Ever piece together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture to use as a guide? Not easy. Now try piecing together resources for a child diagnosed with autism. It's every bit as puzzling. Area autism advocates are working hard to change this. Most recently, the Autism Society of Indiana unveiled its Indiana Allies program and it's worth a look.
Indiana Allies is a statewide peer-to-peer support program meant to help people who are personally affected by autism or a dual diagnosis of autism and a mental health illness. It literally connects people in need with people in the know. Real people helping real people. Parents who think their child might have autism can connect with an Ally to discuss necessary first steps toward obtaining a diagnosis. Families with a child already diagnosed can find help through the program too, as can teachers, pediatricians, siblings and others with questions related to autism. The program, funded by the Department of Disability and Rehabilitative Services, is also free to the public.
Notably, each Ally is personally touched by autism or a dual diagnosis so are able to draw on their own experiences and understanding of the disorders in addition to the training they receive through the Autism Society of Indiana.
Dana Renay, executive director of the Autism Society of Indiana, says such peer-to-peer support is important. "If you've just gotten the diagnosis, it can be the most devastating thing. You can't even describe it. The benefit of a peer-to-peer relationship is you don't have to describe it. The Allies know. They've been through it, are going through it, and will go through it forever. There's an inherent understanding of the issues so you don't have to explain it. It's the common bond we all have as people touched by autism," she says.
The program offers a broad range of services. The Allies can simply listen. They are prepared to help with an individualized education plan. They can help strategize with parents on treatment options, though they do not endorse or promote any specific service providers or organizations. They do training for parents, schools, churches, and others, including offering Autism 101 workshops. They help start up support groups, help with visual schedules at schools, discuss behavior plans, help parents through justice system issues brought on by behavioral issues, and much more.
"Literally the only things we don't do are transport people, we don't diagnose, and we don't say there's one way to do it," says Renay.
Indiana families can connect directly with a local Ally by calling 800-609-8449 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, Indiana Alilies works in conjunction with Autism Resource Network of Indiana, a new web portal developed by the Autism Society found at www.arnionline.org, Renay says it's the most comprehensive list of autism-related resources for the state. The site may be a good one for families touched by autism to bookmark.