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Southwest Florida autism center on track

April 18, 2018
By CJ HADDAD ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Resources for those who have loved ones on the autism spectrum are about to become more accessible in Southwest Florida.

Non-profit Family Initiative Inc. will use $102,000 in state grant money toward the new Southwest Florida Autism Center to be built on Southwest 4th Street in Cape Coral.

Organizers hope for a fall groundbreaking.

"This facility is designed to serve anyone in the community on the spectrum," said David Brown, president of Family Initiative.

Anjali Van Drie serves as vice president.

Over time, the resources gap has widened for families looking for opportunities to provide their loved ones with the support and guidance they need. Church space was rented in Fort Myers to provide assistance.

Now, the state-of-the art 3,000-square-foot center will be a big step up to assist those who fall on the spectrum, officials said.

Cape Coral City Councilmember Jessica Cosden, who has a daughter on the spectrum, is thrilled about the new autism center.

"Families with children are moving to Cape Coral at a record pace. The need for autism services in the Southwest Florida area already existed, but has been amplified by this rapid population growth. Family Initiative has changed life for my own family, so I can't wait for them to expand in Cape Coral. Many more families will benefit from David and Anjali's selfless service to the community."

A 2015 government survey of parents suggests that 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17, have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the United States.

Autism is found in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

"We are going to offer clinical and support services, which is scarce Southwest Florida. To have a place that is dedicated and focused for those on the spectrum is wonderful. A large sensory room, with equipment geared towards children and young adults with ASD is one of the highlights of our residence. We want to support the transitional youth and prepare them to have success after schooling as they grow older," Brown said.

Family Initiative's support for autism in Southwest Florida has already provided many residents in the area with benefits and programs for those on the spectrum.

Their ASD playgroup, provides a warm and welcoming environment for children ages 5-16 to build social skills and make new friends on a weekly basis. They also have partnered with the Alliance for the Arts to offer an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis Art and Play Class for students ages 8-17 that focuses on social communication, engagement with peers, and working together as a group.

"We can't thank The Southwest Florida Community Foundation and Rep. Dane Eagle enough for their support. We have been working on this project for over a year and truly owe them much gratitude," added Brown.

Eagle, R-77th District, was instrumental in obtaining the grant money.

On Saturday, April 21, Family Initiative will hold its second annual fundraiser to support ASD families across Southwest Florida. "Reeling for Autism" will be held at Nervous Nellie's on Fort Myers Beach.

Many activities, including a fishing tournament, silent auction, 50/50 raffle, kid's fishing, food and music will all benefit the autism community in the area.

Any anglers wishing to register for the tournament, can do so at



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