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Questions about autism? New support group may help

A virtue of Southwest Colorado is the variety of opportunities to get involved in our communities. We seem to have as many activities, events and groups as many communities five times our size.

Yet when Jeff Newman moved to Durango last summer, he found one opportunity that was missing and set forth to create it.

Starting in April, Durango will have a new support group for people who are either affected by autism or are interested in knowing more about the autism spectrum. According to the latest data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder. The significantly increasing prevalence of children identified with autism during the last decade has brought enormous attention to the disorder.

Newmans attention to autism stems from personal experience. He is an adult with autism, and through the years, he has held a variety of leadership positions for others with autism: He worked as a board member for several autism nonprofits, as a keynote speaker for conferences about autism, working with program development on a national level with the Autism Society of America and establishing Autism and Asperger Connections, the leading autism organization in the Pikes Peak Region.

Now, Newman brings his expertise with autism and group facilitation to Durango. The new autism support group will focus on sharing best practices, experiences and resources around autism. It will be a chance for group members to build a community and learn from other people who share similar experiences.

The group is open to caregivers of those affected by autism, people (teenaged and older) who have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum and anyone else who is interested in getting information and resources about autism on a nonprofessional basis.

By its nature, autism can be isolating, and the opportunities for people to socialize can be severely limiting. Newmans hope is that by providing this support group, people with autism will have a chance to break out of their insular world and receive guidance from people who have been in their shoes. Parents and caregivers can share resources and experiences with each other, as well as learn from people with autism what their child or family member with autism may be experiencing.

The first meeting for the autism support group will be held April 3, with a follow-up meeting May 1. Both meetings will be held from 6-8 p.m. at Durango High School. It is important for meeting participants to arrive on time. Please gather at the front entrance of the school. Subsequent meetings will continue the first Wednesday of each month, and the location of ongoing meetings will be determined.

For more information about the support group or to sign up to attend, call Newman at 930-1536. For more information about the autism spectrum or other disabilities and disability resources, call Community Connections at 385-3445.

Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.