For the first two years of his life, Isaac Dority wouldn’t look people in the eye. Rebecca Dority, Isaac’s mother, said his speech was minimal, too. Isaac would only repeat the last thing he heard.
Rebecca and her husband, Patrick Dority, just thought their son was a quiet child, but after a friend from their preschool told them Isaac wasn’t acting like the rest of the kids and wasn’t playing with toys like the other kids, the two parents went to the Kansas University Medical Center to find out what could be wrong.
“I kind of thought it could be autism, but I didn’t know how bad it was,” Rebecca said. “After a half a day of being observed, the doctors pulled us into a room and handed us a box of Kleenex and told us, ‘Your son has autism.’
“I can’t describe when you are given that diagnosis and how that affects your whole world,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one out of every 110 children has an autism-spectrum disorder. And behind most of those children is a family that will have to learn how to live with this disorder. That’s where the Eudora Autism Community Education and Support Society comes in.
Earlier this year, a group of mothers with autistic children, including Dority, gathered at Pyramid Place Early Education Center in Eudora, 1904 Elm St., to form a family support group for children with autism.
“Our goal really is to educate parents and give them tools so they can help their children,” Dority said. “We want them to learn about early intervention and to find the best therapy that will work for their child.”
Dority said this group is different from other autism support meetings, where a lot of information is given to parents but there is nobody there to help them make sense of it all.
“We are like a little family,” she said. “We just want to love them and be there for them. It’s not your typical support group where you come, you find out your information and nobody talks to each other. That’s not true with us; we want to reach out to people. If they have a question about a particular behavior I can say, ‘I remember when Isaac was like that,’ and then I can give them some suggestions.”
The group usually meets on the second Tuesday of each month. The group’s founders, Dority, Christine Zimmer, Jacqui Folks and Stacey Watts, bring in families from the area to discuss things they have learned as parents of autistic children. They also bring in speakers to help families learn more about the disorder.
Dority said that families have come from De Soto, Eudora, Baldwin City and Lawrence to the meetings. The whole family is invited. Patrick Dority, Paul Zimmerman, Mike Folks and Terry Watts join their spouses and their other children at these meetings.
Folks said it was important for the group to include the siblings of autistic children in the conversation of treatment, and that they want to start a special group just for them.
The group also wants to extend the understanding of autism beyond just the families with autistic children.
“To make it a perfect unit, you have to have support from your family and from your educators,” Folks said. “You have to have a relationship with your school and a relationship with your community if you want these kids to be understood and safe. Then, hopefully, one day they’ll be accepted and included into the community. That is our goal and that has been our passion.”
Even day care is provided.
“We know it’s hard to find day care for special-needs kids so we say, ‘Bring them with you,’” Folks said. “Day care will be offered to the parents so they can listen to the speakers.”
“You learn about life, and you learn about yourself,” Folks said. “When Ethan was first diagnosed I didn’t know that I had it in me to learn everything I need to know and to start over. But you become a stronger, better person because of this child. While some people may view it as a burden, I view it as the greatest blessing in my life.”
More information about the group can be found on the group’s website at eudoraaces.org. The next meeting will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Pyramid Place Early Education Center in Eudora.