Florida's First Choice for Autism Support

Kyle and Olivia as children celebrating a birthday.

When people ask me what it’s like to have a sibling with autism, I always struggle with how to respond. I can tell them about how in some ways it’s like having any other sibling. When we were little, Kyle would occasionally mess up my playhouse or do something I’d find embarrassing. I can also share the things that were different growing up. We weren’t able to sing “Happy Birthday” with Kyle in the room because of his sensory issues or I did most of my homework in my mom’s van in the parking lot of a therapist’s office. I can focus on how seeing my mom fighting for my brother’s rights taught me how powerful my own voice can be. I can talk about how our relationship has changed as we’ve both become adults. Certain social things, like humor, that were always so confusing, he now understands and we can joke and tease each other. This improved social knowledge also means he can now frequently tell when I’m just being a drama queen and he’s not afraid to say “Get it together Olivia.”

I admire how amazing of an uncle he is to our niece and nephew and how patient he is with them despite the fact that their loud voices and shrieks clearly bother his ears. Or I can share the harder realities, like the fact that I’m preparing to one day take over being his guardian (while possibly also caring for my parents and my children). When the pandemic first started, my biggest fear was who would look out for Kyle if I died.

What I want parents and other family members to know is this: siblings have their own spectrum of experiences, strengths and challenges, that will change with life circumstances and as they and their brother/sister with autism grow as individuals. Know that fierce love and deep resentment (and a whole mix of other emotions) can co-exist at the same time. Don’t make assumptions about our thoughts or feelings. Ask us and, most importantly, really listen. 

  • Olivia Macdonald

We at CARD-USF are shocked and deeply saddened to witness the recent instances of violence against Asian Americans in our nation, and over many generations. At CARD, we fundamentally believe that diversity adds to the richness of our society, and over the past 27 years, we have dedicated our work to building a community that has a place for everyone.

In 2020, CARD developed several diversity initiatives to enhance our efforts to connect with diverse communities. We know that words are not enough in times like these and have committed to actions in celebrating the intersection between neurodiversity and race, ethnicity, language of origin, and other cultural aspects.

We will be celebrating Asian cultures and membership in the autism community during the month of May (Asian Pacific American Heritage Month), and we have already begun compiling resources that emphasize this richness of diversity and address bias and violence against people of Asian descent. Two resources that provide information, safety tips, and community action suggestions are StopAAPIHate.org and StopAsianHate.info. ASERT hosts an Asian American Family Health Workgroup that provides tips related to autism. Specific sources that discuss autism in the Asian American community can be found here and here.

The CARD-USF E-library currently includes the books The Reason I Jump and Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8 by Naoki Higashida, and we welcome you to register and enjoy these works. We also request your suggestions for additional written resources, as well as individuals, organizations, and communities that are seeking to advance our society in embracing neurodiversity and the Asian culture.

Asian-American activist, Yuri Kochiyama, once said “Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it. We are all part of one another.”

Thank you for allowing CARD-USF to be a part of your lives, as you are a part of ours.

Written and compiled by Dr. Beth Boone, Executive Director and Megan Grant

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE on Monday, March 22, 2021

CARD-USF receives $30,000 through Lightning Community Hero Program

Board member graciously selects CARD to receive gift in support of USF Autism Services.

TAMPA, Fla. (March 22, 2021) – On Saturday, March 20, the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of South Florida (CARD-USF) Constituency Board member, Rachel Barcellona, was named a 2021 Lightning Community Hero for her continued efforts in community outreach, autism advocacy and disability inclusion.  Rachel is a senior at USF majoring in English and a member of Chi Omega sorority.

CARD-USF, housed in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences (CBCS) at USF is a community-based project that provides free resources and services to those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and related disabilities as well as instruction and coaching to families and professionals through a training and assistance model. What an honor it is for CARD-USF to be chosen as the recipient of this gift that, through CARD’s USF Foundation Autism Services Fund, will be used to directly impact the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder. 

“CARD-USF is very excited and grateful to be receiving a portion of the proceeds from the Lightning Community Hero Gift Program. We would like to direct the funds to areas of need including those in underserved and diverse populations. During such a trying year, this provides for our continued support of inclusion,” said Mindy Stevens, CARD-USF Director. “We are so proud of Rachel Barcellona. Congratulations and many thanks to Rachel and the Lightning Community Hero program for making a difference in our communities!”

More information about CARD-USF https://usf.to/autism or CBCS https://www.usf.edu/cbcs/    


Greetings from CARD!
As we head towards the end of 2020, I would like to take a moment to reflect on some of the happenings during my first year as the Executive Director. I began working at CARD and TLA on November 1, 2019, assuming the helm from the amazing Dr. Karen Berkman after 16 years. For several months, I dove into learning about how CARD and TLA operate, from “Dr. B” herself, as well as through “ride-alongs” with all of our staff members out to consultations and trainings in the field.
In March, COVID-19 struck the world, and for safety reasons, we all packed up and began working from home. Be assured that we continue to do all of the things that we always have for our constituents, families and communities, through virtual means. The Learning Academy Services at USF (TLA) includes a 30-week customized transition program at USF, which is meeting in a hybrid format and is now taking applications for the next academic year, and the full array of VR-funded Employment Services is also available. We helped develop a Coronavirus Social Narrative, and maintain a webpage of COVID-19 resources, workgroups, & materials.
During the summer of 2020, polarizing events in our world reminded us to re-commit to fully integrating issues of diversity into our staffing, planning, partnerships, and service delivery. Internal workgroups are examining our materials, trainings, policies, and outreach, and we will be undergoing strategic planning early in 2021 to ensure that diversity and inclusion are always values of action and not just words for all of us. We also maintain a page of Diversity and Anti-racism resources.
In September, the CARD Centers statewide suffered a 6% cut in our overall budget, which resulted in significant cuts in travel, supplies, technology, and a need to cover partial salary for staff. These cuts, and the threat of additional cuts, leave us in need to draw on donations to our Autism Services fund now more than ever. Please see our USF Herd Funder page to learn how you can be a CARD Champion by donating today!
In addition to our work, the health and wellness of our staff has been a focus this year, and we connect with themed staff meetings, sharing resources for mental wellness and stress management, highlighting our members and their accomplishments on social media, and taking advantage of our virtual workplace to obtain leadership training and professional development.
An exciting development is our NEW! CARD e-Library! which is available to families and professionals registered with CARD-USF. This resource will allow our constituents and partners to access a wide array of virtual books and other materials, including an enhanced Neurodiversity section, which highlights works about autism by people with autism.
It has been a FULL year, and 2021 is full of hope and promise!

  • Our statewide CARD conference is coming Jan 15-17, 2021, and registration is still available!
  • TLA and MacDonald Training Center are joining forces to bring you the Tech2Work program, which provides computer and automation certification to neurodiverse learners.
  • Our Fiesta by the Bay annual fundraiser is planned for April 30, 2021 at the Glazer Children’s Museum! Stay tuned on our Facebook page for more information.

As always, we look back with thanks that we are able to do this valuable work and join with the richness and diversity of our communities to help build a world where everyone has a place. I offer a special THANK YOU to our incredibly creative, dedicated, compassionate staff for all they do to support our constituents and each other.
Warmest wishes for the holiday season, from our CARD family to yours.

Dr. Beth Boone (“Dr. Bee”)
Executive Director

If you’ve read my previous articles in the CARD Connector you know that my son Martin is a cross country and track & field runner in high school. He is now in his junior year and has made the teams each of his years. It’s one of the things that I find that his autism seems to work in his favor. For him, there is a list of things he needs to do in his head to be a successful runner and he will check all the boxes on his running list.

Two weeks ago, as the cross country season wrapped up for him, he let me know that he wanted to play flag football for his school’s Special Olympics team. At first, I was shocked. He’d never shown any interest in any sport other than running. I told him he’d have to clear it with his track coach but with no overlap with the track season, I wasn’t too concerned. We were all set.

After his first practice he was very excited to tell me he’d been selected as a quarterback but the problem, according to him, was that he “didn’t know how to throw.” I nearly froze, had to think back and realized I had never taken him to throw a football around. As a child he’d taken several years of martial arts training, but any time I’d bring up any other sport he’d shown no interest.

Photo: CANVA Stock Images

I caught myself in a very sad moment. I remember loving baseball and my dad teaching me how to throw and catch. I was regretting missing out on those types of opportunities with my son and questioning if I’d some how failed as a father. After all, that’s what dad’s do with their sons. We are supposed to teach them to throw and catch. What stopped me from beating myself up any further was that here I was, with the opportunity to teach him to throw a football.

We started out small the first day, just a few feet from each other. I helped him with his grip and with his stance. And just like with running, he makes a list in his head of all the things he must do to throw a ball. In just the last week, he’s improved. He can throw about 10 yards consistently.

For me, the best part is, we’re doing this together.

Matt Ramirez, CARD-USF Constituency Board Vice-Chair

CARD-USF’S Budget Cut by 6%

On Monday, September 14th, the State of Florida directed all state funded programs to immediately make a 6% cut to their 2020-2021 budget. Due to COVID-19 and the economic impact to our state, these cuts have been a growing concern that we hoped would not come to fruition but unfortunately, we are now faced with the reality. CARD-USF remains committed to assisting individuals, their families, educators, and community partners within our 14 counties with the same passion and quality we have always provided. However, any further cuts will greatly impact our personnel and the ways in which we provide assistance.

Our leadership team responded quickly & worked together to comb through our budget for the current fiscal year. Some of the budget we had in place was either significantly reduced or cut all together. Even with these efforts we still faced a deficit. Fortunately, we have our Autism Services Fund to lean on. This fund is typically used for special projects such as our safety materials, Autism Friendly Business Initiative and several other projects and various needs whose costs are beyond our state funding.  

Now more than ever we are left to rely heavily on our Autism Services Fund. This fund is comprised of generous donations and money raised at events, such as Fiesta by the Bay. We want the ability to provide safety kits to families, visuals and resources to first responders, books and trainings to educators but we will need you and your support to do it. We are going to need our Autism Champions more than ever to support us and our work in the community.

So, our question is, will you be an Autism Champion?

CARD-USF Launches e-library

CARD-USF is excited to launch our OverDrive digital library collection. The new CARD e-Library will be available exclusively to registered CARD-USF constituents, families, and professionals and is specifically curated to include autism-related materials. We currently building this collection and we’ll announce the launch date soon! Visit our Facebook page for the opportunity to submit book recommendations to include in our collection.  

This new e-library is brought to you by the Karen A. Berkman Autism & Innovation Fund through the USF Foundation with generous support from the Florida Autism License Plate Grant.

Gifts to support additional digital content can be made here.

On July 31st CARD-USF, La Hora Del Cafecito, & Arts4All Florida held the first Virtual Arts in the Park event. A great event to celebrate the arts. There were exhibitors from all categories of the arts as well as demonstrations from local artists. Family and participants could follow along creating their own master pieces at home.

There was also an art competition that had five categories with two winners from two different age groups. The submissions were amazing! They too are highlighted in the video below.

We can’t thank the exhibitors, artists and families enough to contributing to this event. Special thanks for Art4All Florida as well for their assistance in making this event a success.

Take a look at the video created by Zoe Boone to see a sample of just how amazing this event was.

This event was made possible by the generosity of donors to CARD’s Autism Services Fund.

We can’t wait to host this event next year!

View Video

Copy of UNITY ART Tree

Pasco Sheriff’s Office has introduced an autism identification card program, otherwise being called Autism Assistance Cards. Assistant Program Director, Christine Rover, was interviewed and provided her thoughts on the launch of this new program.

“Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has really been a leader in their efforts to include residents with ASD for a long time, so it’s kind of no surprise that they’re adding to sort of the elements here, and we really appreciate that,” – Christine Rover, Assistant Program Director of CARD-USF

read full article here

No photo description available.

CARD-USF has partnered with Cox Media Group’s Tampa Bay radio station, Magic 94.9, for a Swim Safely Campaign. On air morning show personality, Danielle, will promote water safety strategies and resources for children and families for twelve weeks. The messaging for social media and radio spots will cover water safety, but with an emphasis on individuals on the autism spectrum. CARD-USF is excited for this opportunity to reach a broader audience and help promote the importance of water safety. Visit Magic 94.9’s website to learn more about the campaign.

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