PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Profound autism is a journey Ram and Kellee Hernandez were not expecting for their son Luka — and as he’s gotten older, they’ve had a hard time finding therapy that fits his needs.
There are many services for higher functioning autistic individuals and different disabilities. But there’s a pocket that seems to have been forgotten, and those are the ones with the most needs and have lots of passion in their life.
“We remember being new parents and so excited about our son’s future,” Kellee said.
“But then sometimes life throws you a curveball, and that happened to us when Luka was two-years-old and was diagnosed with autism,” Ram finished.
Now, Kellee and Ram are raising funds to start a nonprofit that could help Luka and others like him. They’re calling it The Estuary Center.
“We see our center as that bridge,” Ram said. “Being able to connect people with autism into the community, and also for the community to embrace those with autism and nurture and look after them in a way people with autism grow and thrive in their communities.”
They say it would be a 35-hour-a-week, one-on-one therapy program for those aged 13-21.
It would involve teaching Luka and others practical life skills, like paying a cashier or getting your teeth cleaned, and then going out into the community and applying those skills.
Kellee says it’s important because as parents, they won’t always be around to help.
“Simply put, we can’t die,” Kellee said. “Eighty percent of adults with autism live at home with their parents and will never live unsupervised.”
This is an expensive undertaking with money needed for the center itself, along with desks, supplies, technology and a van to transport the students to outings. They recently received a $20,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation — but that’s just a start.
Those wishing to help in the fundraising efforts for The Estuary Center can visit this website.