Personal successes, challenges drive local Autism Support Group

Original article ran in County Journal periodical, July 2019.
Writen by Travis Silvas, Editor.

In spite of our best efforts, life doesn’t always go according to plan. For Jamie Merrill, her life plans changed drastically when her son, Franklin, was just 6 years old. Following years of speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, Franklin was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

"My heart broke for him and I grieved the vision I had for my son’s life prior to his birth," Merrill recalls of receiving the diagnosis. "I began to accept that his story will be different, but that did not mean less."

Merrill was a single mother of three small children when she moved to Charlotte in 2011. Newly divorced, she made the decision to leave Georgia and the support she had received from groups in her community.

"While we were in Georgia, there was respite and support groups for families identified as having a child with special needs," Merrill said. "I had support, but I was still getting Franklin to and from all his appointments. I couldn’t hold a full time job."

That changed when she moved to Michigan.  

"For the first time he started receiving services in the school system when we moved to Charlotte," she said. "Washington Elementary and their sensory room felt like heaven."

She said she did not have the support group in a traditional sense, but she did have a very supportive team in the school setting.

"I can remember that first child psychiatrist asking me what I wanted for my son after telling me he may never ‘speak or act normally,’" Merrill said. "I wanted him to attend school and have some plan for a future. I was told he may never attend school, but let’s try to see what he can achieve."

Franklin has surpassed the psychiatrist’s expectations, and will be a sophomore at Charlotte High School next fall. Seeing the success her son has had, and understanding the struggles it took to get to this point, Merrill is providing an outlet for the same kind of support she received for Franklin. She facilitates a monthly Autism Support Group that meets the third Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at AL!VE. Their parents, siblings, caregivers and friends can share stories, share resources and find strength in other’s stories.

"I remember how difficult it was to struggle through all of this as a single parent," Merrill said. "Franklin got so many services between 3 years and 6 years that I believe made all the different in his current success." 

The group meets the third Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m. For more information, contact AL!VE at (517) 541-5800.