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Autism Caregivers Group continues to spread awareness

April 26, 2021

The group of NIU faculty and students are dedicated to supporting families of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by providing helpful information, resources and a supportive environment. This month, they took to social media to raise awareness, sharing personal messages with online friends and followers.

“To me, it is important that every individual’s purpose is recognized and celebrated,” said student Megan Nordstrom, who shared a message about embracing neurodiversity. “Everyone has a different way of communicating, learning, and expressing themselves; everyone is unique and establishes different identities throughout the community.”

School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders professor, Allison Gladfelter, oversees the group of students and hosts a caregiver coffee chat where parents can ask questions, share tips, and interact with other parents.

“I wanted to provide a resource like the Autism Caregiver Group because families are bombarded with a lot of myths and pseudoscience about autism which can leave them feeling overwhelmed and isolated,” Gladfelter said. “This group provides a space where families can have direct access to experts and reputable information – and perhaps most importantly – the knowledge that they are not alone.”

And while they tackle important topics, there’s also fun to be had.

“My favorite part about overseeing the group is when I see how much fun our NIU students have playing with some really great kids at the meetings,” Gladfelter said. “Is there anything better than the sound of children laughing or squealing with excitement?”

Nordstrom agreed, adding that the group offers a safe and supportive space for families of individuals with autism.

“I hope that by attending the coffee chats, reading the newsletters, and getting involved in our organization, caregivers and families realize that there are community members who care for them and their families,” Nordstrom said.

Student Valeria Avendano shared the sentiment.

“The Autism Caregivers Group is important because it provides support and resources to families,” Avendano said. “Caregivers gain helpful information about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and know they can contact the Caregivers Group when in need of a supportive environment.”

Early diagnosis is important for children with autism because with that, they can begin receiving the services and supports they need. Gladfelter said that 19 NIU speech-language pathology graduate students recently attended the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) Training – the current gold standard assessment tool in diagnosing autism – through The Autism Project (TAP) of Illinois.

“I’m thrilled that so many of our NIU graduate clinicians completed the training,” Gladfelter said. “Now they can help families access services earlier.”

Learn more about NIU’s Autism Caregiver Group.