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Area gets autism support group
First meeting being held this week for networking, education
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Northeast Georgia Autism Support Group
What: First meeting of the Northeast Georgia Autism Support Group will be a potluck dinner.
When: 6-7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: First Presbyterian Church, 147 North Main St., Cleveland
More info: E-mail zebra@applebank.net or click here for the group’s Facebook page.

When Leigh Stallings-Jarrell’s son was diagnosed with autism last year, she was dropped into a sea of questions. Online, she looked for answers, and after some searching she found another mom who knew just what she was going through.

“Rachel was my angel at that time,” Stallings-Jarrell said. “Because I had no idea what I was doing.”

Now she wants to ease that confusion for others dealing with a new autism diagnosis in their family, as well as for those who have been struggling with the disease for years.

This week, Stallings-Jarrell will host the first meeting of a new autism support group in Northeast Georgia.

The group is a partnership between Stallings-Jarrell, Director of Special Education at Piedmont College Donna Andrews and Stephanie Bogart, who also is a mother with an autistic child. Bogart’s 14-year-old son, Jonathan, has Asperger’s syndrome, which is characterized namely by difficulties with social interaction.

High school has been a “nightmare” for Jonathan, Bogart said. And as a mother, it’s been a nightmare for her, too.

Family and community support is the best way to work through these issues, but there aren’t a lot of groups in this area, she said.

“When I found out my son had Asperger’s, I knew nothing abut the disorder,” she said. “I had to learn everything I could on my own. The schools could help. But that was during the school day, not with stuff at home.”

She has a friend whose son also has autism, and she’s learned through their “trial and error.” She hopes the autism support group will make finding those vital connections easier for families in Northeast Georgia.

Stallings-Jarrell said she first started thinking about creating a support group after attending an autism training day in Atlanta last summer.

She hopes to use the group not only for networking, but also for education, by bringing in specialists to offer presentations.

She’s already started calling doctors and has been overwhelmed by the positive response.
Ignorance is one of the biggest problems families dealing with autism face, she said.

So she hopes the group will also be able to foster a more accepting community environment and educate people about the spectrum of autism disorders.

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