Group provides support, resources for parents of autistic kids

Courtesy 
On Oct. 11, members of Parenting Autism Challenges Together pose following the Autism Speaks Walk in Las Vegas. PACT joined 1,200 walkers at Sam Boyd Stadium for the 5-kilometer walk to raise money and awareness for autism.

Courtesy On Oct. 11, members of Parenting Autism Challenges Together pose following the Autism Speaks Walk in Las Vegas. PACT joined 1,200 walkers at Sam Boyd Stadium for the 5-kilometer walk to raise money and awareness for autism.

KINGMAN - Two Kingman women have found strength in each other, strength they hope to pass along to other parents of children with autism.

Crystal Miller and Summer Stutler lead the Parenting Autism Challenges Together group.

The mission of PACT is to provide community awareness of autism and help support the families. Autism is a complex developmental disability resulting from a neurological disorder affecting normal function of the brain and impacting development in the areas of social interaction and non-verbal communication, according to the Autism Society of America.

It typically appears during the first three years of life.

In February 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on 8-year-olds. The CDC concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 150 American children, and almost 1 in 94 boys.

Since the creation of PACT more than two years ago, Stutler said she's seen parents of at least 40 children attend their meetings.

"These parents need support," Stutler said. They have a lot of work ahead of them."

Students who enter preschool at KUSD have to go through cognitive testing. If autism is suspected, parents are notified of PACT by staff.

"Early intervention is the key," Miller said.

With more than 20 students, one classroom at Manzanita is designated for children with autism and special needs, Stutler said.

"There are a lot of hidden challenges that parents face, challenges this group helps you navigate through," Stutler said.

The challenges can range from finding a dentist or obtaining support from different government agencies.

"I looked through the phone book and called 15 dentist offices, and when you say that your kid has autism, they say, 'We don't treat those type of kids,'" Stutler said.

Miller's and Stutler's next goal is putting together a resource book for parents and caregivers with information specific to Mohave County and Kingman. "There are a lot of goals that we have and haven't met," Stutler said.

Beyond the resource book, the two want to be a constant resource for the community.

"People need to know if they can't see us once a month, we are here everyday," Miller said.

With the two at the helm, they led their first PACT meeting on Sept. 30. "We're people," Miller said. "We have been through this. We can support you on many different levels."

PACT started under the guidance of a school psychologist with the Kingman Unified School District. After the psychologist left the district, the group lost its leadership.

That is when Miller and Stutler decided to step in. They each have a son diagnosed with autism.

"When you get the diagnosis, it's one of the most heartbreaking things a parent can go through," Miller said.

Part of the distress after the diagnosis is looking to the future and what typical expectations parents have for their children, Stutler said.

"For the most part, my son probably won't be able to do those things," Stutler said. "He probably won't be able to get a job. He won't get married.

"He has no interest in sports or other people in general," she said. "It's something that you mourn."

Becoming friends with Stutler, who had shared experiences, helped her greatly, Miller said

"I felt I left the doctor's office in Phoenix thinking, 'What am I going to do?'" Miller said. "I don't want any parent to feel what I felt. You feel alone."

PACT welcomes families and caregivers of individuals with autism and other neurological disorders.

"We don't want to close the doors on anyone," Stutler said.

The duo soon realized they get as much out of the group as they put in.

"I need support from a parent as much as they need us," Miller said.

Miller and Stutler also changed the focus of the group to peer-to-peer.

"By no way are we saying we are licensed to help you with emotional issues," Stutler said. "We're being that shoulder to cry on. We're being supportive."

There are no dues to join PACT. The group currently doesn't have an operating budget, with Miller and Stutler paying for information packets and materials out of their own pockets.

"We've already paved the road," Miller said. "We want them to go down the smooth road. We can all help each other raise our children."

Miller and Stutler said they have received tremendous support from the KUSD and Manzanita staff.

"Parenting in general is challenging," Stutler said. "Raising a child with special needs, any type of special needs, is difficult."

A staff of qualified personnel provides childcare. "That is a big added plus," Miller said.

At each meeting, a topic is chosen and often there are guest speakers, Stutler said.

Kingman Police Cpl. Dave Coffin has spoken twice regarding the Smart Card program. The program allows families of individuals with cognitive or developmental disabilities to have a detailed card for emergency personnel during a crisis.

For more information, contact Miller at (928) 757-2288 or Stutler at (928) 380-0282 or e-mail pact_of_kingman@yahoo.com.

PACT meets from 6 to 7 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of each month at Manzanita Preschool, 2901 Detroit Ave, in Room 52. Their next meeting is at 6 p.m. on Jan. 27.