Lake autism support group forms
Will Brumleve/Lake Sun
November 15, 2006
LAKE OF THE OZARKS - Sally Everhart
knows firsthand the loneliness a parent can feel when a child is
diagnosed with a developmental disability.
Camdenton resident said she and her husband felt like there was no
one to turn to in the lake area when their 8-year-old daughter,
Halie, was diagnosed with autism six years ago. Then reality hit
'We found out there was no kind of support for families like ours
around here,' Everhart said.
Today, however, Everhart knows she
is not alone. And she hopes other parents of autistic children also
begin to realize there are others dealing with the same challenges
every day in the lake area.
'I'm hoping to give families some hope, to show them they are not
alone,' said Everhart, who recently started an autism support group
for families with autistic children. 'I can tell you, from my
experience you feel very alone, especially in the beginning.
Hopefully, as a group, we can educate each other, be a good support
for one another and kind of learn and grow together.'
As community support navigator for the volunteer organization
Americorps, Everhart started the monthly support group meetings to
help the estimated 40 to 50 families in the lake area who have
Two parents of autistic children -
one from Brumley, the other from Osage Beach - attended the group's
first meeting Tuesday night at the Americorps host site, the Camden
County Developmental Resources building in Camdenton.
Sally Everhart's autistic daughter Halie was the reason she helped
lake-area support group for parents of developmentally challenged
Everhart, who oversees the one-hour meetings with another parent of
an autistic child, Denise Schiefelbein, is hoping at least 10 to 15
families show up for the group's next meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 12 at
the developmental resources building located at 100 Third Street,
behind Taco Bell.
'The more support, the better,' Everhart said.
During the meetings, parents and
family members of autistic children will be provided training and
education on how to deal with transitional issues associated with
autism, bullying and positive behavioral intervention, 'just about
anything to do with a developmental disability,' said Everhart.
Parents will also have the chance to meet other parents like
themselves and share their experiences.
Seminars will eventually be offered for parents, as well, focusing
on dietary issues associated with autism, Everhart said.
For an as-yet-unknown reason, many
autistic children are intolerant to wheat and dairy products.
'It can actually cause increased adverse behavior, violent
outbursts, things like that,' she said. 'Autism is a very complex
disorder. It's a neurological disorder, and no two people are the
same who are diagnosed. It's called a 'spectrum disorder' because it
ranges from mild to severe. There are a lot of behavioral issues and
sensory issues involved ... For instance, their smell, taste and
touch senses are typically very overactive, and just a small touch
can actually cause physical pain.'
If the popularity of the support group meetings increases,
Americorps could eventually conduct the meetings twice a month, said
Americorps may also hold an 'Autism
Rally' in the near future to educate the public about autism, she
Parents interested in acquiring more information on the support
group meetings can call Everhart at 573-317-9233 or e-mail her at
Everhardt's daughter Halie, who attends Dogwood Elementary School in
Camdenton, is the reason Everhart decided to start the autism
Halie was also the reason Everhart
recently joined Americorps and enrolled full-time at Columbia
College's Lake of the Ozarks campus, pursuing a dual degree in
psychology and human services.
The 32-year-old Everhart hopes to use her degree to provide the lake
area with services for individuals and families living with
developmental disabilities, particularly autism.
'We're a pretty rural area here and most of us have to travel to get
services. I want to bring the services to the lake area,' she said.
'That's my major goal.'
Many parents might be unaware they
have autistic children, said Everhart. Signs of autism generally
start to show by age 3, but sometimes they can appear later in
childhood with little warning, Everhart said.
'A lot of times, a child can develop completely normally, and, all
of a sudden, go to bed one night and wake up the next morning with
no speech, no potty-training ability,' Everhart said. 'They lose it
all. It's literally an overnight deal.'
Everhart and her husband, Ray, did not realize their child was
autistic until she was 2 years old.
Upon diagnosis, they placed Halie
in speech and physical therapy sessions, and by age 3 she was
attending an early childhood program designed to prepare children
with developmental disabilities for kindergarten.
Halie, who, like many autistic children, did not speak until age 3,
has come a long way since she was diagnosed.
'She's doing very well,' Everhart said. 'She's come a lot further
than we expected. She is currently in second grade. She is now
reading at a beginning-of-second-grade level, and at the beginning
of this year she was reading only at a kindergarten level.
'Socially, she's still kind of up
and down (because autistic children) take everything literally. They
can't take teasing. They have no idea that you're kidding.'
Although she has made progress in dealing with her disability, Halie
still is not the typical 8-year-old.
'As an 8-year-old, she functions probably at the same level,
emotionally, as about a 5-year-old,' Everhart said. 'She has a lot
of issues ... She gets sensory overloads, which cause her to do what
is called 'stimming,' which is a way for them to calm themselves
down ... (While stimming) she rubs her hands together really fast.
She will do that a lot when she's excited, hurt or upset, it just
'She will also flap her arms, kind of like a bird, almost. And she
will do this kind of skip, hop, jump kind of thing. So you know when
she's excited about something or when you make her happy, and that's
pretty common in autistic kids.'