Thursday, October 30, 2008
Autism seminar reaches out to parents
The Nov. 8 seminar will focus on ways to help autistic children thrive.
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Susan and Frank Young started attending Patterson Memorial Grace Brethren Church in Roanoke when Susan was pregnant with their first and only child, Ryan.
Their son, now 4, has grown up in the church, and the congregation has welcomed him even as he began to exhibit the classic signs of autism at 18 months. Those signs include speech delays, such as forgetting words and using squeals and screams for expression, as well as repetitive actions.
Susan Young described the struggles of caring for her son while also working full time as a secretary for Salem City Schools and teaching Sunday school.
"There are many days that I feel fairly stressed, but I also feel blessed," she said.
One such blessing occurred when the Rev. Donald Eshelman approached her about organizing a seminar on autism, a complex neurobiological disorder that impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others and has a wide range of symptoms.
The seminar was an effort to support the Youngs and welcome other parents with autistic children.
While initially overwhelmed at the prospect, Young said she quickly became excited at the thought of being able to help another parent of an autistic child. She began to brainstorm about her "dream team" of speakers, including people who were especially helpful to her when she sought care for her son.
The keynote speaker for the seminar, which will be held at the church Nov. 8, is Dr. Kathryn Kerkering with Carilion's Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Clinic, who will give an overview of autism and talk about the spectrum of the disorder.
Autism is the fastest growing serious development disability in the United States, and boys are four times more likely to experience autism than girls, according to the nonprofit research organization Autism Speaks.
One in every 150 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined, the organization says. A new case is diagnosed almost every 20 minutes. There is no medical detection or cure, but specialists emphasize that early intervention can help children gain maximum benefit from therapies that focus on developing communication, social and cognitive skills.
The free seminar also will examine behavioral issues, communication skills, play and social skills, ways to adapt learning materials to individual needs, and ideas for creating a special-needs ministry at church.
The seminar is free and lunch is provided.
Young said many people do not really understand autism, despite its growing prevalence. People often say cruel things to her son, assuming that he is being naughty or rude when he expresses himself.
She imagines that some parents may be concerned about bringing an autistic child to church, but she says she feels welcomed.
"I know I feel fortunate to be at a church where they are welcoming, whether it's a good day or a bad day."
She also described the blessings her son gives her.
"Ryan has taught me so much. He has a simplicity that is absolutely beautiful," Young said. "He's truly taught me to live in the moment."