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ARC following ‘Grandin’ example

ALBANY — In September, a collaboration between the Albany Advocacy Resource Center and the centennial celebration committee at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital resulted in a visit from a well-known individual who spoke of her life with autism.

Now the Albany ARC is acting on the lessons learned from that visit.

Following an appearance at the Albany Municipal Auditorium by Temple Grandin, a world-famous animal scientist and autism self-advocate, the Albany ARC has gained a heightened awareness of a need for support groups catering to those impacted by autism, which has since resulted in the formation of such groups.

“Since the Temple Grandin presentation, we have really been getting a lot of calls from people, especially from parents of children and young adults with problems with social skills,” said Sonia Prescott, one of the co-facilitators for the groups. “We have a preschool program, but we wanted to get in touch with (the older populations).”

Since October, one group has been meeting on the first Wednesday of the month and the other has been meeting on the second Tuesday of the month.

From 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Albany ARC Training Center at 1319 W. Broad Ave., the organization will conduct an Autism Navigating Program, Autism Parents Support Group meeting that will include open discussions, an information/resource table, a lending library and a hospitality table.

The goal of the meeting is to provide a fun, relaxing atmosphere for sharing relevant information, including information on advocacy for children and young adults.

On Wednesday, the Autism Navigating Program, Asperger’s Adults Peer Meeting will also be held at the training center from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. It is meant to serve primarily as a support group for adults on the autism spectrum.

“This is for an 18-and-older population diagnosed with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism,” Prescott said. “These people are often left out (of outreach efforts) because they are intelligent, but they still don’t have the social skills (to function).”

The January meeting for the group was originally scheduled to take place a week earlier but was postponed due to the New Year’s.

In additional, from 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Feb. 7-9, also at the Albany ARC Training Center, the organization will conduct a Judevine Autism Training Program, Workshop for Parents. The three-day event is designed to teach parents how to work with children who have autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, autistic characteristics or pervasive development disorders.

Topics will include information on autism, communication problems, behavior development strategies, applied behavior analysis and sensory integration, among others. Child care will be provided.

The two groups currently meeting started with a small number of members, with just a few in attendance at the October meetings, but have grown as word spread, said Debbie Vansant, another of the groups’ co-facilitators.

A bond has even been formed among the attendees, especially in the adult autism support group.

“Who better to understand their problems than each other?” Vansant said.

Such support groups can be especially important for autistic people in adolescence or young adulthood, Prescott said.

“Debbie and I have wanted to do something for older individuals and adults for a while,” she said. “For the 12-20 age group, we get more calls for help. Once they get into puberty, behaviors will be challenging.

“There is nothing for these people, unless they go to an institution for a while. (Some of those with autism) go out and have jobs, but they still need support.”

The workshops are being funded through the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. To register, call (229) 888-6852 and speak with Vansant at ext. 357 or Prescott at ext. 350.

The meetings are held free of charge, but potential attendees are encouraged to register in advance to ensure the proper amount of materials are on hand.