Brotherly love raises awareness, funds for autism

By Beth A. Birmingham | Apr 12, 2017
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Heather Nelson poses with her sons, Corbin, center, and Brian Farnham. Corbin has been running a Spirit Week for Brian to spread awareness during National Autism Awareness Month.

Thomaston — For the fourth year in a row, a local student coordinated a fundraiser at his school not only to raise awareness about autism, but also to show support for his brother.

Eighth-grader Corbin Farnham has spearheaded the project each year during National Autism Awareness Month. Corbin's younger brother, Brian, is on the autism spectrum.

"I love doing it because I love supporting my brother," Corbin said.

For the entire week of April 3, Farnham organized activities for the staff and students of Oceanside Middle School. Anyone wishing to participate donated $1 per day. Events included a Mustache Day, Wear Blue Day, Hat Day, Backwards Day, and culminated with Era Day on April 7, with staff being challenged to raise $150 during the week in order to have the privilege of dressing Principal Bill Gifford in a period costume.

The outfit of choice -- Fred Flinstone.

Funds were also raised by raffling off several gift baskets that were donated by Lisa Philbrook, Nikki Janczura and Catherine Sally.

This year's event raised $930 -- more than triple last year's total of $239. All proceeds go to support the Autism Society of Maine.

This will be the family's 11th year participating in the National Walk for Autism, which will take place April 30. They have a team of 20 to 30 people who walk with them.

"Corbin always wanted to come up with his own way to raise money," Heather Nelson said of her son. She suggested a Spirit Week for Brian, and "he took the reins and ran with it."

During the week, Corbin and Brian showed up early to school to run the registration table for those who wished to participate in the day's activities. Also, with the help of their mom, they decorated the halls with various colored puzzle pieces with facts about autism.

Prior to Spirit Week, Corbin and some of his friends went around to each classroom to give a presentation on what the events were all about and why they were doing it.

Nelson said it can still be rather difficult to get necessary community support services.

"We were on the waiting list for Pathways for two years," she said, referring to the specialized Section 28 services in Maine that provide home support for children with autism.

They work on things in the home and within the community, such as self-care, being safe, social interactions and communication.

Nelson, an occupational therapist in the district, said she has reached out and attempted to get several programs started herself.

She said a monthly play group for families of children with autism dissolved due to the lack of a facility, and she has done a couple sensory workshops.

"It can still be tricky going out in the community," Nelson said, adding, "I don't think people always understand."

She complimented Corbin on his willingness to support Brian, especially when he is having a difficult time. "He goes around and talks to people about autism," she said. The mother-son team used to go into Brian's elementary classes and talk about autism.

"So Corbin has been doing this for a long time," she said.

"I think that educating our kids at this age about what autism is is going to help them be more welcoming as they become adults," Nelson said. "That's my hope."

She said she thinks the Spirit Week has really helped foster the students' relationship with Brian. "Kids go out of their way here to give him high-fives, and in gym class they fight over who is going to be his partner," she said.

Corbin said the most difficult part of having a brother with autism is doing normal things that other people would not think twice about.

"You know, like going out to get groceries, playing some games ... just having a normal conversation," he explained. "Everything with Brian is hard."

Nelson added, "I don't think people realize how much extra goes into it."

On the positive side, Corbin said getting the constant high-fives from his brother is a motivator.

Although Brian does not really talk, Corbin said his brother is always there to listen.

"I think they have a very positive relationship," Nelson said of her sons. "They don't have the normal arguments and such that brothers usually have." She said thankfully Corbin is still receptive to the massive hugs he gets from Brian.

As a mom, Nelson said she believes one of the most positive things is that Corbin has gained some great personality traits from having a brother with autism.

"You're patient, and I had a teacher once tell me 'I've never had a more empathetic child than your son,'" Nelson said to her son. "That has really stuck with me."

Corbin pops into Brian's classroom most every day at lunchtime, not just to say hi to his brother, but also to interact with the others in his class.

"Anyone with autism is just another kid," Corbin said, adding, "I just think everyone should be friends with everyone."

Nelson said she is amazed at the school and the way it has supported her sons. "When I was growing up, it was like 'those kids' were kept behind a door and you never got a chance to get to know them."

"I fought for the program here so he could be included and still get the services he needed," Nelson said. "I'm just really happy."

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Corbin Farnham gives the thumbs up to the list of activities he created for Spirit Week at Oceanside Middle School in support of his brother, Brian, who is on the autism spectrum. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Some students and staff at Oceanside Middle School participated in Era Day April 7 by dressing up in period costumes. Of particular note was Principal William Gifford's (center, rear) rendition of Fred Flintstone. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Corbin Farnham points to one of many informative puzzle pieces scattered throughout the hallways at Oceanside Middle School during Spirit Week to support his brother, Brian, who has autism. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
One of many hugs Corbin Farnham receives from his brother Brian on a daily basis. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
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