Milford schools gets Flutie grant to help kids with autism

Krista Perry

The School Department will receive a $16,500 grant from the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism for a Saturday social skills program for autistic children, the foundation announced yesterday.

The School Department was one of 29 nonprofit organizations in eight different states that, in total, received $378,766 from the foundation.

Special Education Director B.J. Cataldo said she is "thrilled" to hear about the grant.

"We are honored and grateful to them that they thought so highly of our proposal that they found it worth funding," said Cataldo.

The money will go toward a program to teach social skills to autistic children, Cataldo said.

"It's on Saturdays, so it goes beyond what the district is offering," said Cataldo. "It's the brainchild of my staff, and I'm grateful for such a talented staff."

The foundation was established by NFL quarterback Doug Flutie and his wife, Laurie, in honor of their son, Doug, Jr., who was diagnosed with autism at age 3. The organization's objective is to provide families with a place to turn when they are in need of support and autism resources, according to the foundation's Web site.

Lisa Borges, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said it received 166 grant proposals, and choosing 29 was very difficult.

"We look at what the impact is going to be, if the money is going to go a long way to benefit a (larger) number of children," said Borges. "(Milford)'s proposal was well-written and unique ... many parents don't get those type of (social skills) services through the school system."

The Saturday program will also give families a "rest" and allow them to tend to other family members.

For kids with autism, social skills are a very important part of their education, Borges said.

"(Autism) is such a wide spectrum ... kids who are verbal may be able to get through high school, but when (they) get into an employment situation, unfortunately many of them can't keep jobs because they don't have those social skills," said Borges. "And people who don't understand the disability won't work with them and provide the support they need."

Children who are non-verbal will also benefit from a program like Milford's, Borges said.

Another part of the grant goes toward communication devices that will have applications coming out that can be used with iPod Touch and the iPhone, said Borges. "It will allow them to communicate and do something like order food at Wendy's or McDonald's, which is something they otherwise wouldn't be able to do without the devices."

Borges said as the diagnosis rate of autism has skyrocketed from 1 in 500 about 10 years ago to 1 in 100 today, it is important to help families directly.

"It's great that there are other organizations focusing on research, and we are hoping for a cure soon, but there are many families struggling now," said Borges.

Krista Perry can be reached at or 508-634-7546.