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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Large groups of roaring motorcycles or people dressed up like zombies, dripping fake blood, are probably not what you think of when you hear “autism awareness event.” And that is exactly why a motorcycle ride and a “zombie” walk were the featured events of the Autism Society of North Carolina Onslow County Chapter this past year.
Last year’s Autism Motorcycle Ride attracted 98 riders and raised $1,600, which the chapter used to send a child to ASNC’s Camp Royall. This year’s ride is coming up on Saturday, May 17, from New River Harley Davidson in Jacksonville. Registration is $15 for drivers and $5 for co-riders.
“We’re noticing more and more people are touched by autism. So here’s a way for them to give back,” Jorge said.
The chapter opened the event to vehicles other than motorcycles this year so more people could participate. Onslow County sheriff’s deputies will lead the procession, with motorcycles at the front. Afterward, a party will feature a DJ and door prizes.
Jorge said the ASNC Onslow County Chapter aims to create a place where everyone is welcome. When they hold events such as their monthly sensory-friendly movie showings, they open them to families with any special needs.
“I’m a firm believer that we all have similar challenges, whether they have DS, autism, cerebral palsy,” Jorge said. “We’re kind of like a family unit. I think it’s important for us all to stick together because we’re all dealing with the same things.
“We all can learn from each other.”
To help local families learn, the chapter held its annual Autism Awareness Information Forum in April with help from several community partners. Jorge described it as a “one-stop shop” for families to find out about resources offered in their community. They also had the opportunity to hear D Jones, an adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder who serves on the board of Disability Rights North Carolina, share her life story.
Jorge, who has been the leader of the Onslow County Chapter for about four years, says she can relate to families in many different situations. Her daughter Katlyn, 10, has high-functioning autism, but was on the severe end of the spectrum when she was diagnosed at age 18 months. Jorge’s husband was a Marine at the time, so the family has experienced working through the Exceptional Family Member Program of the military, finding support as civilians, and managing the transition in between.
Jorge said that sometimes, families are scared to attend events such as the sensory-friendly movies because they think their children cannot manage it.
“I reassure them. Maybe they can’t do it this time for the full time at the theater, but keep bringing them,” she said. “I tell them, ‘We’re here for you. Tell us if you need assistance transitioning them from the popcorn stand to the movie. Let us know. We’ll be there for you.’”
Jorge hopes that this approach will continue to draw more families to the chapter events and connect them with the supports they need. “It’s just been really, really rewarding for us, because we understand. We get it.”
For the public, Jorge hopes that the chapter is spreading more understanding and acceptance for individuals with autism and other disabilities.
“The special needs community is huge, and I think a lot of the businesses and the community is unaware of it,” she said. “We’re honestly a force to be reckoned with. We just need a voice.”
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