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Families look to raise awareness of autism

DeenBess Sherman

Deena Bess Sherman

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Updated: May 20, 2013 7:45PM

Over the years I have watched friends struggle to understand and live with various forms of autism as their children are diagnosed.

It may be one of the most prevalent, yet least understood disorders in this country. So When Gina Malvestuto-Diekman phoned me to talk about autism, I was happy to hear about her efforts.

April is Autism Awareness Month and Malvestuto is on a personal mission to increase awareness and understanding.

“People still do not know what autism is,” she said. “We do not know what causes it and if we don’t know that, we can’t start fixing it.”

That’s why she is having a local fundraiser for the group Autism Speaks, which among other things, does autism research.

Malvestuto’s 7-year-old son, Tristan, was diagnosed with autism three years ago. She told me she was stunned when the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recently updated its estimate of how many U.S. children are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. The new number is 1 in 88, which includes 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls.

Malvestuto said it was reported that, “by comparison, this is more children than are affected by diabetes, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and Down syndrome combined. It would be safe to say that this is an epidemic.”

Autism Speaks

Malvesturo put me in touch with Carolyn Chadwell of Geneva. Chadwell’s 7-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism at age 3. She said that Autism Speaks has helped her by “being an organization that I can turn to for advice, support, and knowledge.”

Chadwell added that she is an advocate for early intervention because “without that, my daughter’s autism my be much more advanced.”

Amy Tinerella of North Aurora received the diagnosis of autism when her son was 9. Now he’s 11.

“Having a child with special needs has changed my life for the better,” Tinerella said. “Our son has taught us patience, perseverance and the ability to recognize and appreciate the important things in life. We have learned to see the world through his eyes, to experience the joy in simple laughter and yet understand frustration at things that may seem easy for others. His ability to see the good in everything and to love unconditionally inspires us each and every day.”

This year will be Tristan Diekman’s family’s fourth walk with the group Walk Now For Autism Speaks. They have a team called Tristan’s Angels that will participate in the May 18 walk that begins at Soldier Field in Chicago. To sponsor Tristan’s Angels online, go to, click on events in the Chicago area and then search for the team name.

While this is the second year Raimondo’s Pizza and Pub has supported Autism Speaks, this is the first year the Malvestuto-Diekman family will be doing a full-blown fundraising event there, prior to the walk. Raimondo’s is at 1033 Kilbery Lane in North Aurora and the event will be held from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 21. Raimondo’s is providing a pizza and salad buffet, with proceeds going to Autism Speaks. Tickets for adults are $15, children age 3-10 are $8 and children under 3 are free. Some of Tristan’s classmates from Brownie Troop 826 at Goodwin School will be helping with that fundraiser and selling necklaces. There will also be some free activities for children, a small bake sale, and craft sale.

I can tell you from experience that the pizza and pasta at Raimondo’s are absolutely fresh and delicious and their recipes are creative, with new things to try every time we go.

So if you know someone with autism or just want to help families like the Diekmans, Tinerellas, and Chadwells, come on out to Raimondo’s on Sunday, meet some incredible families, and taste some of the best Italian food in the Fox Valley.

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