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Cape Coral Living Magazine

Local Nonprofit Redefines Autism

May 01, 2023 03:11PM ● By Daniela Jaeger

Family Initiative leaders with the Offerman family. Photo courtesy of FAMILY INITIATIVE

David Brown and Anjali Van Drie founded Family Initiative to support families with children on the autism spectrum.Photo courtesy of FAMILY INITIATIVE

 When Kevin and Kristy Offerman’s twin boys reached their first birthday, son Kyle was starting to utter his first word, “Dada,” but then his speech stopped. “As toddlers, Neither Kyle nor his brother Kameron started talking, and we knew something was wrong,” says Kevin. 

Nonverbal until they were 5 years old, Kyle and Kameron were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental condition that can vary in severity and is characterized by challenges with communication, social interaction, repetitive behaviors, and speech or nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 44 children in the United States today.

“We went through many therapists, searching for a good ABA (applied behavioral analysis) program to encourage communication, language, and social skills,” says Kevin. “The boys were about 6 years old when we were introduced by friends to Family Initiative, and that was when our lives changed for the better.”

Based in Cape Coral, Family Initiative was founded in 2015 by David Brown and Anjali Van Drie to fill the much-needed gap in clinical training and support for families and children with ASD. Social workers by training, Brown and Van Drie have a passion for providing the highest-quality clinical services and support services in Florida. Both are award-winning clinicians with decades of experience bringing advanced training and technology to the organization.

Kyle, Kevin, and Kameron Offerman. Photo courtesy of FAMILY INITIATIVE

 “We start with understanding the child and family, assessing the child, and developing an individualized plan that provides ongoing support with the goal of ensuring that every child thrives,” says Van Drie. “This may mean bedtime visits to assess a child who struggles during that time, or at the grocery store in the afternoon. Most importantly, we care about each child and family and provide them with individualized solutions in a caring, inclusive environment that fosters dignity, respect, and empathy.”

For the Offermans, this very personal, individualized care is making all the difference.

“We were literally trying to do it all on our own until we found Family Initiative,” says Kevin. “Anjali is physically in school with the boys, working with my kids and helping their teachers understand how best to work with them. They’ve even come to our home to help us navigate meltdowns. I truly don’t know what we would do without them and the community of support we have found. They are our family.”

As the first facility dedicated to supporting individuals and families impacted with ASD in Southwest Florida, Family Initiative provides screenings, assessments, services, and training from a state-of-the-art center. What makes Family Initiative unique is the comfortable atmosphere it provides children and families, while maintaining security and transparency so parents can observe their child at any time, making them part of their progress. The Autism Support Center is a place where families can feel comfortable while participating in programs and services.

Through peer programs, children, young adults, and their caregivers can find connection, compassion, and understanding. With innovative clinical services, families have access to evidence-based support and expertise so they can feel empowered and confident in their child’s care.

The Offermans have been active in Family Initiative’s inaugural program, the Autism Social Skills Playgroup, where their sons learn social skills and gain some independence while making friends and participating in activities that are both fun and foundational.

There are also programs for teens and young adults, allowing them to be themselves and find acceptance. Combining clinical support with entertaining activities, teens build on their social skills while hanging out with their friends.

“Our boys have thrived through these programs,” Kevin says. “We have seen them progress tremendously and become much more social,” he says of his sons, who are now 10 years old. “It’s night and day from where we started when we first came to Family Initiative.”

One of the greatest benefits that the Offermans and other families have experienced is Family Initiative’s ASD Parent Group, a safe haven for parents and caregivers to find support and connect with one another, and to learn about available resources, discuss topics of interest, and receive updates from Family Initiative.  

It’s also where Brown and Van Drie find inspiration for the growth and future of Family Initiative. “The more we do and connect with families, the more we understand that the range of needs vary so vastly,” says Van Drie. “We started with groups focused on social skills, but then we realized that parents want their kids to experience everything other kids do, so we added sports, yoga, and other activities that the kids and families are interested in.”

The greatest areas of feedback from families have focused on early intervention as well as education.

Autism teen hangout. Photo courtesy of FAMILY INITIATIVE


“We have lofty but urgent and attainable goals,” says Brown. “We want to reach families even earlier, as soon as initial delays are recognized/diagnosed. We recognize the quicker we get into that early window, the more dramatically we can change the trajectory for children and families we serve. We also recognize the need for education and school choice options.”

During the 2023 Florida legislative session, Family Initiative supported House Bill 1 (HB1), which would provide access to education savings accounts and expand eligibility to children with unique abilities. “As an organization that advocates in the best interest of students and families with ASD, Family Initiative supported HB1 as a win-win as it would greatly increase the number of students with disabilities served by these programs, help eliminate the current waitlist, and empower parents with more options for their child,” says Brown. “I cannot emphasize how important this legislation is to providing families a choice to assess and decide which educational option is best for their child.”

As the children receiving services at Family Initiative grow up, so do the plans. “Family Initiative is working not only to build an educational option for the youth we serve, but to build an entire robust continuum of care that will carry them through their adult lives,” says Brown. “People think autism ends at age 12, but every day, our families remind us that this is a lifelong journey. Of autistic adults with a college education, 85 percent are unemployed. At Family Initiative, we want to go beyond childhood and provide support to ASD adults with their education, job opportunities, and everyday living. We believe that through the generosity of people in our community, we will realize this dream.”

For the Offermans, Family Initiative is tackling their greatest fears: “How are they going to get through life when we aren’t here?” says Kevin. “Family Initiative is not only providing us what we need for our boys today, but they give us hope for their future.”

Family Initiative
734 SW 4th Street, Cape Coral

Holly Hamilton is a Southwest Florida-based storyteller focusing on people, places, and partnerships.