Family's annual golf tournament puts spotlight on autism
By Debbie Gardner
Assistant Managing Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW -- It's golf tournament season, and there will be many chances to tee up in the coming months to benefit some good cause.
But for one local family, a golf tournament planned for May 7 at the Hampden Country Club will benefit not only a specific cause but also their family and others like them in Western Massachusetts.
This spring will be the fourth time Radcliffe Kenison Jr. and his wife Gina will have organized and run the "Radcliffe is the Reason and Arthur Too Fight Autism" tourney in honor of their two boys.
Radcliffe III is nine. Arthur is six. Both boys are autistic. Monies raised through the annual tourney are funneled through the Kenisons' non-profit organization to support both national research and locally-based educational and support services for children and families coping with autism.
"My boys are on the severe end [of the autism spectrum] being non-verbal," Kenison explained to me when I met with him, his wife Gina and his two sons in their home. "Asperger's is high-functioning. Everyone with autism has different traits."
Radcliffe and Arthur are very active -- they were consistently climbing, wrestling and moving about -- at times uttering sounds that reminded me of the pre-talking screech of a toddler.
"People thing non-verbal means my house is quiet, which it is not," Gina said.
The hallmark of an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis is, according to materials provided by Autism Speaks, "a noticeable delay in developing language skills normally between the ages of two and three." Other clues include "restrictive or repetitive and stereotypical patterns of behavior" and/or "delays or abnormal functioning in social interaction; language as a means for communication or symbolic or imaginative play."
Radcliffe was diagnosed at 18 months. Gina had a suspicion about Arthur when he was eight months.
Autism is called a "spectrum disorder" because those afflicted can exhibit symptoms which range from an inability to communicate with words to behavior you might consider "quirky."
"If you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism," Gina said, quoting Dr. Temple Grandin, a famous author and animal behaviorist who is also well-know as a highly functioning autistic.
There is no effective treatment and no cure for the disorder, "but I'm always hopeful that someday [there will be]," Kenison said. Early interventions can help children and parents develop strategies to cope with the specific social interaction symptoms associated with their individual case.
"Radcliffe has words," Gina said as she gently urged her oldest son to say a shy "hi" to me. "He has a talking device but he still needs help with everyday chores [such as showering and dressing]."
It took the Kenisons over a year to establish their non-profit foundation, which is funded by the tourney.
"Our mission statement is [to] give nationally, regionally, locally," Kenison said.
A portion of the monies raised every year goes to Autism Speaks for research. Another portion goes to another non-profit, Community Resources for People with Autism, which is based in Northampton.
"They are generous supporters through direct donations and sponsorships for parent scholarships to our annual conference," Nancy Farnsworth, development director for Community Resources for People with Autism, told Reminder Publications. "The money goes directly back to our families in the areas of family support, training and information and referrals."
The Kenisons' non-profit also purchases equipment for autism programs in local schools. To date they have provided equipment at Meadow Brook School in East Longmeadow and Green Meadow School in Hampden. Kenison said schools that wish to apply to receive a grant this year can contact his foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org
"They've purchased a DVD player and video camera [for the classroom] and a swing for the occupational therapy and physical therapy room," Judy Fletcher, principal at Meadow Brook School, said.
Fletcher said staff from the school attend the golf tourney dinner every year. "We don't golf but we go to the dinner and silent auction. It's wonderful because it's such a community effort. The Kenisons are wonderful people."
This year's slate of prizes, as advertised on the tournament flyer, include a car from Family Ford of Enfield, a Lexus from Balise Motors, a boat from Saunders Boat Livery, an ATV from Fleming Motorsports, a hot tub from Teddy Bear Pools & Spas and a 42" plasma TV from Burack Realty. La Cucina di Hampden House is sponsoring the putting contest.
Kenison said he is always looking for more donations and tee and green sponsors, in the hopes of having even more resources to help fellow families dealing with autism. He's also got room for a few more golfers and diners if people sign up quickly.
"We sell out every year. And it gets quicker every year," he said. For more information visit Kenison's Facebook page, Radcliffe is the Reason and Arthur Too
, or e-mail Radcliffe345@yahoo.com