For more than a quarter of a century, the all-volunteer members of the Autism Society of the Bluegrass have raised awareness and provided support to families in Central Kentucky.
That was particularly important in 1991 when the group formed and myths about autism ruled the day.
Charter members – parents all – faced obstacles in the schools and the culture at large.
“There was so little information about autism back then,” said Hazel Forsythe, a founding member along with her husband Vibert. Their son Vahl, who has autism, is 27.
“Our mission was to educate our children, to advocate for services and to share information.”
So they did. Meeting once a month with other caregivers, members supported and educated each other and others – including educators.
“We did training for teachers where our kids were,” Hazel Forsythe said. “We advocated for inclusion, and teachers were very receptive because they knew this information would make it easier for them to manage our children and include them in the class.”
ASBG members explained their children’s sensitivity to everything from lighting in the classroom to the importance of routine and structure.
They also appeared at Board of Education meetings to share research and data demonstrating how children with autism could flourish in school.
Meanwhile, the group’s monthly meetings – held the last Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church – tackled substantive issues. Examples: Educating police about dealing with people with autism; and how to secure Medicaid Waivers.
Over the years, the group has grown to include a listserve with 470 names. Current Board members include President Sara Spragens, Treasurers Vibert Forsythe and Todd Page, Secretary Wendy Wheeler-Mullins plus Sherri Brothers, Jo Grayson and Melanie Tyner-Wilson.
Other founding members are Virginia Moody and Tanya and David Montgomery.
“The best thing about the group,’ said Tyner-Wilson, whose son Jay is 24, “is that it is a place where you don’t have to explain your child’s behavior. Everyone understands. They get it.
“That’s what’s powerful about a parent support group.”
The group’s biggest event of the year reflects its mission. The annual Bluegrass Autism Walk – this year sponsored by Toyota and held on Sept. 10 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark – features a Resource Fair. Along with crafts, games and face-painting for kids, experts in speech and occupational therapy are present.
Other exhibitors include UK Healthcare, Lex. Parks and Recreation, Special Olympics, and Access Inc., which provides information on Medicaid Waivers.
“I’m proud of what we have accomplished with our advocacy and support,” Tyner-Wilson said. “Members of the group have become my best friends. I’ll be a member for life.”