When 2-year-old Jacob was diagnosed with autism, his parents, Howie and Kimmie Fine felt alone.
"I started looking around and there was nothing. There were no services. There was no support," recalled Kimmie, a Tampa real estate executive.
Five years later, she formed a non-profit foundation to help other families pay for therapy and other essentials. The foundation is called Jacob's Touch.
The group is planning a gala fundraiser this Friday, April 19, at the Tampa Yacht Club. They hope to award grants to 10 families in the Tampa Bay Area next year.
One family already being helped by the foundation has three children with autism.
For some, the movie "Rain Man" was the first introduction to autism. In real life, most people with autism aren't savants. But many are very intelligent and able to lead full and independent lives.
That's the hope Tim and Angela Falleur of Tampa have for their children. Three of their kids have been diagnosed with autism, and a fourth, their youngest, is being watched closely to see if he has the disorder.
Their four children, all under the age of 7, make parenting an even bigger challenge.
NO TIME TO REST
"It's definitely busy," said Angela Falleur, who worked as a nanny for 12 years before having her own family. "They don't play together, so they're all four doing different things at different times."
While we were shooting video of the kids, Tim and Angela were moving quickly between them, supplying their needs ranging from an iPad to a pacifier. Some ask how it happened: Why would they have all of these children with autism?
WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
"We know so many that just have one [autistic child]," said Tim. "We couldn't even know or think about people that had more than one. That would be a real statistical improbability."
Only recently have studies shown that parents with one autistic child have a much greater chance of having another.
By the time their oldest child, Grace, was diagnosed with autism, Angela was already pregnant with their son Landon. He seemed fine at 9 months when his younger sister Jensen was conceived. As it turned out, all three were diagnosed with autism.
The birth of their youngest child, Eon, followed an unplanned pregnancy. After all of this, Angela calls her family "a gift."
"We want to teach them how to be happy people, and we're blessed," said Angela.
"HAVE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN"
The Falleurs believe therapy will help their children grow into independent adults, but it's expensive. Even though Tim has a job with good benefits, the copays add up, and one of the therapies, Applied Behavioral Analysis, is not covered. The cost is around $1,300 a month -- per child.
"It's expensive, but it's one of those things that you somehow have to make it happen," said Tim.
Jacob's Touch pays for some of the therapy, which Kimmie Fine says is an investment in the future.
"It's proven that these kids will be independent. They'll be able to function in society. They'll be able to live on their own. They'll be able to get jobs," added Fine.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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