As her two daughters with autism were growing up, Stacey Travers didn’t always have the resources she needed.
The elder daughter, 27, is considered high-functioning. But the 22-year-old is nonverbal and spent most of her education in a specialized program for autistic children. “I had to figure it all out on my own,” Travers says. “It wasn’t until my children were in their early teens that I started branching out.”
So, in 2015, Travers, an assistant at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), based in Rockville, Md., started a support group for family members of people with autism.
She considers it a safe haven, where parents can come together to swap stories and talk about triumphs and challenges.
She invited a Montgomery County police officer to discuss safety issues. She has brought in thought leaders — including John Elder Robison, who wrote a book, “Look Me in the Eye,” about his life with autism — to help educate staff members.The group even organized staff trips to two local businesses committed to hiring and training autistic people — Gaithersburg-based Sunflower Bakery and North Potomac-based That’s a Wrap deli. The outings helped staff members advise parents on how to prepare autistic children for the working world.
Today the group counts six regular members — “small but united,” Travers says. They’re from all over the region, which helps them compare the resources offered by various school systems.
“What I tell other families is you cannot just rely on your school system,” Travers says. “You have to go out and seek those resources for yourself.”
Members say the group has become an invaluable resource. “I had no idea there were so many resources out in the community before I joined this group,” says Bridget Murray Law, who is managing editor of ASHA’s magazine.