For parents of children diagnosed with autism, life can be hectic, crazy and sometimes lonely.
While these parents love their children and know them better than anyone else, life is often full of surprises.
Dee Hall and Rebekah Emerson mothers of children diagnosed within the spectrum of autism knew how they were benefiting from sharing information with each other. Both families live in the Lehighton area.
That is why they formed a local support group for parents of autism spectrum children, "Carbon County Advocates for Hope," which meets at 6:30 p.m. the second Monday of every month at Blue Mountain Community Church, 25 Oak St., Palmerton.
"We formed this organization to give hope to families affected by autism," said Emerson. She has a son with Asperger's syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Hall's son has autism and epilepsy.
Emerson said she and Hall formed the support group to share information about services and treatments that will help other members.
"We also use this time to socialize," said Emerson. "It is rare that I have any time away from home by myself."
Emerson home schools her children, which she says helps them learn in an individualized setting.
"When he needs to get up and move around the room, he is not disturbing other children in a classroom setting. I can say to him, you need to go outside and use the trampoline. That couldn't happen in a regular classroom."
Emerson is aware that her child is bright, but is socially unprepared.
"My son is socially awkward," said Emerson. For many years, her son also was non-verbal.
"When doctors told me that he may never talk, I knew that wasn't an option for my son," she said. After several years of therapy, her son does talk.
Emerson said that while girls can be diagnosed within the autism spectrum, more boys are affected. She noted that one in 70 boys may have autism, compared to only one in 314 girls.
Amy Craig of Summit Hill was at her first support group meeting. She said for her, the meeting gave her a chance to feel that she wasn't different.
"We will all benefit from talking to each other," said Craig. "I know that when I found out that my son had ADHD, I went into the corner and cried and then I went online and learned all I could."
Also attending the meeting were Kim Rochow and her 7 1/2-year-old daughter, Lena Beams.
Lena has ADHD, which keeps Kim busy.
"You have to have a sense of humor," said Rochow, who has the dual role of being the parent of a child within the autism spectrum as well as a therapist for children with autism.
Craig noted that having a diagnoses is the first step.
"They usually give you the diagnosis of PDD-NOS which is a catch all," said Craig. The letters stand for permanent development disorder not otherwise specified.
Craig said she has learned having a diagnosis isn't easy, because once a child is diagnosed, that is when services should start, and no one seems to want to start services.
She said it took until her son was 2 1/2 years old before he was diagnosed with a 64 percent development delay.
"So many parents have similar stories," she said.
Craig also noted that she is tired of hearing that she caused her son's illness by something she ate or something she drank.
"What was it; the sip of champagne on New Year's Eve?" she said.
"I know that I ate organic foods and never took any medications, drugs or alcohol. Yet they want to blame the mothers."
Each member came away from the meeting feeling a little more informed and a little less alone.
Anyone who seeks information about the support group should call Hall at (570) 386-5097 or Emerson at (610) 377-0669.