Michelle and Brian Kepler sometimes feel like they’re almost constantly apologizing for their son. But for the last several weeks, they’ve had a place they can go where everyone in the room understands his behaviors and there’s no need to say, ‘I’m sorry.’
“It’s nice to think you’re not alone,” said Michelle Kepler.
Autism Partnership of Island County created a free workshop series for parents and guardians of children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disabilities to provide information about both the disorders and available resources. Experts and providers also gave tips for managing some of the more disruptive behaviors.
An unintended outcome, however, was the series also created a small community of people who can often feel isolated, according to Dr. Amy Garrett of Pediatric Associates of Whidbey Island.
“It’s pretty powerful,” Garrett said.
The workshops, which began April 16, are the result of two grants and collaboration between multiple organizations and health care providers. The last event is open to anyone and will be held 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 21 at the Oak Harbor School District Administration Building. This workshop will cover Individualized Education Plans, which are required for public school students who need special education.
The organization provides dinner and childcare from professionals who specialize in working with children who have developmental disability disorders.
“We’re trying to break down their barriers,” said Jaemee Witmer, lead family resources coordinator at the Toddler Learning Center.
Michelle and Brian Kepler said the childcare significantly helped because they have a hard time finding babysitters who know how to react to their child’s behaviors.
Michelle Kepler said the workshops have gotten her to reflect more on how she herself reacts to their 3 year old, and her husband said it has helped him gain a better understanding of what their child is experiencing.
Speakers from organizations such as Aptitude Habilitation Services gave advice on how to use applied behavioral analysis (ABA) methods to promote positive actions and discourage negative ones. Autism Partnership began planning the series when Medicaid decreased funding for specialized services, which led many local providers to stop providing ABA therapy, Witmer said.
She said the committee expected between five and 10 people to sign up. More than 30 registered and consistently attended.
“It’s still a small representation of a huge problem,” Garrett said.
She and Witmer said the committee would prefer to continue to host the series, but it will take a lot of resources. The University of Washington Medical Home Partnership Project and American Academy of Pediatrics Community Access to Child Health programs awarded grants, but many of the resources were provided in kind.
Each session is two hours, but Witmer said it was common to stay another hour afterward to listen to the families’ experiences and try to problem-solve with them.
“It’s been an amazing partnership and collaboration,” Witmer said.
“Working together,” Garrett added, “that’s what it takes.”
n Those interested in participating in Autism Partnership of Island County can contact Island County Parent to Parent, www.islandcountywa.gov/humanservices/pages/parent-to-parent.aspx or Toddler Learning Center at www.tlcwhidbey.org. To register for the IEP and 504 Plan workshop, email Jaemee Witmer at Jaemee.W@tlcwhidbey.org