Norma Nunez, having just received an autism diagnosis for her 3-year-old son last November, wondered if there was a support group in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart for families facing similar issues.
By January, an autism support group was up and running under the auspices of USAG Stuttgart Army Community Service’s Exceptional Family Member Program — due in large part to Nunez’s initiative. Since that time, some four families have attended the monthly support group meetings.
“The support group is another piece of the puzzle for me, an opportunity to discuss issues that others don’t understand, and without being judged,” Nunez said.
“I see this as a strength, not a weakness. I’m not afraid to ask for the help,” she added.
The autism support group is one of four EFMP support groups that have started since January for members of the community to discuss topical issues, share experiences and learn about available resources, said Lisa Gregor, EFMP coordinator. The others are a diabetes youth group and support groups for Multiple Sclerosis and cancer. Gregor said plans are also under way to begin two more support groups — one for Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and another for seizure disorders.
Gregor said she has identified which support groups to start through a combination of needs expressed by community members and from EFMP special-needs demographics provided by the U.S. Army Health Clinic Stuttgart.
“The groups are all so new, in their infancy stages, and while I eventually want the support groups to be self-sustaining, right now I’m [the] main point of contact,” she said. “If somebody indicates they want support, I’m willing to find the room for the group to meet [in] and to help market it.”
The newly-formed cancer support group, which Gregor said began at the request of a community member, is in addition to a nearly year-old cancer support group that is sponsored by the Panzer Chapel Contemporary Service.
The EFMP’s diabetes support group, which currently has some five youngsters ages 9-15, meets twice a month. “They seem like they are enjoying the ability to connect with others who know what they have to go through without having to explain themselves,” Gregor said of the youth group attendees. “They’re so mature and savvy, and it’s amazing to hear them talk about what concerns them. I see so much strength in them.”
Gregor also lauded the strength of the families attending the autism support group meetings and pointed to their desire for more community awareness about the disorder. “What they want most is community education about what autism is and isn’t,” she said.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that impacts social interaction and communication skills and typically appears during the first three years of life.
Norma and Jose Nunez’s son, Victor, was already attending preschool at Patch Elementary School for speech delays when he was diagnosed with autism last fall at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The couple said they had noticed their son wasn’t meeting certain developmental milestones in speech and interaction with his peers.
The couple described the autism diagnosis as a “label” given to their son, but said that it does not define who he is. “I’m not labeling my child, but my child has needs,” Jose Nunez said of his son. “I’m trying to find a way to communicate with him to teach him.”
Norma Nunez added, “We knew we had to find the tools to help us be better parents for him. EFMP has helped us tremendously.”
For more information, contact Lisa Gregor at 431-3326/civ. 07031-15-3226 or Lisa.Gregor@eur.army.mil.