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April 14, 2010

RPCC Student, Mom Passionate About Autism Awareness

By Steven Johnston

RPCC student Krystal Swain and her son, Cohen, wait as a proclamation is read by the Gonzales City Council declaring April as Autism Awareness Month.
RPCC student Krystal Swain and her son, Cohen, wait as a proclamation is read by the Gonzales City Council declaring April as Autism Awareness Month.
Steven Johnston

The Gonzales City Council passed a proclamation on Monday, April 12, declaring April to be “Autism Awareness Month” in the city of Gonzales, at its regularly scheduled meeting. The council also awarded to “key to the city” to Cohen Swain. Swain, 4, is the son of River Parishes Community College student Krystal Swain. He was diagnosed with autism at an early age.


When RPCC student Krystal Swain was told that her oldest son had autism, she had no idea what to do next. She was informed of the diagnosis, and then left to fend for herself.


Like any good mother, she set out to learn as much as she could about the condition that had affected her child. One of the first things she learned was that there were no resource centers or many other information sources for parents of autistic children in the Baton Rouge area.


“I was basically handed a sheet of paper and told, ‘Your son has autism, here’s an information sheet, good luck with that.’” said Swain. “I felt like there was no place I could turn for support, or even information.”


Instead of resigning herself to those circumstances, Swain decided to act. As well as learning everything she could about autism and autistic children, she began to organize a charitable event – an autism walk – to raise awareness in the Baton Rouge community.


When her plans were underway, she caught the attention of Families Helping Families of Greater Baton Rouge. That organization helps families of children with disabilities by providing much-needed resources, such as information and assistance. It is directed and staffed by parents or family members of children or adults with disabilities.


Those efforts to organize soon became the Inaugural Greater Baton Rouge Autism Awareness Walk on March 20. More than 1,500 walkers participated in the walk along Goodwood Boulevard, raising more than $45,000. That money will be used to fund and maintain the area’s first autism resource center at the Families Helping Families building in Baton Rouge.

“We called this ‘inaugural’ because this will be an annual event. The turnout was outstanding this year,” said Swain. “The people of this area really came out and showed their support. We really do live in one of the most generous areas of the country.”


Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorders, affects people regardless of race,

religion, socio-economic status or where they live. In the United States, approximately one in every 110 people is diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Evidence suggests autism is the result of neurological anomalies affecting the functioning of the brain. Few members of the general public understand this complex syndrome.


Those with autism can be helped to reach their greatest potential by an early, accurate, diagnosis and the resulting appropriate education and interventions. Acceptance of the autistic person by the community, and accommodations, are vital to the future growth and development of the individual.


Continued research is required to help scientists and medical professionals to one day better understand the disorder. Also, greater recognition and understanding of autism can help ensure that individuals with autism are accurately diagnosed and appropriately treated throughout their lives.


In addition to all of her activities to promote awareness of autism, Swain is a full-time student at River Parishes Community College. After graduating in May 2010 with an associate’s degree in the education field, she will enroll at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to complete her education bachelor’s degree.

River Parishes Community College in Sorrento, La., is an open-admission, two-year, postsecondary public institution dedicated to developing and assisting students in achieving personal, professional and academic success. A component of the Louisiana Community and Technical College system and its board of supervisors, RPCC serves the Louisiana river parishes by providing transferable courses and curricula through certificates and associate's degrees. Please visit www.rpcc.edu or call (225) 675-8270 for more information.