AUTISM AWARENESS: From left, Slavin, McLeod and Long at the gala
One of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders -- which affect up to 1.5 million Americans -- is discomfort with or disinterest in social interaction. On April 7, five young men stood tall as examples of the possibility of overcoming the challenges of autism, eloquently sharing their experiences with YouthCare -- a highly successful MGH program for individuals with autism -- in front of 650 guests at the annual YouthCare Gala.
The benefit event, held at the Mandarin Oriental, helped provide financial support for YouthCare while raising awareness about autism. Programs and services offered by YouthCare range from summer camps to school consultations and are designed to help children, teenagers and young adults make social connections and gain the living skills they need to reach their full potential. YouthCare clinicians and staff take a multidisciplinary team approach and collaborate closely with parents, teachers and other health care providers.
Gala Committee Co-Chairs David H. Long, president of Liberty Mutual Group, and Timothy M. Sweeney, executive vice president of Liberty Mutual, welcomed guests. Following their remarks, Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH president, thanked other committee members -- Marlene and Jay Austen Jr., MD, Ann Marie and Daniel Gross, Terry and Tom Hamilton, Kim and Eric Karofsky, Shonda and Curt Schilling, and Stephanie Long -- for their efforts. He also shared details about YouthCare's mission.
The highlight of the event was the presentation by the five program participants, who were introduced by Scott McLeod, PhD, executive director of YouthCare. Each described how the program has positively influenced his life. Because of YouthCare, said the Longs' son Oliver, "I don't have to feel like I'm on the outside looking in."
After their remarks, McLeod explained the challenges faced by young people with autism and described how they become even more difficult for teenagers transitioning into adulthood. To meet the needs of this specific age group, McLeod announced plans to further expand YouthCare's comprehensive group and consultation services for individuals with autism up to age 30 by spring 2013.
The gala came to a close with a live auction featuring prizes, donated by committee members and gala attendees. Among the prizes were a gaming experience with former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling at 38 Studios, a meal with Peter King of Sports Illustrated and a music lesson with Tom Hamilton, bassist of Aerosmith. The auction prizes, ticket sales and other donations raised nearly $800,000.
For more information about YouthCare, visit www.mghyouthcare.org.