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."
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 http://www.lsautism.org