Autism program to show film

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— Grayson Steur, 10, thinks his autism is more of a gift than an affliction.

"He brought it up when we were talking about the word 'disability,'" said Grayson's mother, Janna Marxuach, who also is the executive director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program. "He doesn't feel disabled."

Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, difficulties in communicating and repetitive behavior. But each case of autism is different from the next.

"The severity can vary dramatically," Marxuach said. "IQ can vary from mentally disabled to gifted and savant. Autism can vary from completely nonverbal to very verbal."

Creating awareness about autism is one of the goals of the Yampa Valley Autism Program. On Friday, it will show the movie "Mozart and the Whale" at Steamboat Mountain Theater. The movie's two main characters suffer from Asperger's Syndrome - a disorder similar to autism - and are considered gifted and highly verbal savant adults. "Mozart and the Whale" is based on a true story.

"These people have very strong social and emotional difficulties and got through them and fell in love," Marxuach said. "And they are still married in reality."

Marxuach hopes the movie will act as a teaching tool.

"Everyone has something in their lives that can make things difficult," Marxuach said. "All autism disorders are neurological and developmental disabilities affecting a person's social, communication and sensory functions, which makes it difficult to interact in society."

The Yampa Valley Autism Program works with about 30 families who have children and young adults with autism and related disabilities.

"We are mainly a resource program and our main goal is to work with service providers in the area and to help with training and educational needs," Marxuach said. "We help families with family support services and parent support groups, public awareness and advocacy."

With early intervention, it's possible to significantly reduce the amount of care that a person with autism will need when they are adults, Marxuach said.

"People who wait because they think their children will grow out of their behaviors are doing them a great disservice," she said.

The Yampa Valley Autism Program will become more visible in the community when it moves into its first office location this week.

"The Yampa Valley Medical Center is moving their pediatric therapy services into the house on Pine Grove Road and allowing the Autism Program to share to space with them," Marxuach said.

Awareness is a very important component of the program, and Marxuach hopes people who don't have any contact with individuals with Asperger's Syndrome will attend the movie.

"I think people who live in the autism world would attend to see something they can connect with," she said. "But I love the fact that someone produced a movie that will also teach others."

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