LauRen and Dallas Strager have become advocates for the autism community, sharing how early intervention was key for their son Cash.

Autism Advocate

Radio host honored for sharing her family’s story and helping others

By Michelle Boudin | Photos courtesy of the Strager family
and Autism Strong

Like many kids, LauRen Merola Strager and Dallas Strager’s son, Cash, said his first word when he was 9 months old. And like many kids, that word was “dada.” But unlike many kids, that first word was also his last — for the next three years.

“That was when we knew. When [Cash] spoke first, it was way before he was diagnosed. He said his first word, and then … he never talked again, until he was 3 and a half,” says Dallas.

Cash was 18 months old when they got the official diagnosis that he was on the autism spectrum.

LauRen says, “We chose to keep it private for a while and didn’t know what or if we’d share, just because my job is so public. We didn’t want him to hear it from someone else before he truly understood what it was.”

At this year's annual gala, Autism Strong Foundation's executive director Stephanie Melish Neuman and co-founder Rudy Thoms honored LauRen Merola Strager (center) as the Woman of the Year for helping raise funds and spread awareness.

LauRen is half of the popular Maney & LauRen Morning Show duo on Kiss 95.1 with Steve Maney.

“It was really tough wanting to say something but feeling like it’s not your story to tell. I struggled knowing I could help someone. However, you also want to protect your privacy and family. You feel pulled in so many different directions because you still want, and need, someone in your corner, too.”

She and Dallas found that support when they learned about the local nonprofit Autism Strong. Rudy and Becky Thoms formed the organization after realizing how difficult it was to get the right therapy for their autistic son and having to fight their insurance company to get it paid for. Since launching the nonprofit in 2016, they’ve raised over $3.75 million, helping more than 650 families access much-needed therapies.

LauRen says the organization has been a lifeline. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to meet and then feel supported [by]. You’re just chugging along, and to have all of them there meant the world to me personally.”

Dallas agrees. “Any person going through this feels like they’re on an island. Our first year, we tried anything and everything, and you don’t know what you don’t know. Then you stumble across these people, and you realize you’re not alone.”