Valdosta Autism Support Group aims to bring the community together

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) — Acts of kindness and service continue to be spotlighted through “Lifting Up With Lenah.”

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

Again, let’s dive in and not only hear about this nonprofit, but learn about it as well.

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

FAST is located in Valdosta and has reached many people across the city.(WALB)

The organization was born from a project created by a student of the State University of Valdosta. Today, the support group serves over 20 families per month and continues to grow.

“It’s really hard to connect with other families when your child is diagnosed and so in 2018 I got involved and around the same time Leadership Lowndes took him over and helped develop him and he has exploded very quickly,” Torri Pittman, president of FAST, mentioned. “We’ve gone from just briefings to now we have a sensory closet. Sometimes children with autism need extra materials to be able to concentrate in school and we provide them for free. »

Torri Pittman, president of FAST, has seen the organization grow into a family business...
Torri Pittman, president of FAST, has seen the organization transform into a family-oriented organization.(WALB)

Other services offered by the organization 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 more important than ever because of the huge impact COVID-19 has had on the autism community.

“Being closed for COVID has been difficult for everyone. For families with autistic children, it was hard not to go to school. These kids thrive on routine, and it’s really turned their lives upside down. We haven’t been able to do anything big since and we really wanted to do a big event,” she said.

But how many children in the community are affected by autism? Pittman said many families contacted her in just one month.

“So the national average in the United States is 1 in 44 children. It’s 1 in 27 boys and I believe it’s 1 in 16 girls. Girls are always less likely to be diagnosed and there’s a lot of theories about why,” she said. “I would say we’ve had a pretty big impact on our community. We see on average, I mean, up to 10-20 new families contacting us every month and those are just the families who know us. We are really trying to increase our reach.

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

And for every family involved, the support group provides a safe place where the autism community can come together.

“It’s hard to find other parents who have children with autism. It’s even harder to find people who want to talk. Most of us, if you’ve met an autistic child, you’ve (only) met one autistic child. They vary so much that it can be very difficult trying to find people whose child challenges match yours or who fully understand what you are going through and it is easier when someone has put the people,” she said.

Pittman said people not directly affected by autism can still be of tremendous help simply by 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 a big problem for a family whose child is diagnosed,” she said. “A lot of people are losing their social networks. Sometimes there are difficulties with the family afterwards and it is important for them to be able to enter the community and still feel supported and still feel part of their local community.

Support isn't the only thing FAST provides, as they also promote autism education and advocacy.
Support isn’t the only thing FAST provides, as they also promote autism education and advocacy.(WALB)

Pittman added that getting involved in the life of an artistic family is also very helpful.

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

Organizations all over South Georgia have as much of an impact as one 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 for an organization or individual doing good in the community can send submissions to [email protected].

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Virginia S. Braud