Storch says with a laugh, “Any kind of behavior goes.”

Volunteers at the Hudson Valley Autism Walk. Photo courtesy
of the Autism Society of the Hudson Valley.

With the money raised by the walk, and with other grant funding, the Hudson Valley Autism Society supports the local community. They offer financial support for families and sponsor many events including social skill groups for kids, the Rondout Valley Middle School special Olympics, the ARC of Ulster Green, camp scholarships, lectures, and parents night out groups that provide welcome respite.

The objective of the Society is to promote autism awareness, acceptance, integration in the community. But they are also a strong support group for one another. Mark says, “Nobody likes to be alone. People think, ‘My kid is doing these crazy things.’ Kids bang their heads, scratch themselves, scream constantly, don’t sleep. Talking to other parents, people know that they are not alone.”

Mark hopes that the work of the Hudson Valley Autism Society inspires people to be more committed to their own families. “People have to step up and realize that this is their children. This is a lifelong disorder—people with autism have a normal lifespan. We all have to fight this forever, not just till your kid is 21.” After a moment, he adds, “People with autism who don’t have a voice need someone to advocate for them.” 

For more information about the Autism Society of the Hudson Valley or to register for the Autism Walk, visit autismwalkhv.org.