Opinion: Virtual programs offer opportunities for people with autism

A gathering celebrates the Light Up Danbury City Hall Blue ceremony in honor of World Autism Month in 2018.

A gathering celebrates the Light Up Danbury City Hall Blue ceremony in honor of World Autism Month in 2018.

File photo

Denzel Closs writes poetry to relax and mentor; teach and discover.

And during World Autism Month, the 20-something Connecticut resident waxes poetic about the people who have helped find greater meaning not only for him but for thousands — ages 3 to 30.

A winding, bumpy path along the autism spectrum consumes families and individuals from the earliest diagnosis — myriad doctors, specialists and school meetings fill a schedule at a blink. Families hunt and hope for help so their children can begin to experience the same joys and connection to the community as the kid next door. But the pace is demanding and exhausting, with families seeking support through many channels — often with mixed results. Advocating for your children is never ending.

A getaway off that bumpy path is not only welcome but essential.

“I was a teenager heading into the 9th grade when I found out with relief and surprise that I had this gift — this blessing — in autism,” said Denzel. “Programs help children to get up and start moving like exercising and playing fun games keeps them going. Autism Families CONNECTicut was that place for me.”

AFC brings fun and escape from the clinical demands and deep isolation that autism brings. Autism can quite often be lonely.

Family members and I started AFC 11 years ago after we found limited weekend recreational and social activities for Connecticut’s children and young adults on the autism spectrum. And to hear Denzel say it, AFC is place to “blend, be loved, cared for and accepted for who we are — no matter where we come from.”

During World Autism Month, we want more children and young adults on the spectrum to find acceptance at AFC, even in the midst of this pandemic. Virtual activities include socials such as teen and young adult gatherings, family Bingo, cooking classes, and arts and crafts.

AFC programs are locally based, high-quality, affordable, accessible to families and run by professionals. Every program is held in a safe, nonjudgmental environment, designed to encourage children, teens and young adults who attend to have fun, get active and make friends.

And while that would seem to be rare during this yearlong pandemic … a funny thing has happened on the way to keeping social distance.

AFC has discovered virtual programs are more inviting to take part for many people with autism. They are held with greater frequency and have reached participants beyond our immediate area. Zoom, it seems, can be more inviting than face to face. Less daunting. Convenient. It’s a chance to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance with peers, increases their confidence and self-growth.

If you or someone you know are touched by autism, please think about joining AFC, as it provides a chance to participate — everything from taking part in a program to volunteering.

With us, perhaps you will find your place … like Denzel:

“You are not alone when it comes to a wonderful blessing that you are born with,” he says. “This blessing is the best thing to ever happen. … April is a wonderful month to celebrate Autism Awareness Month for those on the autism spectrum and feel left out when the world refuses to have them around at all. … You are not alone, loves.”

Jackie Procyk is the co-founder of Autism Families CONNECTicut , where she is director of programming.