Does your child not answer when you call his or her name? Does he or she not make eye contact with you? Do they say the same words over and over? Do they start talking and then stops? Do they not point to things or show you things that they are interested in?

These are all signs of Autism.

Autism refers to a wide range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. There are several forms of Autism, varying in degrees of severity, caused by a combination of genetic and environmental issues.

Does your child not answer when you call his or her name? Does he or she not make eye contact with you? Do they say the same words over and over? Do they start talking and then stops? Do they not point to things or show you things that they are interested in?

These are all signs of Autism.

Autism refers to a wide range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. There are several forms of Autism, varying in degrees of severity, caused by a combination of genetic and environmental issues.

One out of 65 children in Arkansas will be diagnosed with Autism – one in 40 boys and one in 172 girls.

Saturday at Freeman Playground marked the first of a series of Autism Playdates in Helena-West Helena and Phillips County. Beginning at 9 a.m., parents can bring their youngsters to the park to play with children of all ability levels in a safe, quiet environment, while the adults interact and gain support of others who are parents of Autistic children.

Autism Playdates are coordinated by the Arkansas Autism Resource and Outreach Center.

The Autism Delta Project is an outreach program of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences East campus, the AAROC and others. The objective of the ADP is to provide training and support to families with children who have autism and increase quality services in the Arkansas Delta by coordinating efforts with the existing providers such as schools, pre-schools, therapists and clinics in the area.

The Autism Delta Project is fairly new. It is a great connection between families with children with Autism and assistance needed by the child to succeed.

“This is an opportunity for parents to gain hope, direction and support by talking with other families in the community who have a loved one with Autism or other disabilities,” commented Katy Cravens, Delta region liaison for the AAROC. “I urge parents to call for support or encouragement.”

Here are a few facts about Autism in Arkansas.

•Arkansas children are diagnosed later than any other state – the average age being 61 months compared to the national range of 46 to 61 months.

•Minority children and those in rural areas are diagnosed later and have less access to evidence-based services.

•Early invention works.

• Arkansas has the resources to support children with autism.

A Phillips County Autism Support Group will meet this Thursday (July 27) at 5:30 p.m. In Room 308 of the UAMS East Regional Campus at 1393 Highway 242 South.

About Freeman Playground

Located at 803 Beech Street in Helena just behind the Pillow-Thompson House, Freeman Playground is a place of fun and laughter for all children. It was built in honor of Freeman Ellis Staley and all of the children of Phillips County who left this world much too soon.

“We believe this is the perfect place for children of all abilities to come together to play and fun and thus creating a setting for parents to come together to come together to gain, hope direction and support,” commented Misti Staley.

Misti Staley, Freeman's mom and Will Staley, Freeman's dad, spearheaded a local drive to make the playground a reality.