Autism Caregiver Group hosts holiday event

Gracie Strohm helped in the crafting department, filling penguin water bottles, gluing paper wreaths and sealing winter sensory bags. The senior and fellow Huskies from the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders welcomed community members and their children to the Autism Caregiver Group Holiday event at NIU’s Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic on Dec. 1.

“It is so important for children to have social interaction with other children, and due to the pandemic, this was not an option for a period of time,” said Strohm, who is a volunteer with the group. “I’m so grateful we are able to have an in-person event for the participants to interact and have fun in a safe way.”

Allison Gladfelter

Allison Gladfelter, associate professor of Speech-Language Pathology and group leader, said the meeting combined a seminar on bullying with a holiday event. It featured two guest speakers for the parents, and holiday-themed, sensory-friendly crafts for the children.

“It’s important for families to have access to accurate information and to have a safe, welcoming environment to ask questions that can be sensitive in nature,” Gladfelter said. “Gaining a sense of community is essential for everyone, especially during these difficult times (due to the pandemic).”

Dr. Manisha Rustagi and Dr. Kara Britzman from NIU Counseling and Consultation Services spoke to parents about bullying and how to help their children navigate incidents of bullying.

“We ended up going past our scheduled time because the families engaged in excellent discussion with our guest presenters,” Gladfelter said. “It was a very interactive conversation about navigating bullying that children may experience at school and even within families when extended family members may be less familiar with the characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).”

Gladfelter said they learned that children with ASD are at a high risk of being bullied, and those with co-occurring conditions such as ADHD, depression, or anxiety are at an even greater risk. The information shared was important not only for the families, but for the NIU student volunteers in the group.

“As future speech-language pathologists, our students need to learn how to advocate for the families they serve,” Gladfelter said. “Volunteering for the Autism Caregiver Group is a nice way to start recognizing what families need so they can be supported in meaningful ways.”

Learn more about NIU’s Autism Caregiver Group.

Source: NIU Today CHHS News

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