Yampa Valley Autism Program’s 8th annual Masquerade Ball to kickoff Saturday evening | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley Autism Program’s 8th annual Masquerade Ball to kickoff Saturday evening

Attendees at Yampa Valley Autism Program's 2015 Masquerade Ball dressed up for the occasion. This year's theme will be "Turn It Up Blue!" in celebration of Saturday being National Autism Awareness Day.

— It takes a village for the Yampa Valley Autism Program to thrive.

"The rate of autism spectrum disorder has increased so much in the past few years, even in this community, that the organization is key to help provide support and the tools necessary, not only for families and their children, but to the schools, so that these kids flourish in their community," said Heidi Meshurel-Jolly, whose son is part of the YVAP's after-school, school-days-off and summer programs.

In the Yampa Valley, the incidence of autism — a bio-neurological developmental disability that generally appears before the age of 3 — affects one in 68 children, nationally. In Steamboat Springs, the incidence of autism is slightly higher than the national average.

If You Go…

What: Yampa Valley Autism Program's Masquerade Ball "Unmasking Autism"

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 2

Where: Colorado Mountain College Neas Dining Atrium

Recommended Stories For You

Tickets: $75, available online or at All That, 601 Lincoln Ave.

With these dramatically increasing rates, specialized services have become required for children with autism, according to Lisa Lorenz, executive director of YVAP, which serves more than 60 families with more than 40 direct services through work-ready programs, therapy or educational programming.

Support may come in many forms for these families, but none quite compare with YVAP's annual Mardi Gras masquerade "Unmasking Autism" fundraiser, which will kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Colorado Mountain College Neas Dining Atrium. Festivities will include music and dancing, along with live performers Jasmir Bellydance, Hokunani Hula and Cirque du Steamboat dancers. Masks and costumes are optional, but encouraged.

Saturday is also National Autism Awareness Day, and the masquerade will incorporate the theme "Light It Up Blue!"

This year’s silent auction will feature an NFL Superbowl helmet autographed by 25 MVP players, including John Elway and Peyton Manning; an Eagles guitar autographed by the entire band, including the recently deceased Glenn Frey; a getaway vacation package to Cozumel; and a Steamboat Ski Area pass.

"One of the things that connects the masquerade event to autism is the idea of a mask and unmasking autism — removing the barriers of being able to communicate," said Lorenz. "There are a lot of people in the community who are on the spectrum, have a lot to offer and are highly intelligent. But they may struggle with communication or being able to understand social expectations."

Autism, Lorenz explained, is often deceiving, due, in part, to the varied levels of intelligence it encompasses, ranging from almost genius level to cognitive deficits. This often results in kids with autism being perceived and treated as if they have limited understanding.

YVAP is a local program dedicated to providing resources and direct services to individuals and families living with autism. These include the social cognition program, a work-ready community cultivation program; the STRIDES Transition Program for 18- to 21-year-olds; the Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA, treatment therapy program, which reimburses families for respite care; scholarship programs; education resources featuring speakers and workshops; and emergency financial and family support.

These programs provide scholarships to attend social therapy sessions that can impact how the children learn and relate to social situations and thinking.

"We continue to see more of a need for these therapy services, but are challenged with finding funding sources," Meshurel-Jolly said.

The number of children receiving social cognition therapy has seen a 30 percent increase in the past year, and the number of children needing behavior therapy has nearly tripled, Lorenz said.

Meshurel-Jolly said these programs and the support her son has received from his teachers and paraprofessional staff at school have helped him grow by leaps and bounds in terms of how he regulates his emotions and interacts with peers at school and at home.

"Right now, there are not enough aides to support the need, and for working families like myself, that means our kids cannot attend after-school, school-days-off and summer programs that require them to have aides," said Meshurel-Jolly. "This results in parents having to take vacation or time off just to provide childcare."

A new goal this year for YVAP is acquiring a center-based location to house all the programs, therapy services and administration offices in a single place.

"We are actively seeking a location now and doing feasibility studies, but the funding has to come first," Lorenz said. "This event is a great party and is super fun, but we want people to know that we are doing it for a reason and that they are there to support this program and people on the spectrum, to help make their lives better."

Tickets are $75 and are available at yampavalleyautism.org and All That, 601 Lincoln Ave.

If You Go…

What: Yampa Valley Autism Program’s Masquerade Ball “Unmasking Autism”

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 2

Where: Colorado Mountain College Neas Dining Atrium

Tickets: $75, available online or at All That, 601 Lincoln Ave.