The Parents of Autism group met last Tuesday night in Poteau. We had a great time and shared lots of good advice, stories, and time together. This got me to thinking about what a great thing a support group is for a family dealing with autism.
Let me begin with a little background on the Parents of Autism (POA) group. This will give you an idea of what a support group can provide. It will also help you understand why it is important to have this support system in place.
I was introduced to the POA by my wife. She had attended a meeting before and was telling me what a great time she had. She had learned so much in the first meeting that she didn’t know that she couldn’t wait to return. I finally made a meeting and was sold immediately. All of the parents that attended basically were sitting in an informal setting and sharing stories and advice with friends. There were no dumb questions, and there were no dumb answers either.
The group is the brainchild of Christi Taylor. Taylor is a well known citizen from LeFlore County who recognized a need for this outlet for parents to meet and share experiences about their children. The group has grown into more than 15 families at recent meetings.
The group acts as a sounding board for these families; mostly parents, but some caretakers, grandparents, and friends of the family. We meet to share stories, advice, resources, and vent about things happening in our lives. It’s a really great release, and for many just a small get away from the pressures of parenting. The group also welcomes teachers, support staff, and anyone who works with autistic people. This is a great way to learn and share.
A majority of the time is spent sharing stories about dealing with an autistic child. Some stories are funny, while others are frustrating. All are educational to the rest of the group because we get to find ways to cope with something that we have experienced ourselves, or will experience later on.
This advice is priceless. This is because the group is versatile. Just like autism, the group has children all across the spectrum, and of all age groups. The kids are from two-years old and newly diagnosed to 20-plus years old and having been diagnosed 10-plus years before. There are children ranging from “classic” autism that are non-verbal and asocial, to a high-functioning child with idiosyncratic social, play, and language skills.
The main thing that happens is that we share resources. This ranges from discussing and sharing the latest books that we have read, the latest movies or television shows that we have watched, to sharing the doctors and therapists that we use. We also share advice for dealing with issues at school, and occasionally we have a guest speaker come in to help out.
Besides the meetings, we have recently begun a Facebook page to help out in between our gatherings. We use the page for the same reasons, and it is filled with resources, videos, and web pages that we have found during our day-to-day research. It’s also a very good sounding board for venting frustration.
Now that you have some background on the Parents of Autism I hope you have a good idea of what a support group can do to help you raise your child. The advice and resources in themselves are invaluable, but the adult interactions and time to get things off your chest is priceless as well. It’s always nice to know that you are not alone in your problems. Often times you find advice to help curb the issues you are having from someone who has been there before.
For those who are not able to attend the groups there are online groups to help as well. You just need to make an online search. There are numerous. Facebook is full of them.
I think child-autism-parent-cafe.com has the best explanation when they state on their site:
An important function of nearly all autism support groups is to introduce families to others like themselves, who can provide much needed information and emotional support. When families with similar concerns meet, there is a sense of community, of understanding; you create a place where you can laugh about the same things, where you can discuss the same problems, where you can help each other. Where else can a parent find out which local dentists are good with children who don't sit still, where to buy specialized clothes, toys, or equipment, how to help a teenager find a summer or after-school job, or how to fill out a social security application?
Regardless of what group you join, I feel it is important to find one. The help you find in these groups will be a great basis for finding your child the best information to help better their lives. The other side is that you may have some information that others don’t have that might help them out as well.
For anyone interested in joining the POA group you can search for “Parents of Autism” on facebook, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just let me know you are interested and I will get your information so we can let you know the next time we’re having a meeting. You can also watch this column. I will let everyone know the next time we get together as well.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at email@example.com. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.