Spotlight on Grandparents & Chapters

EileenandMilesHancox

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 mkellogg@autismsociety-nc.org.

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Grandparents often hold a special place in today’s families. Economic realities mean that extended family members may have to lend a hand in rearing children. For families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder, grandparents can provide an extra layer of support that is greatly needed.

In some cases, grandparents are the primary caregivers. Annette and Steve Horsley of Winston-Salem have reared their two grandsons since the younger one was a toddler. Aaron, 11, and Sam, 9, both have autism, and the Horsleys lead the Davidson County Chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC). Annette says they were inspired to start a local chapter after seeing a Surfers Healing event on the coast and learning of an ASNC chapter’s work with the group.

“When we get together and share, it’s like we’re not alone,” Horsley says of her chapter. Hearing for the first time that your child has autism can be overwhelming, she says. But talking to other caregivers in the same situation lets those families know: “You will survive this.”

Grandparents, especially, can offer solace, because they often have gone through challenges with their own children, who are now adults. “We can say our children are in their 30s, and we lived through it,” Horsley said, laughing.

The Davidson Chapter is very active, offering one social activity and one educational meeting per month. Horsley said they are particularly proud of the chapter’s work to partner with other local agencies to get families the help they need. “I’m excited that we’re all working together for Davidson County. We’re actually reaching out to the community.”

The Wayne County Chapter also works with agencies in its county to expand opportunities for local families, said Terry Daily, one of the co-leaders. The chapter meets once a month, often inviting speakers in for educational programs, and leaders also share details of programs by other agencies so members can attend.

Daily and his wife adopted their granddaughter with autism in 2008 and are her primary caregivers. They have been a part of the chapter for about 10 years, since learning  while they had custody of her that Kimberly, now 10, had autism.

Marty Kellogg, State Chapter Coordinator, said, “Terry is a passionate advocate for his granddaughter and works tirelessly in the chapter to help and support other families.”

Daily said some grandparents face a unique challenge if they are the primary caregivers for grandchildren with autism. “Unless you have custody of the child, your hands can kind of be tied,” he said. Noncustodial caregivers have difficulties getting services for their loved ones.

Grandparents support groups

In other areas of North Carolina, ASNC has started support groups especially for grandparents.

Eileen Hancox of Raleigh said learning that her grandson Miles, now 7, had autism was difficult for her. “With a grandparent, it’s a double whammy,” Hancox said, remembering the worry she felt not only for Miles, but for her son and his dreams for his own child. “They’re still your kids, and this isn’t what they bargained for.”

Hancox decided that what she needed was a place to brag about Miles, a place to share her joys and concerns – a place just for grandparents. Nothing like that seemed to exist locally, so she started one: a grandparents support group through the Wake County Chapter of ASNC. Members meet once a month to listen to a speaker and spend some time sharing. “We can be honest and know that it’s going to stay in that room,” Hancox said. “I am so excited with the response.”

Kellogg said she is also pleased and excited that chapters have begun creating support groups for grandparents. The Guilford County Chapter also has started a group for grandparents to share their unique perspectives and learn from speakers. Lisa McCutcheon-Gutknecht, the Guilford leader, said future plans will be shaped by feedback provided by the grandparents.

“We hope to see more of these groups spring up across the state as our chapters continue to meet the needs of all their family and community members,” Kellogg said.

For more information

Davidson County Chapter: autismsociety.davidsonnc@gmail.com

The chapter meets on the third Thursday each month at the Lexington library. The chapter will learn about Camp Royall’s year-round offerings at 6 p.m. March 20.

Wayne County Chapter: http://home.earthlink.net/~asncwayne/

The chapter usually meets on the third Friday each month at St. Luke Methodist Church in Goldsboro. Autism Resource Specialist Katie Holler will speak at the meeting at 6:30 p.m. March 21.

Wake County Chapter: http://wakecountyautismsociety.org/

For information about the grandparents group, email Eileen Hancox at eileenhancox@gmail.com. The group meets on the second Tuesday each month at the  ASNC state office, 505 Oberlin Road, Raleigh.

Guilford County Chapter: asnc.guilford@gmail.com

The Guilford grandparents group will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 19, at the ASNC Greensboro office.

You can also find all of the chapters on Facebook.

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