According to Autism Speaks, ASD refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. The term “spectrum” reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.
Autism’s most obvious signs tend to appear between two and three years of age. In some cases, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Some developmental delays associated with autism can be identified and addressed even earlier. Parents are urged to seek evaluation if they have concerns because early intervention can improve outcomes.
Learning that your child has ASD can be devastating to parents. They feel upset, scared, concerned and alone. Autism isn’t the same for any two children. Some children have high-functioning autism—others suffer from a more severe form of the neurobehavioral condition. There is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences. No matter the level of autism your child is dealing with, it can be a lonely place for parents. But it doesn’t have to be.
The Autism Spectrum Support Group (ASSG) of Southern Maryland, Inc., is a nonprofit organization. It was formed in 2002 when a mother of a child with ASD put an ad in the Pennysaver asking if any similar moms would like to meet. Over time, it has expanded to support families with those on the autism spectrum. Terri Griest, the president of ASSG, explained how the support group works. “The ASSG offers support to families and caregivers of people with ASD. Membership is currently informal. The private forum offers 175 families in Southern Maryland the opportunity to help each other.”
There are four main goals of ASSG:
1. To support families directly impacted by ASD
2. To educate families and the community on issues related to ASD
3. To raise public and professional awareness and acceptance of ASD
4. To work in partnership with other organizations to inform and educate families and the community about issues related to ASD
ASSG wants parents to know, they’re not alone in their struggles. “We try to eliminate the feelings of isolation families may have when raising a child with ASD. We offer a judgment-free environment for families to discuss issues and ask questions. We also encourage families to help other families by sharing information and support, and to stay focused on supporting families on a local level,” Griest said.
Autism is often a very misunderstood disorder. People with ASD are affected in every aspect of their life. Griest explained, “ASD may cause behaviors that the uninitiated may find perplexing, disrespectful, scary, bizarre or incomprehensible. People’s responses often lead them to withdraw, to judge, to become angry, or to offer unsolicited ‘advice’ on parenting.” But with those struggles comes great gifts. The ASSG works to eliminate the stigma associated with people with ASD. “Knowledge is key,” Griest noted.
ASSG always encourages new members to join. The group meets the third Wednesday of the month from 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m. at the Coffee Quarter in California. There are “sister” groups in Charles and Calvert counties.
You can visit the group’s website or Facebook page for more information and resources.
During Autism Awareness Month, ASSG is participating in and promoting several activities around Southern Maryland to bring more awareness to this community–
World Autism Awareness Day is April 2. Autism Speaks promotes “Light It Up Blue” on that day. People around the world light up buildings with blue lights, and everyone is encouraged to wear blue in support of autism awareness.
Personalized Therapy’s 10th Annual Autism Awareness Day. April 8 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Bollywood Tap House, California www.facebook.com/events/209715149511770/. There will be vendors, a silent auction, a dessert auction, games, crafts, bounce houses, and a food buffet for purchase. Admission is free. All funds raised go to local organizations that help people with autism, including the Autism Spectrum Support Group of Southern Maryland.
Personalized Therapy’s Rock Out for Autism. April 22 12 p.m. – 10 p.m. at the Olde Town Pub, Leonardtown. Enjoy the music of the bands as they play a set and the great food available from the Olde Town Pub!
Published: 04/01/2017, By D. Myles Cullen
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