By Will Chavez
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A new autism support group in Tahlequah is inviting families with autistic children to its first meeting April 9.
The Tahlequah Autism Support Group will meet at 6 p.m. in the Tahlequah Bible Church at 107 S. Mission Ave., and plans to meet every second Thursday of each month. Child care will be available at the meeting.
Cherokee citizens Carla and Chris Howard formed and are facilitating the Tahlequah support group. Their son Nick has autism.
The group began with support from the Hope Foundation in Muskogee, Okla. The foundation began four years ago with the help of the Cherokee Nation to provide hope and support to families with autistic children in eastern Oklahoma.
According to the Autism Society of America, autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.
Chris Howard said one mission of the Tahlequah support group is to help parents of autistic children who may feel isolated.
“I have a feeling that since there isn’t a support group in the Tahlequah area, that there’s a lot of families out there who are battling schools, they’re fighting with doctors, they’re dealing with diets and medications…insurance companies. They’re dealing with all that by themselves,” he said.
He said he and Carla experienced the isolation and frustration of getting help for their son before they sought help through the Hope Foundation.
“We felt alone. So, one of the things this support group is for is to let them (families) know they are not alone, that there is a community here, and we’re here to help each other,” he said.
The group also plans to provide information and education to families with autistic children. Information on what autism is, what a parent can do for their child in school and where to find therapy services will be shared, he said.
The Howards have not conducted a formal survey of how many families in Tahlequah may have children with autism, but Chris said just through acquaintances and friends they have found five families.
“It would not surprise me if there were 30 families in the Cherokee County area that have kids with autism,” he said. “In northeastern Oklahoma, the rate of autism is one in 90 children.”
He said one in 150 is usually the figure given for children with autism in the state, but certain areas have a higher rate.
“If that’s the case there’s a whole lot of people we don’t know about yet,” he said.
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