United Way to support Autism Support Group
|Anyone who’s been in a restaurant where an infant or toddler is fussing can understand
the embarrassment and frustration of the parents trying to calm the disturbance. That feeling is magnified for
Lynda Nietz, a Marysville mother of
a nine-year old autistic boy. The unpredictable timing and nature of a potential behavior ‘meltdown’ can make it
difficult for the family to be in a public setting. That’s because families who have children with autism have
much experience with meltdowns and explosive behavior.
“People stare at you as you’re taking your child out of a store and you wonder if they think you’re abducting him,” said Nietz.
Autism affects a person’s ability to communicate, reason, and interact with others, creating the potential for awkward social interaction. Nietz’s son, Alec, was diagnosed with the brain disorder seven years ago. After developing typically for his first 18 months, he started showing some of the signs of autism, including fixation on inanimate objects, acting as if deaf, and making little eye contact.
Hopeful of finding answers to her questions about this mysterious developmental disorder, Nietz joined a fledging group of local parents that started a support group in 2003. Since then, the group has grown in impact and influence.
“We’ve brought in speakers addressing a number of topics, including biomedical interventions, special education laws and rights, recreational opportunities for children and adults with special needs, as well as open discussions with parents sharing their triumphs or concerns,” said Nietz, now the Group’s President. “We’ve also collaborated with other agencies to support the autism awareness trainings recently conducted by the Union County Sheriff’s Office.”
The United Way Board of Trustees made the Union County Autism Support Group its newest Member Agency at its April meeting, capping an eventful Autism Awareness Month for the organization. The Member Agency status means the Group will be eligible for annual United Way funding beginning in January 2007 and that donors can designate their United Way pledges to the Autism Support Group beginning with this fall’s annual campaign.
“We are excited to be a United Way Member Agency in part because we know that will bring even more recognition and awareness to the condition of autism,” said Brenda Rock, the Group’s facilitator.
Rock says that many folks are unaware that autism spectrum disorders are the second most common developmental disability next to mental retardation and are 10 times more prevalent today than they were 10 years ago. The disorder affects a person’s ability to communicate, reason, and interact with others. The Union County Board of MR/DD has identified approximately 51 families in Union County as having a child with autism. One in 166 people nationally have an autism spectrum disorder.
“Children with autism display unusual characteristics which sometimes cause individuals in the community to make judgments about the child and family that are not accurate,” Rock said. “This adds stress to the family and then families avoid participating in community activities. In the 50’s and 60’s, the medical community incorrectly believed autism was a psychological disorder caused by detached, uncaring mothers. For decades, mothers were unfairly accused of causing their child’s disorder.”
Union County Autism Support Group meetings are an outlet for families affected by autism to learn about new treatments and to relieve stress. In addition, the organization provides community awareness through special events and informational programming. Meetings are held on the third Tuesday of every month at Shiloh Chapel (16435 Square Drive in Marysville) from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. and are open to anyone connected with autism or just wishing to learn more.
By adding the Union County Autism Support Group, the local United Way has grown to include 25 Member Agencies. It is the first agency added since the Marion Shelter Program was brought on in May 2005 to serve as an emergency provider for Union County’s homeless population.
For more information about the Union County Autism Support Group, please contact Brenda Rock at (937) 642-8990 or visit www.unitedwayofunioncounty.org/agencies/Autism Support Group.htm