Over the past three years, one of Alyssa Hiles’ main goals in life has been to increase the overall awareness of autism throughout the Southern Ohio area.
And with the money that the 16-year-old has raised in her three years of work in promoting autism awareness, it’s clear that Hiles has shown the unselfish qualities that make the Notre Dame High School sophomore a great human being.
On Thursday, her work throughout the community was evident again as Hiles, with the help of local Subway owner Jamie Dettwiller and Market Street Cafe operators Susan O’Neill and Mary Rase, was able to donate $2,500 back to the Autism Project of Southern Ohio (APSO).
With that total, Hiles — with the help of Subway and Market Street Cafe — has donated a total of $6,926 back to APSO since she’s began raising money for the organization.
Obviously, that’s a great accomplishment for anybody, but especially for a 16-year-old sophomore who has admitted her own struggles with finding her own niche due to the disorder.
“It feels great,” Hiles said. “I’ve had an easy school life, so I just want to give back and give the kids an easier school life. I just want to give money back to help the cause, because I’ve had it all my life. So why not spread the awareness and give back to a cause that I feel so strongly about?”
As far as Dettwiller is concerned, it’s a no-brainer to get involved, especially when one considers the heart that Hiles puts into everything that she does.
“I’ve known Alyssa since kindergarten,” Dettwiller said. “She goes to school with my oldest daughter (Katie), and they’re best friends. She’s grown in so many ways, it’s unbelievable. Her progress, along with the inspiration that she is to others with autism, shows them that you can do anything. There’s nothing setting you apart from anybody. Just reach for the stars.”
The Autism Project of Southern Ohio, which was founded in 1998, is a non-profit support group for families and individuals with autism. Its mission is to spread awareness, to educate the public about autism while supporting those with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and to help autistic children and adults be the best they can be in school and in the community.
Hiles, like many who have autism, was fortunate to obtain the attention necessary in order to become the best person that she can possibly be.
“I’ve had so many people help me obtain the courage to help other kids with autism,” Hiles said. “It shows me that I’m not the only one who deals with the obstacles that autism presents every day. There’s more individuals out there who are going through similar struggles.”
However, even though many autistic youths do, indeed, receive the help that they need, there are many others — whether they have high-functioning autism or more severe cases of the disorder — that don’t get the help that they so desperately need.
In a study done by the National Health Interview Survey that came out in 2015, one in every 45 kids in the United States were diagnosed with autism. That number is a vast increase from totals in the 1970s, where one in every 2,000 youths were diagnosed with the same disorder.
In addition to those numbers, one of those individuals, Camden Uhl — who is of relation to Dettwiller and is close with Hiles — has autism, too, which explains why Hiles wants to do all that she can in order to help the next generation.
“Alyssa’s passionate about it, and we are, too,” Dettwiller said. “We’re always on board with what she’s doing. My great nephew, Camden, has autism. With them having autism, it inspires us to do as much as we can, because it’s a family thing. She’s family, he’s family, and that’s what it’s all about.”
“When I first heard of APSO being right here in Southern Ohio, I saw an opportunity to help kids in this area,” Hiles said. “I wanted to help spread the word and help individuals understand exactly what autism is.”
Hiles, however, hasn’t stopped there, as the NDHS cheerleader has been busy endorsing a new project that could transcend how autism is looked at from a worldwide perspective.
The Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge, or SPARK for short, has been designed for the sole purpose of building a research community where tens of thousands of individuals with autism — along with their families — can understand autism in a greater light.
Not only does this research go toward individuals in need, it also comes as no charge to the individuals who pursue the research, as the program is completely funded by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). The results of the research, according to the SPARK for Autism website, will go completely towards new autism research that will further advance the understanding of the disorder.
“Alyssa’s new project (with SPARK) is really interesting, because it’s all brand-new,” Dettwiller said. “She wants to be apart of the latest technology (in order to advance autism studies) and I think that’s awesome. She’s an inspiration.”
However, it’s clear that Dettwiller isn’t surprised. After all, it’s that same inspiration and desire that has allowed Hiles to brake through the toughest barriers and setbacks.
“It is awesome,” Dettwiller said. “Alyssa works really hard, and she does it with great style. That’s just Alyssa. She’s all-in, 100 percent of the time.”
The Autism Project of Southern Ohio meets on the second Saturday of each month. Membership to join APSO is $15 for families and $10 for a single person.
For more information about APSO, call (740) 464-6781, visit http://www.autismproject.info, or visit the APSO Facebook website at https://www.facebook.com/Autism-Project-of-Southern-Ohio-129299407080990/.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7