Editor’s note: For those who have a loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a community of support can be a lifeline. For more than 40 years, ASNC Chapters and Support Groups have provided families who face similar challenges an opportunity to encourage one another, share experiences, find information and resources, and have a place where they feel welcomed and understood. These volunteer-led groups also offer education to families, increase autism awareness and understanding, and support and extend ASNC’s mission in their local communities.
Throughout this year, we are highlighting the ways each of our Chapters and Support Groups makes a difference. To find one near you, please click here or contact Marty Kellogg, ASNC State Chapter Coordinator, at 919-865-5088 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Birthdays are a big deal for most children. Once a year, you get to be the center of attention as you invite a bunch of your friends for a party with tasty treats, or maybe a special outing. But some kids don’t have a group of friends to share this rite of passage; for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, connecting with peers can be difficult.
In the Crystal Coast Chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina, members come together to celebrate each month’s birthdays on the second Saturday. Before the big day, families tell chapter leaders the interests of their children – those with ASD and without – so appropriate gifts can be given.
The chapter gathers at Glad Tidings Church in Morehead City, and each birthday child receives a gift, a cupcake, and a balloon. But most importantly, the children in the group get to be a part of the party, as honorees or guests.
“We have moms in tears because their kids have never had a birthday party before,” said Carrie Tydings, Crystal Coast Chapter Leader and mom to a 13-year-old with PPD-NOS. “There’s a lot of our kids who don’t have a lot of friends in the school setting.”
The Friends, Fun and Birthday Club also includes play time with LEGOs, ping pong, foosball, and outdoor activities when the weather allows. “Birthday parties and other celebrations can often be challenging for children with autism,” said Marty Kellogg, ASNC State Chapter Coordinator. “The Crystal Coast Chapter is meeting a need by providing a welcoming and autism-friendly event for families in their community.”
The chapter offers another chance for children to socialize during its monthly Spirit Night at Pizza Inn in Morehead City. The event started as a fundraiser, a night when the restaurant would donate a portion of its profits to the chapter. But the kids soon learned that their parents weren’t going to just eat and leave; they were stuck there for the whole three-hour event. So they started bringing their Nintendo Gameboys, DSes, and other toys.
“Now the largest table in the restaurant is always filled with kids socializing over pizza,” Tydings said.
The children, a mix of those on the autism spectrum who might find it hard to make friends and their neurotypical siblings, now look forward to the gathering. Their parents enjoy time to talk to others who share the same challenges, and couples take advantage of rare time to reconnect.
Like the Birthday Club, Tydings said, the pizza night serves the chapter’s goals of bringing the community together and building friendships among families.
For more information
- The Crystal Coast Chapter serves Carteret and Craven counties.
- Website: http://www.crystalcoastautism.org/ or search “Autism Society of NC – Crystal Coast Chapter” on Facebook
- Contact: Chapter Leader Carrie Tydings at email@example.com or 509-222-8677
- In addition to the Birthday Club and Spirit Night, the chapter offers support group meetings in New Bern and Morehead City, a monthly meeting, and a music therapy class.
- The 4th annual Crystal Coast Chapter Run/Walk for Autism is set for May 17 in Beaufort. Register here: www.crystalcoastrunwalkforautism.org.