Autism initiative carries on legacy

Published 6:05 pm Sunday, March 26, 2017

As I have shown you in my columns this month, Lillian Hormel was a supporter of many organizations including arts, religious, and gardening groups. I am very confident there is another cause she would have found worthwhile. George and Lillian Hormel have four great-great grandchildren diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. I think they would have been proud that their Austin home is now being used to offer programming to young people with ASD.

Mr. and Mrs. Hormel’s great-granddaughter, Alison, is the mother of two of the four family members on the spectrum, and is the founder of the Virginia Institute of Autism. The mission of the VIA is to be “dedicated to helping people overcome the challenges of autism through innovative, evidence-based programs in education, outreach and adult services.”

hhhautismfriendlylogoI had the pleasure of meeting Alison this month and am thrilled to report that she will be a special guest at our upcoming Stepping Out for Autism Walk on Sunday, April 23. In its sixth year this event raises necessary funds that support the various programs we offer for those on the spectrum. Alison will greet the walkers and be available to visit during the event. To register go to

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Another effort I am sure Lillian Hormel would have supported is the newly formed Autism Friendly Austin initiative. The ASD leadership team at the HHH has been developing a mission and tool kit that will make our community more Sensory Sensitive and Family Welcoming so that families dealing with Autism and other special needs feel comfortable utilizing local services and retailers. Cities all over the world are taking measures to ensure that those with special needs are provided with environments that encourage them to participate in their community resources. Check out what Liverpool, England, Surfside Beach, South Carolina, and Battlefield, Missouri, are doing.

On Thursday, April 6, the Autism Friendly Austin Team is hosting a free informational luncheon at the Hormel Historic Home for guests from community services and businesses. Families and other interested parties are also invited to attend to learn about the mission of the AFA initiative. The featured speaker will be Mike Dierdorff, a member of the Board of Directors for the Autism Society of Iowa. Mr. Dierdorff was diagnosed with Autism in the late 1960s and has been advocating for himself and others for many years. Please register for this event by emailing

Much progress has been made in the field of Autism research. Much of it has come from advocates who became involved because of a personal connection to someone on the spectrum. Alison Hormel started an institute to help her own children and ultimately thousands more. Autism Speaks was created by Suzanne and Bob Wright to support their diagnosed grandson. Autism Friendly Austin is led by parents and educators to make Austin a better place for their children and students. We hope you will join us in our efforts.

Pizza Ranch Tip Night

4:30 to 8:30 p.m., April 3

Event to support our Autism Programming.

Second annual Spam Kids Fest

10 to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 8

Free ongoing activities throughout event for families.

Crafts, live music, interactive presentations, games, Spam brand characters, and more.