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Marshall mom starts support group for caregivers of autistic children

By Bridget Ortigo
April 19, 2017 at 4 a.m.

Autism Moms of East Texas group members meet on Monday at the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Pines  to discuss the group's upcoming "Day in the Park" event at Marshall City Park.

When a Marshall mom couldn't find a support group to help with her autistic son, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

"My friend Ashley (McNabb) and I had been looking around for a support group in the area for moms of autistic children and we couldn't find anything," Kasey Watson said. "So we decided, we're strong willed women, we can start our own support group."

Watson said she formed the Autism Moms of East Texas group in August but for the first few months, the group existed online only.

The group offers support and resources for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"In February, we started meeting together in person," she said.

Now the group meets from noon to 1 p.m. on every third Monday throughout the school year meets at the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Pines in Marshall.

The club's President Bryan Partee said he offered the group a meeting place because he believes in their cause.

"When I heard of the group, I offered them a meeting room at the club," Club President Bryan Partee said. "The Boys & Girls Club serves so many kids, some who are autistic or have special needs and Marshall really needed a group like this. My own son was diagnosed with severe ADHD, which is on the autism scale."

Partee's wife, Karen Partee also recently authored a book about her journey dealing with their son's ADHD entitled "Wandering in the Wilderness, A Journey of Me, My Son, and his ADHD."

Watson said she started the group so parents and caregivers of autistic children could have a "family" of people going through similar circumstances that they could share ideas with, network and draw support from.

"This group isn't just for moms, it's for grandparents, dads, caregivers," Watson said. "We're just a family and sometimes we come in and share stories of things that we are dealing with or going through and sometimes we come together and talk of things we'd like to do with our children."

The group is set to host its first public event "Day in the Park" from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday at Marshall City Park.

The free event is open to the public and will have vendor booths, free hot dogs, chips, drinks, games and resources for special needs children's groups.

The event is also sponsored by Community Healthcore and the East Texas Aging and Disability Resource Center.

"We will have 10 exhibitor booths so everyone will have an opportunity to learn about resources available for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities," Community Healthcore Outreach Coordinator Patti Brady said.

Brady helped the group secure funding for the event through a grant from The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities for the East Texas Aging and Disability Resource Center (ETxADRC).

The Community Living Network of the ETxADRC works to improve community-based services for people with disabilities and their families in Gregg, Harrison, Marion, Panola and Upshur counties, Brady said.

"For example, they could help you by sending someone with you if you wanted to take your son to the zoo but don't think you can handle him on your own," Brady said. "They offer resources for things like respite assistance, behavioral supports and healthcare providers."

Marshall mom Donye Freeman, whose 7-year-old son is autistic, said she started as an online member of the group and made it to her first in-person meeting on Monday.

"This is the only group I've found in our area that is interested in doing stuff here in Marshall," Freeman said. "There are groups like this in Tyler and Longview but with my son, sometimes those trips are just too long. I like that this group plans for things to do right here in Marshall."

On Monday, the group was discussing possible field trips and outings to take with their children this summer.

"We are thinking of maybe trying bowling, maybe a day at Chuck E. Cheese and maybe a movie day at the movie theater," Watson said.

Partee offered the group a chance to add a special needs swimming lessons class onto the Sam Birmingham Municipal Pool's summer swimming season.

"We haven't finished making the schedule yet so if you can find a special needs swim instructor, I'd be happy to mark off a spot for you," Partee told the group on Monday.

"That would be wonderful," Eloise Reed said. "My grandson just loves to jump in the water. He has no fear but he's never had swimming lessons."

Reed serves as the caretaker for her 7-year-old autistic grandson.

"My sister-in-law saw something about this group in the paper so I wanted to come visit," Reed said. "I will do anything I can to help my grandbabies out and any support I can get for myself is good too."

Lisa Abraham said she is raising her 9-year-old autistic grandson and has found the group helpful.

For more information about Autism Moms of East Texas, visit the group's Facebook page at "Autism Moms of East Texas" or email Watson at kasey8705@gmail.com.

For more information about the Community Living Network, call (903) 295-5922 or send an email to help@etxardc.org.

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