05/15/11 — Autism group reorganizes to offer more services to local families

View Archive

Autism group reorganizes to offer more services to local families

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 15, 2011 1:50 AM

Terry Daily is raising his 7-year-old granddaughter.

But the challenges he and his wife face go way beyond starting over after having been parents to their own children.

Kimberly has autism.

And because she's non-verbal, she has required speech and occupational therapy.

"When we got her at a year old, she couldn't sit up by herself. She has had to learn to feed herself," he said. "For us, it's 24/7."

Amy Clark's now-10-year-old twin sons also have autism, but they are more on the Asperger's side of the spectrum.

When they reached first grade and she returned to school, she decided to obtain her teaching degree so she could educate others on what she had had to learn.

"My children have been so successful and their experience was wonderful," she said. "I wanted to help other families as much as possible."

This year, she joined the staff at Tommy's Road Elementary School as an exceptional children's teacher, working with about 21 third- and fourth-grade students each day.

Stories of parents and grandparents raising autistic children are not uncommon and are actually increasing all the time. In fact, Daily said, in the local chapter of the Autism Society there are six grandparents raising autistic grandchildren.

Daily serves on the board of the Autism Society of N.C. Wayne County Chapter and spends a good deal of time visiting organizations and civic groups providing educational programs.

The local chapter started seven years ago, but has since been reorganized, said Mrs. Clark, past co-chair and formerly a community representative on the state board.

The group meets on the third Friday of each month, except June and July, to provide support and information to families. Sessions are held in the fellowship hall of St. Luke United Methodist Church on Pine Street, from 6-8 p.m.

Sharon Thompson is new to the group, her son Ross, 14, just diagnosed with Asperger's a year ago.

"Initially I was told he had ADD (attention deficit disorder) and had him on medication for that," she said. "Had we had the diagnosis early, I think the whole school thing would have been different."

Her son now has an individualized education plan, and Mrs. Thompson said she was thankful to discover the support group in December. It helps alleviate some of the guilt parents feel.

"I never realized," she said, her voice trailing off. "Some need the resource or understanding like I did, or the support of the chapter."

"Sharon's story for children with Asperger's (being diagnosed later) is not that uncommon," Mrs. Clark said. "He was functioning."

Some guilt is normal, she added, as loving parents want to do everything possible to help their child.

When such a diagnosis as autism is received, it can put even more strain on the family, even to the breaking point.

Daily said the latest statistics are that roughly 95 percent of marriages where there is an autistic child will end in divorce.

A widower who remarried, he is among the fortunate to have a parenting partner, as is Mrs. Clark, a military wife. Mrs. Thompson was a single mom for much of her children's lives and recently remarried, she said.

"It's new and we're still figuring it out but we're kind of like a tag team," Mrs. Thompson said. "Sometimes you don't know if it's Asperger's or if it's part of being a teenager.

"But I don't really wish it away or worry about Ross because he's with me and I can help him."

For more information on the local support group or services and resources, call 580-7069 or visit online at asncwayne@earthlink.net. There is also a Facebook page, at Autism Society of North Carolina Wayne County Chapter.