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Valdosta autism support group aims to bring community together

Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 1:03 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 18, 2022 at 7:13 PM EDT
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - Acts of kindness and services are continuing to be brought to light through “Lifting Up With Lenah”.

This month, in honor of Autism Awareness Month, an autism support organization was chosen for its ability to bring people together and spread awareness.

Yet again, let’s dive in and not only hear about this nonprofit but also learn from it.

Family Autism Support team, also known as FAST, has been providing services and support for the autism community since 2013.

FAST is located in Valdosta and has touched many throughout the city.
FAST is located in Valdosta and has touched many throughout the city.(WALB)

The organization stemmed from a project created by a Valdosta State University student. Now today, the support group serves over 20 families a month and is still growing.

“It’s really hard to connect with other families when your kid is diagnosed and so in 2018, I got involved and around the same time, Leadership Lowndes picked it up and helped grow it and it boomed really quickly,” Torri Pittman, FAST president, said. “We went from just informational meetings to now we have a sensory closet. Sometimes, kids with autism need extra materials to be able to focus for school and we provide that free of charge.”

Torri Pittman, FAST President, has watched the organization turn into a family oriented...
Torri Pittman, FAST President, has watched the organization turn into a family oriented organization.(WALB)

Other services the organization provides include monthly music therapy, a big event for Autism Awareness Month and an annual trip for families involved in the support group.

Pittman said this year’s events will be bigger than ever before because of the huge impact COVID-19 had on the autistic community.

“Being shut down for COVID was hard for everyone. For families with kids with autism, it was rough not having school. These kids thrive on routine, and it really threw a wrench in their lives. We haven’t been able to do anything big since and we wanted to really do a big event,” she said.

But how many kids in the community are impacted by autism? Pittman said a lot of families have contacted her in just a month’s time.

“So, the national average in the U.S. is 1 in 44 children. That’s 1 in 27 boys and I believe it’s 1 in 16 girls. Girls are still less likely to be diagnosed and there’s a lot of theories about why that is,” she said. “I would say we’ve had a pretty big impact on our community. We see on average I want to say up to 10 to 20 new families contact us every month and that’s just the families that know about us. We’re really trying to increase our outreach.”

Pittman said that studies show that girls are less likely to get diagnosed with autism than boys.
Pittman said that studies show that girls are less likely to get diagnosed with autism than boys.(WALB)

And for each family involved, the support group provides a safe place for the autism community to come together.

“It’s hard to find other parents who have kids with autism. It’s even harder to find some that want to talk. Most of us, if you’ve met one kid with autism you’ve (only) met one kid with autism. They vary so widely that trying to find people whose kid’s challenges line up with yours or who understand quite what you’re going through can be really hard and it’s easier when somebody has brought people together,” she said.

Pittman said people not directly impacted by autism can still help in a big way by just simply understanding and learning about autism.

“It’s important to know how to approach them, how to help them, and then it’s important because isolation is such a big deal for a family whose child is diagnosed,” she said. “A lot of people lose their social networks. Sometimes there are struggles with family afterward and it’s important for them to be able to get into the community and still feel support and still feel like their a part of their local community.”

Support is not the only thing FAST provides as they also promote autism education and advocacy.
Support is not the only thing FAST provides as they also promote autism education and advocacy.(WALB)

Pittman added that getting involved in an artistic family’s life goes a long way as well.

“Pretty much what I tell everybody is get involved. It can be really intimidating. I know that my family struggled at first with how to approach us, how to help us and there’s really no wrong way,” she said. “Just stay there if your friend’s child is being diagnosed. Don’t run. If nothing else, just being there, just letting someone know that you care and that you’re on the other side waiting is a huge deal.”

Organizations throughout South Georgia have as much of an impact as a single person and with so much going on in the world today, it’s a relief to be able to stop and listen to the work being done to create a better world.

Anyone with suggestions of an organization or person doing good in the community can send submissions to Lenah.Allen@walb.com.

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