Started in 2010, Families United in Newtown was started as a recreation program in memory of Tyler Jones to help bring the community of special needs families together in a safe and welcoming place. At each F.U.N. meeting, families are paired with a National Honors Society student from Newtown High School who will spend time with the kids, giving the parents a much needed break.
Over the past few years, F.U.N. has increased the number of monthly events throughout the year and even hosts an annual Benefit Concert. Any and all are welcome at our meetings. Feel free to investigate the Events tab to see what is upcoming.
Scenes from a typical F.U.N. Meeting
Most F.U.N. Meetings are held locally in Newtown, CT, and often take on a theme based on the season or time of year, sometimes we even have a theme that encourages members to dress up like our Super 70's Disco Benefit Concert.
In the News
By John Voket
The Newtown Bee, March 29, 2019 at 12:00 pm
Families United in Newtown (FUN) founder Linda Jones vividly recalls the day she decided to try and bring her late son, Tyler, to a Bethel retail store to gauge his capacity for tolerating the experience. Tyler, who was on the autism spectrum and non-verbal prior to his untimely passing in 2009, still had a tendency to react loudly, even seemingly violently when he was introduced to new social environments.
As expected, a few moments after entering the store with his mom and a friend who also happened to be a special education teacher, Tyler erupted into what Ms Jones described as “a severe tantrum,” eliciting looks and even comments of disapproval from several customers. But Ms Jones would not be deterred from her goal of continuing to orient her son to public situations.
“I knew based on his diagnosis that if I gave in and left the store, it would have immediately become an automatic behavior for Tyler every time he was brought to a store,” she told The Newtown Bee, “but I was NOT going to give in. I knew if I was able to calm him down, that would become the learned behavior — and I wouldn’t have to worry about taking him to those kind of public places again.”
After five attempts, and plenty more angry stares and comments, Tyler finally calmed down and tolerated a trip around the store. “I was right,” Ms Jones affirmed. “Once he settled down, I never had to worry about taking him to the store again. And while I even had a couple of people remark to my face about how I couldn’t control my child, I also had a couple of people walk up and try to help me with him.”
That incident happened many years ago, and thanks to a greater awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and related conditions like Asperger’s and Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD), Ms Jones is seeing a corresponding reaction from members of the public when they encounter an individual like Tyler, who was on the more severe end of the spectrum, behaviorally-speaking.
Ms Jones believes a combination of more and more young people being diagnosed with ASD and global/community awareness activities like Autism Awareness Month in April and World Autism Awareness Day April 2, are slowly influencing a broader base of the population to be more tolerant about behaviors and idiosyncrasies of those affected.
Last April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its biennial update of autism’s estimated prevalence among America’s children — based on an analysis of medical and available educational records of eight-year-old children from 11 sites across the country. Again, that monitoring confirmed that the number of young people being diagnosed on the spectrum continues to increase, with the latest estimate representing a 15 percent increase in prevalence nationally.
That means today, one in 59 children will be affected, versus the ratio of one in 68 just two years earlier (2016).
Throughout Autism Awareness Month this April, Ms Jones, her supporters, and the many Newtown High school Honors Society students who volunteer for the FUN cause are hoping local residents will help celebrate autism awareness all month long by hanging or displaying blue lighting at their homes and businesses.
Regular attendees at Ms Jones FUN meetings, held monthly during the school year, are getting their blue lights ready, and the Newtown United Methodist Church, along with a growing (glowing) number of businesses and buildings, will also be illuminated in blue lighting throughout April, including Newtown Savings Bank and The Bee.
Other businesses are helping boost autism awareness in other ways.
Queen Street Gifts owner Andrea Appelbaum already sells various “autism puzzle piece” fundraising items and has invited FUN representatives to come to the store on select days in April and show off their latest wares to customers. Ms Jones said the newest items her participants and honors students made together are purple ceramic charms and fobs in the shape of the trademark autism puzzle icon.
While all the money raised goes to supporting FUN, Ms Jones says she allocates a percentage of those funds annually as a designated donation to underwrite research toward a cure being performed by longtime friend of the organization, Margaret L Bauman, MD.
Resident Greg Van Antwerp has created a short video featuring images from various recent FUN events using the 2011 song “Light It Up Blue” by Owen Saunders and ten of his classmates in Pellham, New York, as the sound track. It will be shown in April during or after services at the Newtown UMC and the Newtown Congregational Church, Ms Jones said.
According to the Autism Society of America, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.
There is no known single cause of autism, but increased awareness and early diagnosis/intervention and access to appropriate services/supports lead to significantly improved outcomes.
Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities. Again, a person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few, or many others besides. The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity.
With an eye on better awareness, Ms Jones also shared the following points from that 2018 CDC update:
*The gender gap in autism has decreased. While boys were four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls (one in 37 versus one in 151) in 2014, the difference was narrower than in 2012, when boys were 4.5 times more frequently diagnosed than girls. This appears to reflect improved identification of autism in girls — many of whom do not fit the stereotypical picture of autism seen in boys.
*White children were still more likely to be diagnosed with autism than were minority children. However, the ethnic gap had narrowed since 2012, particularly between black and white children. This appears to reflect increased awareness and screening in minority communities. However, the diagnosis of autism among Hispanic children still lagged significantly behind that of non-Hispanic children.
*Disappointingly, the report found no overall decrease in the age of diagnosis. In 2014, most children were still being diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2. Earlier diagnosis is crucial because early intervention affords the best opportunity to support healthy development and deliver benefits across the lifespan.
Anyone with a child or teen on the spectrum is invited to attend the group’s next meeting and egg hunt April 7, from 2 to 4 pm, at the UMC lower event room in the rear of 92 Church Hill Road in Sandy Hook center. Just RSVP via e-mail by clicking here — and learn more about FUN at its Facebook site or on the web at familiesunitedinnewtown.org.
For Autism Month information, details, and data, visit autismspeaks.org.
Autism Group Invites Newcomers, Regulars Back For 2018-19 Season
By John Voket
The Newtown Bee, September 07, 2018
A local grassroots support organization for families with children on the autism spectrum has scheduled its first few activities of the 2018-19 season, and it all begins with ice cream.
Families United in Newtown (FUN) founder Linda Jones established the organization in 2010 in memory of her late son, Tyler, to help bring the community of special needs families together in a safe and welcoming place.
At each FUN meeting, families are paired with a National Honors Society student from Newtown High School who will spend time with the kids, giving the parents a much needed break.
The group’s “Fall F.U.N. Sign up and Kickoff” activity is happening Saturday, September 15, from 3 to 5 pm in the lower rear activity room at the Newtown United Methodist Church (NUMC) on Church Hill Road in Sandy Hook. Kids and guests will be treated to Ferris Acres ice cream, along with live and DJ music.
The event is an opportunity for parents and caregivers to get all their FUN waivers and documents processed so kids will be set for any FUN event for the year.
Then, on Saturday, October 27, “Halloween Fun” will be had by all from 4 to 7 pm at the Newtown High School cafetorium, 12 Berkshire Road, Sandy Hook. Youths are encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes and to enjoy refreshments, DJ dancing to spooky favorites, and a trunk or treat candy dash in the parking lot (weather permitting).
On Saturday, November 10, FUN will host its popular “Respite Dinner” from 5 to 7 pm at the NUMC. This event, also featuring quiet live music, is an opportunity for parents to gather and socialize with their peers from the community.
Attendees will enjoy a full prepared meal and dessert, served by NHS Honors Society students and volunteers, who will also provide assistance and care for any children attending in a separate location at the church so parents can enjoy an hour or two of respite time together without distractions.
FUN’s final event of the calendar year will be on Saturday, December 1. The group’s “Holiday Celebration” is happening from 3 to 6 pm in the Newtown Congregational Church and is scheduled to feature a small gift giveaway of items donated by a group of partners. Previous pre-holiday gatherings have also included ornament-making crafts and a visit from a certain “jolly old elf”.
The group typically holds at least one public concert each year that features a mix of local performers from among participating FUN families as well as local musicians from the community and beyond. More information on that event, as well as the winter-spring activities, will be announced before the New Year.
To help promote FUN and the public events they sponsor, Ms Jones was recently trained by the team at Charter Communications’ Spectrum CTV-192 public access television studio on Commerce Road. As a result, Ms Jones and key FUN volunteers learned how to use the studios video cameras and production equipment.
The first project they undertook was to film the “Awesome ’80s” benefit concert that was held at the Newtown Congregational Church last June.
Ms Jones told The Newtown Bee that the entire crew at Charter/Spectrum were very gracious and kind as they worked with her and the FUN volunteers.
“When we needed video equipment to film the benefit concert in June, they trained us so we were able to capture the performance for anyone to watch,” she said. “Then they helped us to edit the recording for video on demand — which makes the performance available to watch on the station’s website for a year.”
Ms Jones said the CTV-192 crew was “helpful, professional, and supportive of our cause.”
“I started doing some of the training work at the studio and observed the crew taping Maggie the dog and Reverend Rob with the Lutheran Church comfort dog program,” she said. “It was exciting to be a part of the back room support crew and observe what actually goes on behind the scene in a cable TV shoot.”
Being in the right place at the right time put Ms Jones in a position to be invited to get out from behind the camera and to be a guest in segment of the program In Good Company with host Ron Dukenski on August 25,” she said. “This was another wonderful experience to tell our story and promote upcoming events.”
As a result, Ms Jones is encouraging those who represent other community groups looking for publicity to consider completing the next studio training course.
For Community Partners, Autism Awareness Is Not Confined To April
By John Voket
The Newtown Bee, April 22, 2017
For the local grassroots organization Families United in Newtown (FUN), as well as the established service bureau at Newtown Youth & Family Services (NYFS), focus around autism awareness happens 12 months a year. But during April — Autism Awareness Month — both organizations are exploring a new partnership that could expand opportunities for youngsters and young adults on the spectrum.
After several years building a successful partnership with student members of the Newtown High School National Honor Society, FUN founder Linda Jones has one of the largest and most active contingents of students supporting activities for kids on the spectrum, and their parents.
Meet the Founders
Linda & Duane Jones
Parents to Lindsey, Austin, and Tyler, Linda and Duane took the tragedy of Tyler's passing and turned it into a positive living memorial for their beloved son.
Linda, a local registered dietitian and advocate for the Autism community, saw a need for a community-based recreation program for families with special-needs children. She started fundraising in 2008 and hosted the first F.U.N. meeting in 2010. Since then the group has expanded and serves many families from around CT and NY.
Linda and Duane have turned this passion project into a true force for good in the community. They want to invite any and all families to join them at an upcoming F.U.N. meeting. Check out the schedule HERE.
If you are looking to get involved please contact us or Donate HERE.