Spring-Ford area's autism support network, The A Team, will be having its fourth meeting on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. in the 5/6 building's Media Center. The group, which was founded on April 6, 2011, provides person-to-person support for parents with children dealing with various forms of autism.
Gloria and Kurt Vollert, residents of Royersford, founded the group in light of their son Alex having Asperger's Syndrome. After talking it over at a Sunday School meeting, the general consensus was, "Why don't we have a support group in the area?"
After meeting with the special education directors at Spring-Ford, the Vollerts devised a plan as to what they wanted the support group to be.
"We wanted it to be a support group with the teachers and administration involved if they want to be involved," Gloria said. "But, basically we would like to provide a forum where we could help each other with issues relating to autism. If you have an older child on the spectrum, you may have a lot of information to pass on. If you have a newly diagnosed child, you may have a wealth of questions. Now there’s a place where we can all share with others."
The current membership is at 57 people, but the Vollerts do not want to limit membership to just parents in the Spring-Ford school district. The group is open to anyone. At inaugural meetings, members of the A Team discussed various logistical things, like meeting days and times, as well as leadership roles within the group. However, Gloria pointed out a hopeful idea that the members agreed upon last time around.
"Another aspect of this which we’re hoping is to have a sibling support group as well," she said. "[Alex is] our only child, so we have full concentration on him. But, if you have a child who doesn’t have any issues at all, those kids kind of get left behind. When we first met, we asked the members what they wanted and they said they wanted a support group for all of the siblings. It’s not set up but that’s something we’re hoping for."
The group has parents with children at pre-school age all the way up to a 21-year-old. The idea, Kurt said, is to be able to convey various perspectives to a syndrome that can show various symptoms in different children.
"The way that autism plays out with each individual child is so different," he said. "When you first get the diagnosis you’re kind of lost. It impacts each child differently. It helps if you are with people who have been through that stage who can offer you advice and support and share their experiences."
The Vollerts are currently working on a support website, although they already have a Facebook page. The A Team has its own members-only forum where parents can provide support to each other even when not in person. The ultimate goal, Kurt said, was establishment and sustainability.
"We’ve had three meetings," he said. "I don’t want to see it fizzle. My goal is just to see it become an established and on-going group. Once the children that are in the group now graduate and move on, we want it to be a sustainable organization.
"The other goal would be for us to develop the resources to support the members. Right now, it’s our collective experiences or websites and links we might personally have. Ultimately, we’d like to create this as a database, so that once people receive the diagnosis about their child, the information is there and can point you to different resources. Right now, we’re still in the formation stage."
The long-term goal is to make sure the kids get the support that they need and to help change the perceptions of the community and especially the other children in the school. Gloria said she hopes for an autism awareness program to be developed within the district at every level. She said a similar program was instilled where Alex got to speak to his peers about what it's like to have Asperger's. The results, Gloria said, were amazing.
"It was great, because after that, the kids realized he just had Asperger’s," Gloria said. "It worked out really well. The kids accepted it and it was great to see how much better the kids were to all of them in the class. I think it was great and I think they need it at every level. Just even a disabilities awareness program throughout the school would be good."
The Vollerts encourage parents with concerns to come out to the Sept. 21 meeting at 7 p.m. at the 5/6 Media Center and also said to check out www.autismspeaks.org's First 100 Days section.