Common ground: Autism panel will share parents' experiences
Hope and the knowledge that they're not alone — that's the message parents of children with autism want to give at the Autism Sharing Experiences panel held by Bethel Lutheran Church at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16.
Three sets of parents — Vicki and Dave Datt, Martha and John Kalmon, and Lance and Sally Hermann — will speak on their experiences raising an autistic child. The panel will be hosted by Tracy Metz, elementary autism coordinator at Hudson schools.
Bethel has hosted several similar events on issues in the last couple years, and Pastor Kris Kurzejeski said the church was looking for another topic.
"We were like what else can we talk about that our community might not have a voice in," she said.
Each of the three couples have children now over 18 years old, so they have experiences with various stages.
"I think it will be really meaningful for families that are just starting," Metz said. "Get that assurance that everything is OK."
Oftentimes parents of children with autism can feel like they're alone, Lance Hermann said. This event will show them they're not.
"We share a lot of the same experiences so it really is a common ground," he said.
Vicki Datt said she doesn't feel like an expert, but wants to share her experiences.
"Trying to provide day-to-day help," she said.
Sally Hermann said one of the most helpful parts is sharing what worked for others. Lance Hermann said much of their experience has been trying different things, some that work, some that don't.
One thing that's important for parents, John Kalmon said, is to live in the moment, instead of getting caught up in the anxiety that comes with trying to solve tomorrow's problems.
"It's really just meeting the needs at that point in time," he said.
Lance Hermann said parents should try to get rid of their expectations, and realize there are lots of ways for their child to be happy.
"You've just got to enjoy those small victories and build on them," he said.
As their son is looking at employment options, John Kalmon agreed that happiness is the most important part.
"Not looking at it as what should he be doing but what does he want to do. Where is he happy?" he said.
The parents said parents should use resources in the area, and know that there is support.
"As a parent you really have to act as an advocate for your kid," Lance Hermann said.
Now that their child is older, Sally Hermann said they are still looking for resources in regards to employment, transportation and being social.
"This age has its own unique challenges," she said.
Martha Kalmon said by telling their experiences with an event like this, they can help other parents feel more confident about their own.
"When we share personal stories I think it just makes you feel better and have hope," she said.
Vicki Datt said it also works to establish a connection between parents.
"They know there's people to turn to," she said.
Sally Hermann said this a connection that she herself wants to re-establish with this event.
"I'd like to connect into the community again of other families of children with autism, " she said.
For those who are not caretakers of a child with autism, Kurzejeski said the panel is a way to learn more.
"I would just like to understand better what it's like for you," she told the parents.