A Downriver-based program called Puzzle Parents is bringing parents with autistic children together to share their stories of the obstacles they face as a way to bring autism awareness to the community.
The Puzzle Parents program is a free support group offered through Mimi’s Mission, a local nonprofit, at St. Stephen’s Church twice a month.
The organization is ramping up a campaign for Autism Awareness Month with a mission to keep donations to autistic foundations local. Mimi’s Mission believes the children of the community would benefit greatly in doing so.
During the program meetings, you’ll find the parents sharing their journeys after their child’s diagnosis. They celebrate each other’s victories, embrace one another during tough times and keep in contact on a regular basis as a way to provide support and encouragement.
Mimi’s Mission established the group in February once the founder of the organization, Lisa Vilella, heard there was no outreach set in place to assist the families.
The program, Vilella said, is driven by the needs of the parents and their children. The parents share areas they are seeking assistance in and the organization assists in finding a solution.
The unity in community
Despite only coming together for three meetings, parents said they are already seeking improvements in their child’s behavior.
As a mother of a 9-year-old son with Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects one’s ability to effectively socialize and communicate, Jen Cline of Flat Rock said being part of Puzzle Parents “makes you feel as though you don’t have to go through the journey alone.”
Cline said many people don’t realize how difficult it is to have an autistic child.
“Simple day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping and going to get a haircut often results in the child screaming and crying in the middle of the store.”
Strangers will often point, laugh and make rude remarks in reference to her son’s behavior during these outbursts, said Cline.
“I hope raising awareness will help change the perspective many people have on autism.”
In addition to being a meeting for parents, the children are invited as well.
Vilella said it is a great way for them to interact with others just like them.
After only three meetings, Cline said her son, who is usually shy and quiet, has begun opening up more each day.
Last week his teacher told Cline he has been actively participating in class.
“He has been raising his hand to answer questions and even going up to the chalkboard to solve math problems… something he has never done before.”
In a short amount of time, her son has already been making strides in the direction of improvement.
There are dozens of other families in Puzzle Parents who are sharing how much the program is directly impacted their child in a positive way.
“Each child feels important and appreciated by the other kids in the group when they come to the meetings,” added Cline.
Benefits of donating locally
In a separate occasion, Vilella said a young boy who is part of the group has a high level of anxiety. With the assistance of community members and donations from businesses such as Bennie’s Plumbing of New Boston, he was provided with assistance to help ease his situation.
He was provided with compression clothing, which is believed to be a therapeutic garment for children with autism disorders.
The garments are designed to fit the child snugly, though not tight. This provides them with a feeling of security and body awareness, which in turn creates a calming effect.
Education and awareness are the keys to helping these children and their family be able to move forward, said Vilella.
“We must take care and support one another,” she said.
Meetings are held on the first and third Monday of each month between 6 and 8 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Church, 2801 1st Street, Wyandotte.