Local families offers autism support group via Zoom.
Ashley Wilson knew what she wanted to create — a safe space for parents and caregivers to be able to talk through the incredibly hard moments and small victories that come with raising children with disabilities who often need significant support.
The Reynoldsburg mom was ready to partner with the Autism Society Central Ohio and start a new chapter of the support group Coffee, Tea and Autism in Pataskala. Then, the coronavirus pandemic happened.
But after taking time to regroup, Ashley realized that the need for support hadn’t gone away. If anything it had increased. So she and the group’s organizers turned to Zoom.
On June 8, they held the first complete meeting of Coffee, Tea and Autism and More: High Resources, providing support to several families.
“I think that’s a good first start, getting our feet wet and getting a feel for things,” Ashley said. “It was really nice and exciting. We had some good conversation.”
The group will continue to meet the second Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. and the fourth Sunday of each month at 4 p.m. on Zoom.
Meetings are open to all central Ohio families, regardless of diagnosis, but some of the topics will specifically focus on those who need “higher resources” — increased support — and have behavioral communication issues.
“We are a very welcoming space, we are open for everybody,” Ashley said.
Dexter, who is 6, was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. For the past two years, their family was supported by the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities, although their family is now in the process of transitioning to the Franklin County Board of DD after a recent move.
Ashley and her husband Evan worked with LCBDD Developmental Specialist Colleen Tullis to help Dexter learn and grow. They started working on encouraging him to drink out of a straw, and then an open cup. Colleen also supported them as they explored different communication options.
“She helped a lot with me knowing how to play with him,” Ashley said. “It can be hard to get into his world. She helped me try to see things from his perspective.”
Dexter doesn’t use words to communicate and began using a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) book to show what he wanted. Colleen connected their family with the OCALI lending library and they were able to determine that the LAMP Words for Life app would be a good fit for Dexter.
The Wilsons also utilized the Licking County Foundation’s Thomas M. Kier Memorial Fund to provide Dexter with some additional ABA therapy.
Now that they have moved to Franklin County, Ashley said she’s looking forward to finding a swimming lessons program that will be a good fit for them.
With Dexter and their four older children, Skylar, Anna and Carter, it’s important for their family to spend time in the community and they are often on the lookout for sensory-friendly activities.
“I was always looking for the other kids with PECs books or communication devices, thinking ‘Where are they?’ she said. “I know there are other people like me but I never find them.”
Conversations on social media revealed other local parents were feeling that way. Some of them shared they were uncomfortable attending community events or even support groups because of the high levels of support their children need. Others said they felt uncomfortable or ashamed sharing some of the “taboo topics” and difficult aspects of parenting a child who communicates differently.
Ashley reached out to Ginny Bryan of the Autism Society Central Ohio and shared her idea about a support group for those families. Partnering with Sarah Ehler, another mom from Canal Winchester, they began making plans.
Ultimately, their goal is to offer a monthly in-person meeting of Coffee, Tea, Autism and More while keeping another session on Zoom, so parents who don’t have childcare will still be able to attend.
Parents of children of all ages are welcome and their perspectives are appreciated, she said.
“It could be a chance to have that interaction that you are missing in your life,” Ashley said.
Check out information on the support group here: