Last year was a big one in terms of awareness for two young mothers and a grandmother of children living with autism spectrum disorders.
Now they are continuing their efforts to provide support, information and shoulders to lean on for other parents and caregivers going through similar experiences.
When Jessica Burns, Carla Bressan and Juanita Currie launched the Alberni Valley Autism Support Community last April, they did it to fill a gap for such a service locally.
“We definitely saw a need,” Currie said.
“There are 70-plus families in Port Alberni affected by Austism Spectrum Disorders. We want to be able to provide education, support and awareness for them.”
The three had been conversing online but after some time, felt the need to engage in person.
“We get each other’s struggles,” Currie said.
They encourage other parents to find out the benefits of group support and conversation.
“We share a sense of belonging and a unique understanding of what we live with each day,” Burns said.
The group meets monthly and often the women bring in guest speakers to discuss issues like anxiety, nutrition and educational needs. They said because of the complexity of the disorder, parents sometimes feel isolated.
“It’s not just one thing that (defines) autism,” said Burns, whose sons, Declan and Dylan were both diagnosed at a young age. “Declan didn’t pick up speech until he was six years old. Autism can go from a child who has a lot of sensory issues to a child you wouldn’t even know by looking at him that he has autism, so it’s a broad spectrum of kids who are affected.”
Although overwhelming at times, the three said parenting children with autism is a challenge they were faced with and would not have it any other way.
“God wouldn’t have given us these children if we couldn’t handle it,” Bressan said. “We have to have fun and we do. I am still learning everyday. But when we get a call from someone needing a suggestion or wanting to know how to deal with something, that means a lot to us.”
“When you see the world through (our children’s) eyes, it’s a beautiful world,” Burns said. “There is a patience you learn that expands to everything else in life.”
The three are opening that world to the public and other families affected by the varying degrees of autism with the second annual Rock the Walk to raise awareness.
A community walk will take place around the parking lot of the Best Western Barclay Hotel on Saturday, April 23 at 10 a.m. Following the walk, participants will have the opportunity to bid on silent auction items and visit various information tables. There will also be a hotdog barbeque, games and activities for all ages.
The goal is to expose more people to the realities of autism and to grow the support group.
“Our motto is that if we build it, they will come,” Bressan said. “The first year has been the most challenging but we don’t give up.”