DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — A group of grandmothers are raising funds to support children with autism in Northwest Florida through their non-profit, Friends for Autism Awareness.

Debbie Dubose Cantrel, co-founder of Friends for Autism Awareness, said the group has already raised $56,000 since its founding in 2014.

"The group started with myself and my daughter's mother-in-law," Cantrel said. "My daughter's oldest son is autistic. We started talking about the need for a support group. And, now, we have a support group for both grandparents and parents."

Cantrel said there are now about 10 to 15 people who attend the monthly support meetings.

Aside from the support group, Friends for Autism Awareness raise funds to donate to families whose autistic children have needs insurance companies do not cover. Cantrel said they recently built a fence around a family's home because their child would continuously wander away.

"We buy trampolines to help with motor skills, supplements, special diets and we even bought a bed for a child," Cantrel said. "It's a big expense for these parents."

Cantrel said the families go through an application process and a team separate from Friends for Autism Awareness chooses who will receive the money.

Friends for Autism Awareness hosts an annual walk, this year on April 14, to raise money to support these families. Cantrel said her team also sets up a carnival for the kids to enjoy during the walk.

"We can raise money to take some of that stress off of them," Cantrel said. "I think it's important that we do anything we can for these parents to make their day and their lives a little better."