Community invited to listening session on children and families impacted by autism

Published 7:42 pm Friday, November 10, 2023

On Monday, Troup County Juvenile Court will host a listening session to hear from individuals and families impacted by autism spectrum disorder.

The goal is to allow community members to share how they perceive they are received and supported in the community.

Individuals and families impacted by autism are encouraged to attend and share their experiences with representatives from the courts, law enforcement, the school system, the medical community, the Department of Family and Children Services, the Department of Juvenile Justice, childcare agencies, United Way agencies and other child-serving agencies.

Juvenile Court Judge Michael Key and Diane Pope, President of the Autism Hope Center in Muskogee County, will help facilitate the discussion.

The hope is the listening session will allow agency and system leaders to have a better understanding of what autism is and how it impacts individuals and families in the community and with that understanding, strategies can be developed to serve and support these individuals and families better.

All child-serving agencies in Troup County are invited to come and listen and along with the community at large.

Autism spectrum disorder, often referred to as just autism or “on the spectrum,” is a complex, lifelong, neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by communication and social deficits, and restricted interests.

Judge Key said that the listening session isn’t just about juveniles with autism; it’s for everyone. 

“Last fall we started seeing more adults, and certainly more children, that appeared to be on the autism spectrum and we were just woefully inadequate of even identifying and in many cases, much less serving them,” Key said. “We started doing some research on it, making connections, going to training and trying to implement some things around here to serve that population better.”

Key said the agencies at the listening session want to hear from those with autism, their caregivers, family members or anyone in their lives who can give incite to help.

Learning to recognize those on the autism spectrum can help give them the help they need when dealing with police or the courts.

“There are some people that are on the spectrum that are very high functioning, extremely bright people,” Judge Key said, “It’s hard to recognize even.”

The judge said that he has had to learn to recognize symptoms so he doesn’t hold it against juveniles in his courtroom. Some people with autism do not make eye contact, which can be seen as disrespectful. 

Autism has increased in frequency in the United States with the latest estimates from the CDC showing that 1 in 36 children currently meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder by age eight years, more than are affected by diabetes, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, AIDS, Down syndrome, and muscular dystrophy combined, per the Center for Disease Control.

The increase has led child-serving agencies and systems in Troup County and the Troup County Trauma Responsive Community Collaborative to take steps to better meet the needs of these children and their families. 

“It just makes sense to do this work within the Collaborative for two reasons. The infrastructure (the Collaborative) is already in place, comprised of the same agencies and systems that would be involved in the work around autism, and children and families impacted by autism bring with them a significant level of trauma not experienced by the general population. It is important for agencies and systems to implement trauma-informed care to minimize additional harm and create a culture that promotes healing while addressing families’ specific needs around autism,” Judge Key said.

The listening session will be held in the Juvenile Court courtroom from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The meeting room will also remain open for thirty minutes after the conclusion of the session to allow for some networking time.