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Autism Society offers socialization through recreation

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Adults participate in the social recreation program at the Autism Society of North Carolina office in Winterville on March 9, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Monday, March 12, 2018

WINTERVILLE — At first glance, the recreation center seems fairly typical.

A gymnasium is full of basketballs, Frisbees and jump ropes. A kitchen smells faintly of bacon. Strands of Christmas lights hang from the ceiling of a “sensory room.”

But in fact, this mix of active and quiet spaces at the facility on Reedy Branch Road is occupied by high-functioning autistic youth and adults in Pitt County. They are participants in the social recreation program at the Autism Society of North Carolina's Winterville office.

The program offers summer day camps, after school and adult programs to people with autism spectrum disorder, which affects an individual’s ability to understand what they see, hear or otherwise sense. It impacts social communication and is the second most common developmental disability.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 Americans has autism and 65,000 North Carolinians live with the condition.

Individuals and their families in Pitt County working through its complexities do not have to struggle alone, officials said. For more than two years, the social recreation program has provided respite and a microcosm for individuals to thrive in.

“We're very blessed because we see a level of self satisfaction, a level of happiness and joy that comes from being here and part of the program,” program director Amanda Rissmeyer said.

The society also offers the free program in Brunswick, Carteret, Onslow and New Hanover counties through a partnership with Trillium Health Resources.

“Social recreation focuses on many different avenues of each individual,” Rissmeyer said. There's that communication piece, that socialization, that friendship building. That increasing in confidence.

“Some of our adults and some of our children have just blossomed in such a short span of time being in this program,” she said. “We provide opportunities that empower each one of our clients regardless of their age range, their varying ability levels. We tailor our program specifically so that each individual can engage in their own way.”

According to Rissmeyer, youth summer camp at the Winterville location is coming up on its third year. And after a slow start, the adult summer camp program is finally gaining traction.

“Our adult program started slowly in the beginning and this is the first year it's been in full effect,” Rissmeyer said. “It's a new and very exciting program that we're constantly changing and adjusting the needs of all of our participants. Our focus is serving our community in whatever capacity we can.”

The response from parents has been positive.

Liz Jethro is among those offering praise for the program.

“When our family heard that the Autism Society of North Carolina had a group for adults with high functioning autism, we could hardly contain ourselves,” Jethro said. Jethro's son has high-functioning autism and participates in the social recreation program.

“He has been involved since its inception and our son is always eager to go to the group,” Jethro said. “That in itself is amazing. I just cannot say enough about the wonderful staff. ... They are all young, energetic and fully engaged with each individual and helping them to meet their personal goals. They have ongoing plans to evolve and grow the group.”

Jethro added that other parents of autistic children and young adults should take advantage of such programs.

“I would say to anyone with a young person with high functioning ASD, whatever you have to do to be involved, it is an opportunity that cannot be missed,” Jethro said. “Our son is happy, engaged, growing, and beaming with confidence, what more can you ask for? We are truly grateful to have this wonderful support.”

The best part about the program, Rissmeyer said, is that the social recreation program is free to individuals and their families.

“We're actually here due to a grant through Trillium Health Resources. We are free to families. I have families coming up to us saying, 'we've never had this opportunity'” It's really wonderful to be able to provide this incredible quality program to people in the community at no cost.”

The social recreation program is centered on providing structure for participants while welcoming families to a home away from home.

“We try to find different avenues and we try to bring the community in here, into our space, and we're also trying to make these meaningful connections with community members so that our community as a whole is more educated about autism,” Rissmeyer said.

“Seeing the faces of our adults, of our kids when they walk in our door, this release of tension, this release of stress. They get to let their hair down, they get to be themselves and feel valued for the unique characteristics that they have,” she said.

To learn more about the social recreation program, contact Amanda Rissmeyer at 917-5987 or email her at arissmeyer@autismsociety-nc.org

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com and 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR