For parents in the east Bay area with a child on the autism spectrum, help just got a lot closer. The Autism Project, an organization providing education and support for children and young adults with autism and their families, recently joined with Bristol Rotary Charity Foundation to create an East Bay Support Center much closer to local residents than the facility in Johnston.
East Bay residents Chris Woodard, a member of the Bristol Rotary Charities Foundation, and his wife Lisa have two boys, Christopher, 10, and Nolan,
6. Christopher was diagnosed early on in the autism spectrum. Although he is high functioning, it still creates a lot of challenges, and the frequent trips to Johnston were not an easy undertaking. Chris comments on what it took to get to Johnston and back during rush hour, when most classes and support groups are scheduled. “It’s packing kids in the car, sitting in traffic, getting to group and sitting in traffic. It takes three hours out of the day. It’s fantastic to have an East Bay Chapter.”
The Autism Project has been around since 1997, and the new center got started in the East Bay in mid-September of this year. Three locations, each a room or an office in an existing building, are set throughout Bristol County; Mt. Hope High School in Bristol, the headquarters of the East Bay Chamber of Commerce on Route 103 and the Highlander School on Route 136 in Warren.
Jacques de Labry, a member of the Bristol Rotary Charities Foundation, said the idea for the East Bay Chapter of the Autism Project was launched at the end of last year. Members of the foundation met to decide where donations might be best allocated. Upon discussion, the small group in attendance realized three members either had a child or a close relative on the autism spectrum and decided supporting families of children with autism would be a good focus for future donations. In mid-July members of The Autism Project and the Bristol Rotary Charities Foundation signed an agreement to work together for fundraising efforts and to get the support center underway this September.
Joanne Quinn, the Executive Director of The Autism Project, says autism is often misunderstood. Sometimes issues that come up with an autistic child are thought to be behavioral, but it is a neurologically based disorder. Things that might be simple for most children can easily overwhelm a child with autism. When Christopher was younger his parents created a pictorial schedule to help him know what to expect throughout his day. Chris says this made a difference for his son. “If they are not structured they kind of lose it emotionally. Everything has to be kind of ironed out for them in advance.”
It is not necessary to have a doctor’s diagnosis to obtain services from The Autism Project, nor is it necessary to be an East Bay or even a Rhode Island resident. Services are free for the family, but educators do pay a fee. The Autism Project provides services for individuals with autism from age five to adult. Before five, members of The Autism Project can help parents navigate the state system, which provides needed services.
Joanne also mentioned there is no barrier to obtaining help from the center based on a doctor’s determination.
“They don’t have to have a firm diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. For social awkwardness or anxiety or social-emotional challenges our info will be helpful.”