Woman lauded for autism work

Twenty-seven years of work with people with autism spectrum disorder has earned a Wichita woman a sweet reward. During an annual Easter-season partnership between chocolatier Lindt USA and the autism awareness organization Autism Speaks, Connie Erbert was named one of three Lindt Unsung Heroes of Autism. It is a national award recognizing individuals who work with autism.

"This is a generous recognition and award in that it allows people like me from Kansas to increase awareness," Erbert said. "And when we increase awareness, we increase opportunity."

Erbert, 48, is the founder and director of Community of Autism Resources and Education (CARE) and autism outreach for Heartspring, which helps children with special needs.

Surrounded by more than 20 of her students, Erbert accepted a $5,000 check from Lindt at a ceremony at Heartspring.

Erbert said she plans to use the money to purchase equipment for Heartspring's Social Skills Technology Art and Recreation (SSTAR) Scouts, a scouting program for autistic children. Her winnings will also help fund Camp SSTAR, a summer camp for children with high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome.

Erbert founded both programs.

She is also responsible for bringing the first autism CARE walk to Wichita in 2008, shortly after she started working for Heartspring four years ago. The CARE walks have raised more than $120,000 to date for autism awareness.

Erbert said her goal at Heartspring is to provide "a bridge between home and school and home and the community" by implementing programs that support autism advocacy and awareness.

Erbert said her focus is championing children with autism and providing a sounding board for their family members.

"I'm better working with families and children because of what people with autism have taught me," Erbert said.

"It's my passion. I love what I do."

For more information about Heartspring and its CARE program, visit www.heartspring.org or call 316-634-8700.