COLUMBIA — Nearly four years ago, Lora Hinkel, 34, a speech pathologist for the Columbia Public School District and a mother of two, joined a small social group that was geared toward mothers raising autistic children.
At the time, Mothers with Children with Autism was a small group that would meet for dinner once a month; but when the original creator left, Hinkel — whose 5-year-old son, Blake, has autism — decided to try to expand the group. Today, through word of mouth, Mothers with Children with Autism has grown to 50 families.
Autism is a brain disorder that affects three crucial areas of development: communication, social interaction and creative or imaginative play — it is diagnosed in early childhood. The number of children diagnosed with autism has shot up in the past two decades.
Hinkel said the group has three major aspects. “It provides an outing for moms so they can relax and share advice. There’s a family get-together once a month and regular e-mailing,” Hinkel said.
The group uses e-mail to share advice and discuss various topics about their children who have been diagnosed with autism.
The outings for the mothers range from drinks and appetizers at local restaurants to chatting at various coffee houses. Dinners are strictly moms-only night.
The group acts as a safe space where mothers can openly talk about their children and their needs, as well as issues they may have with their husbands. It also relieves the stress of having to find a baby sitter, according to Hinkel.
“It’s very informal. The women can relax and not explain themselves to the other women in the group. There’s a different dynamic; the moms can let down their guard and get advice and resources,” Hinkel said.
Hinkel said that although the group was originally created specifically for moms of children with autism, the group has since expanded to include other family members.
The fathers wanted to be a part of the outings, Hinkel said, so they started having activities for the whole family.
Family outings include events such as afternoon bowling to house parties hosted by different group members. Just like the dinners, the family outings are informal and a way for the families to relax, get to know each other and share advice.
Although the moms-only nights and family events are fun and a great way for the families to take a break from their daily routine, the e-mails have been the most consistent and popular way for the group to communicate and share advice between the mothers, Hinkel said.
“I like the e-mail support most. I get advice from moms who have more experience in that than I do,” said Melissa Koga, mother of a 7-year-old autistic son, Zachary, who was diagnosed when he was in preschool.
“It’s a great resource, and it’s nice to know you’re not the only one out there struggling with these issues,” Koga said.
The mothers e-mail each other, asking advice on any topic dealing with their children’s autism. For instance, one discussion centered on finding dentists and haircutters in the Columbia area who are familiar with dealing with autistic children.
Mothers with Children with Autism is open to any mother or family member who is dealing with an autistic child, regardless of the child’s age or the issues being dealt with, Koga said.
“There’s always a new mom at an event,” Hinkel said, “It doesn’t matter when or where we have it, there will always be someone new there.”
For more information, contact Lora Hinkel at firstname.lastname@example.org