Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lee's Summit Tribune October 13, 2007 Article

Autism Support Group Hosts Informational Gathering

By Chase Jordan
Tribune Staff

Families and autism professionals came together for support and to share information during Autism Awareness Night.

The Lee's Summit Autism Support Group brought in about 26 service providers and more than 58 guests attended the event Monday, Oct. 1 at the Legacy Christian Church in Lee's Summit.

Vanessa Shields, of Lee's Summit, attended the event and has one son with autism.

"It's so hard to get information," Shields said. "There's really no on e central location that doesn't overwhelm you."

Joyce Lindsey has three sons and one of them is diagnosed with autism.

"It was an excellent turnout," Lindsey said. "I feel that it really served a need in the community. We had people coming from both sides of the state line."

Co-founders Sherri Tucker and Debra Shaumeyer said the purpose of the event was to make families with autistic children aware of available services and to network with other families.

"My phone rang from 9 o'clock until 5:30, and half of them were families that just got a diagnosis in the last week," Tucker said. "There's nowhere to go, so they're going to network and meet other families. That's probably even more important than the providers."

Shaumeyer's 6-year-old son, Austin, was diagnosed with autism near the age of 4.

"We started the group because we have a lot of disappointed families right now in the school district," she said. "Our purpose is to work with the Lee's Summit R-7 School District to make change, to work together as a team. Knowledge is power."

The group's co-founders were pleased with the turnout and the volunteers.

"We had to turn service providers away because we were limited with the space," Shaumeyer said.

Tucker said the gathering helped service providers network with families they would otherwise have difficulty finding.

Kelly Lee, autism education coordinator for the R-7 district and founder of Camp Encourage, attended the event to provide information to guests.

"I think it's wonderful to see so many families and it's wonderful to have this many resources to point those families to and get encouragement and the support that they need," Lee said.

She said there are some 200 students in the district diagnosed with some form of autism.

"Supporting families with children on the spectrum is something that is very close to my heart," Lee said. "I think it's extremely crucial that the district collaborates with parents."

Nancy Michael, of ABC'nD Autism Center in Kansas City, provides services for children 18 months old to children in the fourth grade.

"I met a lot of families interested in the Autism Center and some have been interested in occupational therapy and also just questions about their child's services." Michael said. "I think it's a wonderful opportunity for parents to learn about a vast number of services for children with autism because they can come and see the displays and talk to those people that are part of those programs, and I also think it's a great time for those families to network."

Georgia Mueller, Kansas City regional coordinator for MPACT, said her group works to ensure that all children with special needs receive an education that allows them to achieve their personal goals.

"We teach families how to become advocates for children, so we teach them the laws," Mueller said. "We teach them how to understand their rights and responsibilities and understand the rights and responsibilities of the school, and that way when they go to ask for appropriate service for their students they know that they're standing on solid ground."

Mueller has a son with autism in the Center School District.

"He actually has a pretty severe level and we had to work very hard with our school district to get them to do the right thing," she said. "I know that most school districts would not automatically do what we were able to gain. Most parents don't really like to ask what's appropriate for their child, whatever that my be. It's frustrating."

JJ Ringgold, of Lee's Summit, attended the event and is the parent of an autistic child.

"I got some new information this time about nutrition," Ringgold said. "I felt comfortable talking to them."

Clare Jeffress, of Greenwood has five children and two of them have autism.

"It was very wonderful. I think it should happen every six months." Jeffress said.

LSASG Human Interest Greenwood Dispatch

By Katy Keller

One year ago, Chris and Cheryl Martin of Blue Springs were delivered the heart wrenching news from their doctor that their 6-year-old son, Josh, had autism.

Although the pair had a feeling before the visit that their son had the disorder, the couple said they knew it was important to educate themselves about autism. "The best thing you can do for your child is to be your child's advocate," Cheryl explained.

The Martins were on of dozens of families who attended the 2nd annual Lee's Summit Autism Awareness Night on Oct. 1. The free event, organized by the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group, provided families with resources to assist them in raising and educating children with autism spectrum disorders.

The hearts behind the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group are Debbie Shaumeyer of Greenwood, and Sherri Tucker of Lee's Summit. The ladies formed the group in Nov. 2005 after seeing the need of support for parents of autistic children in R-7 School District. Shaumeyer's 5-year-old son, Austin, has autism. Tucker's 14-year-old son, Jake, has Asperger's syndrome.

The R-7 School district has begun to work more closely with the local autism group. In addition, Shaumeyer and Tucker are going beyond school boundaries and reaching into the state legislature to speak about the impact of autism.

Last month, Shaumeyer testified to the Missouri Autism Blue Ribbon Panel on the U.M.K.C. campus. She focused her statement on insurance and the lack of coverage for autism families.

The 16-member Blue Ribbon Panel is comprised of senators, psychologists, and members of the Missouri Autism Coalition. The group ultimately makes decisions based off of testimony of parents and experts, then passes their findings onto state legislators to tackle autism in Missouri.

Shaumeyer revealed she was terrified about speaking, but she knew that she was testifying on behalf of Austin.

"I don't think any of them truly knew how far behind the state of Missouri is in tackling autism," Tucker asserted. "You can go and talk about issues, because issues are easy to talk about. But when you go and talk about your kid, that's hard thing to talk about."

Since first forming the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group, Shaumeyer has seen autism come to the surface in the community, ten fold. However, Tucker sees their journey differently.

"I think that we are getting more frustrated than when we started because when we started, we thought the issues were this big," Tucker explained by pinching her fingers together, "and now we know the issues are this big," she clarified with wide open arms.

Yet, the colleagues and friends agree that their fight for autism is infinite.

"Our fight is endless, our advocacy and our battle to make changes with autism is endless. It will be one place after another, forever," Shaumeyer expressed.

The ultimate goal, Tucker said, is about unity, community, and reaching families.

"I want to make sure that everybody (affected by autism in the R-7 School District) knows what their child needs, and finds a way to get it, and that they're not alone."

Dispatch Bits

The Lee's Summit Autism Support Group meets on the first Monday of each month at the Legacy Christian Church of Lee's Summit, 2150 East Langsford Road. For more information, visit