By LISA CAPOBIANCO
When Anna Hidri of Plainville was nearly 2-years-old, her mother noticed various quirks that her daughter developed, from staring at the TV without facial expressions to banging her head on the wall to staying up throughout the night. She was also sensitive toward noises, and exhibited tantrums.
At 28 months old, Anna was diagnosed with autism.
“I was devastated,” said Anna’s mother, Melissa Hidri. “She lost all her speech.”
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or autism, make up a group of complex disorders of brain development, reports the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC reports that these disorders are characterized in a variety of symptoms, including difficulties in social interaction, repetitive behaviors, and verbal/nonverbal communication. Autism may be linked with intellectual disability, physical health issues, and difficulties with motor coordination. Children with autism tend to exhibit symptoms around two or three years old.
At the time of her daughter’s diagnosis, Hidri said she knew little about the disorder, as autism was not as prevalent in diagnoses as it is currently.
“The only thing I knew about autism was ‘Rainman,’” said Hidri, referring to the autistic lead character in the movie “Rainman” starring actor Dustin Hoffman.
After conducting more research on autism and meeting other parents going through similar experiences, Hidri became interested in Autism Speaks, which is the “world’s leading science and advocacy organization.” Founded in 2005 by grandparents who had a grandchild with autism, Autism Speaks has committed to funding research and raising awareness of autism.
After learning about the organization’s mission, Hidri decided to raise money to help fund the research efforts of Autism Speaks. Forming “Anna’s Rainmen Team” in honor of her daughter, Hidri has supported Autism Speaks for six years now, holding annual pancake breakfasts at Capri’s Ristorante, where her husband is the owner. The team, comprised of eight to nine members this year, has also participated in the “Walk Now for Autism Speaks,” a family-friendly event that helps fund research.
Hidri said Anna’s team raised $200 the first year of the event, but last year, they raised over $1,500. All proceeds benefit Autism Speaks, and this year, the goal is to raise $2,000 at the 6th Annual Pancake Breakfast.
“Every year, it’s been getting bigger,” said Hidri, adding the team wears rainbow colors. “It makes me happy.”
Hidri added that Anna’s Team has received an outpouring of support from the community, including businesses and members of the Plainville Cadet Girl Scout Troop #66544. About four years ago, the girls decided to get involved with the team when they heard about it. Since then, the troop has not only helped serve the breakfast, but they have also made bracelets to raise more money for Autism Speaks. Their parents have also stepped up to the plate to help out during the event, and local businesses have donated items.
“They’re there for her…and they include Anna,” said Hidri, adding that her daughter attends the Middle School of Plainville with some of the girl scouts. “I want her to have friends—I want her to have a happy life.”
From the time Anna was diagnosed, more awareness and cases of autism has risen. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled new data on the prevalence of Autism spectrum disorder nationwide, identifying one in 68 children of 8 years old as having autism in 11 different communities nationwide. Although that statistic does not represent the entire U.S. population of children, the CDC reports that the new data show that the estimated number of children identified with autism continues to increase.
“That’s a scary thought,” said Hidri, who also had two other daughters.
Now that Anna is 13 years old, Hidri said her daughter tries to be more independent, such as tying her own shoes without help.
Every day Anna attends the middle school, where she spends time with other peers who have special needs. Hidri said Anna not only enjoys attending school, but she also enjoys physical activities, including swimming.
“She’s learning,” said Hidri, adding that Anna is learning to work with money, especially at Gnazzo’s, which welcomes her daughter every time she walks through the door.
The 6th Annual Pancake Breakfast will take place on Sunday, April 27 from 8 to 11:30 a.m. at Capri’s Ristorante, located at 161 Woodford Ave. Gluten free pancakes will be available.
Admission costs $5 per person, and is free for children under 5-years-old. Businesses are also welcome to donate items for the event, including beverages, bacon, sausage, syrup, napkins and paper cups. Anyone interested in joining Anna’s Rainmen Team can contact Melissa Hidri at (203) 565-5733 or at email@example.com.