Sunday, April 19, 2015

MOM Suzy: Autism Awareness Month, Part 3

Catch up here:
Part 1
Part 2

Hello again, and happy Momster Monday! When we left off last week, Suzy shared so much with us about her son Simon, and a glimpse into what their days entail with raising a child with autism. To continue on with Autism Awareness Month, I asked Suzy to share more about the organization Better Together, which she created with the help of other moms just over two years ago. Suzy explains: "I had the idea rolling in my head for at least a year. When I was in the waiting room at a therapy session, I sat there getting to know the moms. This was the first time I really connected with other autism moms in a social way, and I told them I had this idea to create a club of sorts...because my son wasn't able to do the things his brothers did, and I wanted that for him...even if I had to create it."

Suzy says that Better Together is a name she "dreamt up" a year before she found a real purpose and meaning for what it would look like, "we were better when we got together". Suzy describes the early days of Better Together, "our kids played all that summer. We did great things, more than just play dates. We focused on the skills our kids lacked and needed to practice."

Since those early days, this original group has changed and grown a lot. Suzy explains, "I found another great mom that was very knowledgeable and had been an autism mom longer than me. We just clicked and our goals were the same. We built projects and webpages and activities so quickly because we wanted to see these things in place for our kids. Soon, we found that the parents were benefiting just as much from being 'better' together as our kids did from the social activities. Our support system online grew and became a constant hotline of sorts...a place to find answers from other parents locally."

What sort of activities is Better Together providing? They have special activities for teens, socials and coffee events for the parents, and the parents offer up their talents for activities such as guitar lessons or craft nights. They also have outings within the community in order to practice dealing with sensory struggles alongside one another. 

This growing local community has "made a world of difference" for Suzy. "It's such a positive place to share knowledge with each other as well as just be there for the hard times. I can't imagine my life without these wonderful families.

The website is and serves as a resource to give families access to up-to-date resources in the Tri-Cities, WA area. The website also provides a step-by-step guide for parents who may be new to the world of autism, and Suzy says that they are wanting to get this out to the medical professionals, "so that our families can feel more empowered early on with steps they need to take with their child."

"The best thing about Better Together", says Suzy, "is that we are a parent-run program. We know our community. We know what we need and we try to empower parents to create those opportunities for their kids, if it's not already out there in the community. We don't have time to wait, our kids needs us now."

Suzy, what can we do during Autism Awareness Month (and always) to help bring awareness and support to this community? 
"Ask about autism, be curious, and learn what it means for us to have a child with autism. Learn what it means to be an adult with autism. Listen, even if you don't fully understand. See that parent that needs encouragement to keep bringing her child church, to the library, to the park. Support local causes that are trying to make a real change to bring quality of life for our autism community for the long term. Just be aware that this community shines brightly. All you have to do is want to see it. We are proud of our children, and we want a chance to brag about them too. I only know my own story. There are so many different families that have struggles I only read about. Some are harder stories, some are very brave, sleep-deprived families out there doing the best they kind to them. Be aware that the hidden disabilities are hard to explain and so often we just don't say anything. So remember just to be kind and patient with people out there in the world...some of us are literally just hanging in there, doing the best we can."

What advice, or words of encouragement does Suzy have to offer mothers who may be raising a child with autism?
"It's not easy news at first. Grieve. Allow yourself time to feel that. Some dreams will have to change, but then see the blessings that this child is. You have to accept autism first, though, it's part of them. They see the world differently; it can be almost magical. I love many things about the autism that is a part of my son. some is hard and I don't love...allow yourself to be sad. It will come up again at new stages...seeing the kinders go to school brought it back for me...but only a little. My beautiful, joyful son is here and I'm happy to be his mom. Know that life will be a new normal, and you can be happy."

For resources, of course Suzy recommends Better Together website, and Better Together can also be found on Facebook - just search "Better Together an autism social learning club".

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