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Cheryl D’Argento is part of a support group meeting for family members of kids with autism held at the Hagaman Memorial Library. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Thanks to Cheryl D’Argento, the Hagaman Memorial Library hosts a support group for families dealing with autism. She says it’s her way of giving back for the help she’s received with her own son and advocating for better treatment for others in the future.
Cheryl started the Autism Spectrum Spirit Family Support Group both to advocate for the needs of people with autism and to help families find the support and services they need.
“Once I was able to grasp hold of what it was, you feel like a whole new person. That’s when I made up business cards, I made up a flyer. I started a group,” Cheryl says.
She says that helping her son, Michael, find the help he needed took a lot of time. She had to build a team and find the resources she needed.
“He was about 10 years old when things really started. He was in the hospital four times that year,” Cheryl says. “Little by little, I started getting services.”
Now, she wants to give back.
“It’s hard for us to find support, but it’s not just about support. It’s about helping people find their resources and getting the word out there to people,” Cheryl says. “Our kids are like everybody else’s kids. They’re just wired differently.”
A big part of the struggle with autism, Cheryl says, is the diagnosing process. Because of the variety of forms autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can take, patients are often diagnosed based on which treatments work for them.
Sometimes, an ASD diagnosis can be hard for a parent to take—but not always.
“I was ecstatic,” Cheryl says. “I had a name, something now to work with.”
Even though most people are aware of autism, Cheryl says that new parents in her group are often lost and confused about what to do next. They can come to the group’s Wednesday morning meetings at 10 a.m. in the Hagaman Memorial Library.
The support group can helpful because parents of children who have recently been diagnosed are often entering a world they know little about and they face a big challenge.
“It was just me and my mom and we knew nothing,” says Glendora Moore, a mother who attends the support group. “[My son Chris] never really got diagnosed until he was an adult.”
Plus, the diagnosis can be isolating. Cheryl and Moore say family and friends treat you differently when you have a child with autism.
According to the CDC, one in every 59 children have been identified with ASD, but Cheryl says most school districts struggle to provide the proper care for them.
“Every kid is different…If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism,” she says. “Most kids on the spectrum have other things as well.”
In crowded classrooms, the differing needs of every student with ASD are often not being met.
Cheryl and other members of the support group agreed that it often takes the support of an extraordinary doctor or teacher to get a student with ASD the attention he or she needs. Often, it takes extreme, sometimes destructive behavior, on the part of the students themselves.
“It’s harder on the parents, most of the time, than it is on the children. The children are fine, they know what they want and what they need. It’s our place to find out what those wants and needs are,” Cheryl says.
Many children with ASD are nonverbal or otherwise unable to explain what’s happening in their heads. This can lead to feelings of alienation and even bullying at school.
“The teachers are not equipped to handle our kids nor do they have the patience because they’re not funded, they have 30 kids, they’re overwhelmed and then to put in a kid that’s wired differently,” Cheryl says.
Glendora’s son, Chris, recently gave a talk at the library about his experiences growing up with undiagnosed ASD. Now, he has a bachelor’s degree in special education and works to make sure other kids don’t have the same bad experience he had.
“We want to go out and get the word out. We’d like to go and talk in schools,” Cheryl says. “A lot of the issues are in the school system. I want all our kids to be treated normal.
“Changes aren’t going to happen on their own,” she says. “We need to make them.”
The Autism Spectrum Spirit Family Support Group meets Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. in the Hagaman Memorial Library, 227 Main Street, East Haven. For more information, contact Cheryl D’Argento at 860-929-9045 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To nominate a Person of the Week, email Nathan Hughart at n.hughart@Zip06.com.
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