Parents of autistic children in Derry can find help, advice and support from a new website run by local group Circle of Support.
The group was set by up five Derry women who met through the Little Orchids playschool.
Denise Geary, Carrie Coyle, Amy Campbell, Julianna Harkin and Caroline Campbell found that by sharing common experiences and talking about the problems they faced as parents of autistic children they were better able to cope with the challenges they faced.
Now they’ve opened the group up to other parents in similar circumstances to their own and will run regular coffee mornings and family days.
“The five of us have become good friends and have been meeting for coffee mornings for over a year now,” said Denise, mother of four-year-old Rebecca.
“We share good news and sometimes bad news and give each other encouragement.
“We decided we wanted to take that one step further and open the group up to other parents.
“The idea is basically that parents can give help and support to other parents who are in the same position.
To support the group’s work Carrie has developed a comprehensive website setting out practical measures which can help parents to cope with an autistic child and throughout the diagnosis process.
“We were asked about giving people advice, but I didn’t fell that I was some kind of expert to be going into someone’s house and telling them what to do,” she explains.
“But I did feel that I could put something together on a website, so that’s what I did.
“We all found it difficult to cope when our children were going through the diagnosis process.
“We found it very isolating and were so glad to find support in each other.
“It’s good to know you are not alone and we are able to laugh and cry together.
“It is because we found it such good therapy, just being able to talk to people who understand, that we decided to set up COS.”
The website – www.autism-whatnext.com – sets out advice and practical support for the parents of autistic children.
It explains terms used such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, what it means for the child and also for the parents.
It also helps explain the process of diagnosis, which can be a very stressful time for parents who are unsure as to what is going to happen next.
And there is plenty of other helpful and practical advice on all aspects of autism from early intervention to speech therapy, methods of communication.
“We are not a pressure group or anything like that,” added Denise. “There are plenty of those out there already.
“We just wanted to provide a care group for parents, somewhere they could go and recharge the batteries and share common experiences.
“They all have the same problems that the children don’t sleep, don’t feed, have meltdowns.
“Rebecca is great, but she does have her moments. Sometimes you feel like you can’t go out even with friends or family, taking her to a birthday party.
“Those are experiences that we all share and we are all aware of the potential problems and the strategies that are needed to cope with them.”
The COS group’s mission statement says it ‘aims to provide a network of support to autism parents by autism parents’.
The key aims are to offer family support to parents by parents; reduce the feelings of isolation experienced by autism parents, allow parents the chance to recharge batteries; develop a community of autism through a support network; provide opportunities for children with autism to meet and develop social and communication skills; provide support to siblings and the opportunity for siblings to meet and form friendships; further raise awareness of autism in the local community by making play parks, restaurants, cinemas, shops and libraries more autism friendly.
The COS group is holding is next family day at the Jungle King on July 8.
To keep up to date with coffee mornings and family days, they can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.