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Local dad knows the power of pumpkins

SANDOWN — As the father of seven children, Sandown resident Joseph McKinnon would be forgiven if he didn't have much time to spare for other kids.

But with three children of his own on the autism spectrum and with his own diagnosis of Aspberger syndrome four years ago, McKinnon has embraced the Halloween season as a time to help others in the Timberlane Regional School District with autism or special needs.For the third year in a row, McKinnon has purchased 200 pumpkins and he plans on distributing them to special needs students in the district's elementary schools.

&#';It's a way to reach out to autistic children and children with special needs,&#'; said McKinnon. &#';It's a good way to brighten up their day, especially at this time of the year.&#';Choosing pumpkins as a gift for the students is about more than relating to the season, according to McKinnon, it is also something to which the students can relate.

&#';It's a good sensory experience,&#'; he said. &#';They can feel the pumpkin, and they can bring it home to mom and dad to paint it.&#';Collecting and distributing the pumpkins each year is no small task, but one that McKinnon doesn't mind when it comes time to bring the pumpkins to the schools.

Over the weekend, McKinnon bought the pumpkins at Mack's Apples in Londonderry, making sure they were all about the same size, then loaded them up in the back of his wife's Chevy Cruze, brought them home and scrubbed each of them down.It's no secret that helping children with autism and other special needs is close to McKinnon's heart.

McKinnon grew up in Rhode Island, and said he had a tough time in high school. It was only four years ago that he took a test and discovered he had Aspberger syndrome.About a decade ago, the McKinnons moved to Virginia so his children could take advantage of available special needs services in that state. When the funding for some of those state programs ran low, the family moved back north and settled in Sandown.
Since moving back, McKinnon said he couldn't be happier with the services his children have received in the Timberlane district.

&#';The schools are fantastic,&#'; he said. &#';They've done a great job up here.&#';McKinnon also said he hopes his example of giving back to the schools is taken up by more people in the community.

&#';I hope I can inspire people to reach out to children with special needs,&#'; he said.aswift@newstote.com

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