Submitted photo Cason Russell, 6, of Lafayette was diagnosed with autism at age 2 1/2, and has seen significant improvement in his communication skills following a round of stem cell infusions at the Stem Cell Institute of Panama.

Submitted photo

Cason Russell, 6, of Lafayette was diagnosed with autism at age 2 1/2, and has seen significant improvement in his communication skills following a round of stem cell infusions at the Stem Cell Institute of Panama.

Cason Russell, a 6-year-old boy from Lafayette, has spent the last three-and-a-half years working with therapists at Vanderbilt and adjusting to life on the autism spectrum, but a stem cell infusion in Panama proved to be his most positive step yet.

"He is more engaged with his brothers; his speech has improved, and we hope he'll become more conversational," Cason's mother, Jessica Russell, said. "Whenever we first started, he was completely non-verbal, and he screamed a lot. Since this therapy, he can get out his wants and needs a lot easier."

Now, the Russell family hopes to raise $18,000 to continue stem cell treatment, which is not provided or covered within the U.S.

A soup and sandwich supper, silent auction and bake sale will be held from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Saturday at Macon County Junior High School to benefit Cason.

Russell said that she plans for meals to be served on a donation basis, with attendees able to contribute any amount. Local businesses have contributed items for the silent auction, such as power tools, Christmas decorations and a photo session.

"For the past three years, my sister and Cason have commuted to Nashville from Lafayette four to five days a week (140 miles round trip) in order for Cason to attend vital therapy sessions," Cason's aunt, Jamie Boggs, wrote in a GoFundMe page for his treatment. "A diagnosis of autism is financially draining beyond most individuals' understanding, leaving it nearly impossible to fathom being able to afford an additional stem cell treatment."

Cason's regularly-scheduled Nashville treatment includes speech, occupational and applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy. In addition to travel expenses and therapy, the Russell family's income helps support Cason's two brothers.

"Since ABA therapy is not available in Lafayette, we have to go to Nashville," Russell said. "ABA is the most recommended therapy treatment for kids with autism."

As of Friday, the family has raised $6,055 toward their goal through the GoFundMe page, which can be found at www.gofundme.com/casons-journey-to-recovery.

"We're very thankful to have help from such a supportive community," Russell said. "I want to be able to give (Cason) a quality, independent life, and I don't know if he can have that without this stem cell therapy."