Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Autism Society of North Carolina Parent Advocate Wanda Curley. Wanda works out of the Triad office in Greensboro. We appreciate her willingness to share her personal journey and insights.
As a parent of a very amazing young adult with autism , I continue to be encouraged daily by the strength, courage, and perseverance that is found in our ASD community here in North Carolina. My most recent example of this phenomenon was seen at the first meeting of a newly formed ASNC-sponsored parent support group for parents across the state who have children at the PATH Unit at Murdoch Developmental Center in Butner.
PATH, which stands for Partners in Autism Treatment and Habilitation, is a program which serves children ages 6 to 16 with a diagnosis of ASD and severe behavioral challenges. Families accessing the PATH unit have in most cases experienced crisis situations with their children. In this instance crisis is defined as a situation where the child cannot access regular educational programs and has extreme difficulty accessing any other services both in the community and home. PATH is a residential program based on intensive, multi-disciplinary interventions seeking to stabilize the child and return him/her to the home or other appropriate community placement generally within a 2 year period.
Having a child who recently exited the program, I listened with quiet awe as I heard the stories of the families who currently have a child at the program recount with painstaking detail, all with a myriad of emotions ranging from fear to frustration to disbelief to relief in finally having found a possible place of hope and restoration. The bond that was forged through the sharing of their stories was an incredible thing to watch as each family member present listened to and offered their comments and encouragements to one another. Surely the resolve and hope I witnessed among those people present must have been so similar to those first interactions among some parents who first banded together in the late 1960s when the ASD population was quite misunderstood. The resolve and perseverance of these “giants” who first dared to venture into unknown and scary territory by actually believing they could make a difference for their children brought about our agency now known as the Autism Society of North Carolina.
Over three decades later, some professional “giants” in the ASD community also formed a program which would reach out to even those individuals with the most difficult challenges of ASD. Many individuals have and still continue to enter and exit the PATH program with strengthened abilities, and as some parents (including this one) put it, “the opportunity to get their lives back.” I think I witnessed something very amazing as the parents in that small room now had the opportunity to be supported through a partnership of 2 great entities…PATH and ASNC. Through appreciation of and understanding of differences…..through resolve, determination and the belief that we can enhance another individual’s life and make it more pleasant and meaningful….through collaborating and seeking to promote and sometimes even invent opportunities that have not previously existed….through HOPE and believing that even the most critical and challenging situations can be made easier… this is the autism community at its best. I am grateful to both PATH and ASNC for a fine example in forging the way for individuals with ASD and their families. There is support and encouragement in numbers and together we CAN make a positive difference for our loved ones.
Parent Advocate, Autism Society of North Carolina