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Go Cards Big East Raffle: Alumnus champions UofL Autism Center

by Anne Eldridge last modified Dec 10, 2009 11:12 AM

University of Louisville alumnus Jeff Bohr's life is ruled by several passions: devotion to his son Nicholas; his love of sports and all things UofL; and his resolve to make the world a better place for children with autism, a long-term developmental disability that affects individuals' ability to communicate and interact with others.

This basketball season, Bohr is satisfying those passions by working with the Go Cards! Big East Basketball Tournament Raffle. The raffle, which organizers hope will raise $400,000 for the UofL Autism Center, is sponsored this year by the Louisville Sports Commission, thanks in part to Bohr, who recruited the commission to help with the raffle.

"We were approached by Jeff Bohr from the Big East raffle committee, whose son has autism," explained Karl Schmitt, executive director of the Louisville Sports Commission. "It's a great cause. The need is significant and we believe we can help by galvanizing some of our resources. We have a license to do the raffle so it's a perfect fit."

Not just any raffle

This is not just any raffle. It's a $20 chance on a trip for two to the 2010 Big East Basketball Tournament. Two lucky fans will win spectacular Big East Basketball Tournament prize packages, each with: two tickets to the tournament; round-trip airplane tickets to New York City; a hotel room on Times Square; and $1,000 cash.

"With Karl and the Sports Commission behind us, we know we can generate significant dollars for the UofL Autism Center. The Big East Basketball Tournament is a high profile event so the raffle brings a nice awareness to the autism cause, too," Bohr said.

The raffle also gives Bohr another way to express support for his favorite school and his home town. Bohr was a cheerleader at UofL - and was on the squad who won UofL's first national cheerleading championship in 1985.

"I have an affinity for the university and a vested interest in the cause. I believe Louisville is the greatest city in the country and I want to see great things happen here," he explained.

Helping kids with autism

Even though his 15-year-old son spends only holidays and summers in Louisville, Bohr has been active year-round with local autism advocacy groups like the Big East raffle committee and the STAR autism treatment advisory board since moving back to Louisville in 2008. He worked with other parents to help start a summer program for Louisville teens with autism, which he hopes will eventually become a school. And, he does what he can to raise awareness of autism in all of his endeavors.

"If autism were another disease, it would be known as a national epidemic because the rate of autism goes up every year. If it were cancer and people were dying, the whole world would be up in arms," Bohr said.

Experts say that autism rates are increasing. In 2007 the Centers for Disease Control reported autism affected 1 of 150 children. A recent survey published in the journal Pediatrics estimated that today autism spectrum disorders affect approximately one in 58 American boys.

Autism hit the Bohr family very hard. Nicholas, whose autism is on the more severe end of the autism spectrum, doesn't speak at all. While he loves other people, Nicholas is easily frustrated by his limited ability to communicate. He requires hands-on care around the clock.

"When I have him, much of the time I can't work. It has been difficult to find childcare, but my brother Craig and parents have been extremely helpful and he really loves being with them. When we stay home, we do as many activities as we can-the zoo, movies, science center. What does he enjoy? That's a tough question because of his inability to communicate. We sometimes have to leave an activity 10 minutes after we get there," Bohr said.

Bohr is studying sign language now, hoping to find a better way to interact with his son.

"I taught Nicholas some sign language He knows about 150 signs. It's currently his main source of communication. His teachers said he didn't have the fine motor skills for sign language but that's how we communicate. He doesn't put full sentences together and he makes up his own signs but he does communicate what he needs and that's all I care about," Bohr said.

About the UofL Autism Center

The UofL Autism Center was created a little more than a year ago to help parents like Bohr get the support, education, information and treatment they need while its researchers explore autism's causes and treatment options.

The center is a partnership of the UofL departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences as well as the College of Education and Human Development. Efforts are under way to recruit a nationally-known director and to find a single location to house all its clinical services and research programs. Until space is found, clinical services are being provided at the Bingham Clinic and the STAR program at UofL's Weisskopf Child Evaluation Center. Training services and resources for families are being provided by UofL's Kentucky Autism Training Center around the state.

"The Sports Commission is always happy to support endeavors that are good for our community. Knowing that the UofL Autism Center will help people like Jeff and Nicholas Bohr makes our involvement even more satisfying," Schmitt said. "I hope people will take advantage of this great opportunity to support our team, our university and our neighbors, people like the Bohrs whose lives are consumed by autism."

Raffle tickets may be purchased online until Jan. 30, or by phone (502) 753-0719 and at all UofL men's basketball home games until the Feb. 6 drawing at the UofL-Rutgers.

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