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Family Fun Day is this Saturday

HOUGHTON – Children affected with autism spectrum disorders and their families will have a time to relax and enjoy themselves this Saturday at the third annual Family Fun Day.

The event takes place from noon to 2 p.m. at The Mine Shaft in Houghton. It is organized by Copper Country Autism Awareness and sponsored by Copper Country Elks Lodge No. 404.

Previous Family Fun Days were held at the Houghton Elementary School, and included traditional carnival games. However, some parents with older children had worried that there wasn’t anything that would appeal to their kids.

“We’re hoping to make it a more popular event,” said Mike Gillis, co-founder of Copper Country Autism Awareness.

Children will have their choice of games such as bowling or miniature golf. Lights on arcade games and other features will be toned down or turned off to accommodate those children on the spectrum who can react badly to flashing lights. There also will still be an area set aside for quieter games.

Gillis and his ex-wife Kathe Lanctot were inspired to found Copper Country Autism Awareness by a grandson with autism. While visiting the grandson in Florida, Lanctot said, she was struck by the variety of classroom resources available to autistic children.

Coming back to the Copper Country, she found some of the same resources here, although they had been underpublicized, she said.

Autism spectrum disorder includes a range of disorders with characteristics such as deficits in nonverbal communication used in social situations, repetitive behaviors and extreme sensitivity, or insensitivity, to sensory input.

One in 68 children in America have some form of autism, according to Centers for Disease Control, although it is unclear if the growing rates reflect an increase in the rates of autism, or just greater awareness of it.

Lanctot said many children remain undiagnosed.

Copper Country Autism Awareness’s website, ccautismawareness.org, includes links to information about autism as well as local resources.

“We wanted to have a centralized location where anyone with an interest in autism can look to see what’s available in the area,” Lanctot said.

Having a day centered on families who know about autism can also lead to a more comfortable atmosphere, Gillis and Lanctot said, especially in cases where a child is having a meltdown.

“This is a family event, where the whole family can go, and if the kid acts up, so what?” Gillis said.