On a bright, sunny day in February a group of young adults met together to eat pizza, laugh, talk and play video games. While this is far from an uncommon sight, what made it special were the people involved.
Community Connections in Conway sponsors the group for young people with Autism Spectrum Disorders. (ASD includes Autism, Aspergers and PDD. Google if you want to know more).
It was a few weeks before this day when I ran into Kelly Coffman at Kroger. I had not seen Kelly in quite a long time, so we had to catch up a little bit. When she told me about her job at Community Connections and what they had planned, I was very excited! They wanted to try and start up a group for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The group would be for doing fun activities together and letting these folks socialize a bit.
Both of my sons are in the group, and let me tell you: this is something that is sorely needed. With the explosion in diagnosis of Autism and ASD over the last 20 years, lots of focus has been on early diagnosis and treatment for young children. It is so very important to get children with this diagnosis early intervention and therapy. However, what I have noticed is that once these young people are out of school, many opportunities for getting out and socializing are just not there for them.
For many of these young people, socializing is something that has not been easy. It is not that they have not wanted to socialize and make friends, it is just their disability and the perception of them by their peers has been a roadblock.
Experiences during their school years has been varied. Some were seen as easy targets for bullies, so to cope they have learned to keep their heads down and try not to be noticed. Others in the group did not have the problems with being bullied, but still longed to fit in.
The first meeting for the group was at a restaurant in Conway in January 2011. I watched as these young folks first met and you could see that most of them were tentative as they sat down together. For some, years of not being accepted fully by their peers made them approach the situation with a certain wariness. But that was short lived. Within minutes it was just a loud, fun table of young people having a good time and talking.
One of them said the one thing they wanted from the group was to just be around people who “Get it”.
Seeing these men and women come out of their shells and having fun just being themselves. That’s priceless folks.
If you would like more information:
Executive Director, Community Connections