Autism & Special Needs Resources in the Lowcountry

Today's post is written by Sarah Fitzellen, my best friend of over 30 years. When I moved to the Lowcountry in 2010, Sarah had just had her second son, and my second Godson. Through the years of being in different cities, we traveled back and forth, made numerous phone calls, and checked on the invention of teleportation on a daily basis. Last year, my dreams came true and Sarah moved to the Lowcountry. Read below for her excellent reasoning. This woman deserves Mother of the Year, every year.

Sarah:

I moved to the Lowcountry in May 2014, to give both of my children opportunities I could never imagine existed in the small city we’d left in Southwest Virginia. In particular, I was looking for better special needs services for my oldest son, Jesse, who has high functioning Autism. Here are some of the things I have come to find amazing and truly love about the special needs services for a child with Autism (or other special needs) in the Lowcountry.  

Amazing Public Schools
Charleston County School District (CCSD) has been good to my family. We were blessed to move to the Mount Pleasant, SC, area which has very highly rated schools. I have found a welcome and wonderful educational system within the department of “exceptional children” at CCSD with a phenomenal program of dedicated resource teachers, support staff and principals who are willing to listen and help each individual child. I have always felt “in touch” with my son’s team and I know exactly what is going on. My voice is heard and I am as much an integral part of his education as any other. With the help of his 7th grade resource teacher, my son is now independent in all of his classes and is thriving. I feel incredibly grateful every day for each of his teachers and other staff members who are making my son a successful student and human for this world. I could not do it without them. 

As a note, I also hear fantastic things about many of the private schools in this area and many of Jesse’s peers attend Trident Academy and Bishop England High School. As parents in the Lowcountry, we are lucky to have choices for our children.

Special Services
When we moved, my greatest hope was that my son could have some services that we had not had available where we previously lived. And I was happily surprised at the variety of services available in the Lowcountry that we had not previously tried before. Of course, there is physical, speech and occupational therapy (and at many locations in every neighborhood, all over Charleston and beyond), but now we suddenly had the opportunity for Social Skills groups, like the one that Jesse attended through Project Rex at MUSC and is now attending at the Early Autism Project here in Mount Pleasant. Also, when we first moved here, we were disappointed to find out that ABA Therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) was only offered to children under 11 in SC, but, last year in February, the law changed and Medicaid must cover all children for ABA Therapy up to age 21. My child will also be receiving this service for the first time. This seems like a HUGE triumph for us, as he was initially referred for behavior therapy when he was 8 years old and there were no providers in the Southwest Virginia area. He has waited 7 years to get this service that he has deserved and needed desperately. We can’t wait to start this therapy through the Early Autism Project in Mount Pleasant this month.

Support
One of the greatest resources that I have found for me, as a parent of a child with autism, is a support group (I didn’t have to create on my own!) sponsored by EAP (Early Autism Project). Every Second Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. they host a support group at their Mount Pleasant branch which is fantastic. Every month they have a different speaker come in and talk to the group about different services available in our area. We have had speakers from the Charleston Autism Society, Lowcountry Autism Foundation, Estate Planning, Medicaid Planning, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) assistance, etc. Without this help and support, none of what I have been able to do would have been possible. 

Activities
Since moving, we have tried to take advantage of any and every activity that comes up that we didn’t have before. Last January, my son got involved with the Mount Pleasant Parks and Recreation Department and the Unified Sports that they offer. Unified Sports are linked with Special Olympics. Shelli Davis is the director here in Mount Pleasant and does a fantastic job. In January, Jesse joined the Piranhas swim team and in May swam in the Summer Games of the Special Olympics, which was an amazing experience. He has also played basketball, softball, kickball and is currently playing soccer through the Unified Sports leagues. Additionally, Jesse enjoyed a golf clinic this summer through Lowcountry Autism Foundation which was a free clinic at Patriot's Point. 

Moving Forward
Lastly, there is so much science and innovation around us in the Lowcountry. There are many doctors and scientists wanting to understand the 'why' of Autism and wanting to make sure we make our kids feel whole in this world. Every September, the Lowcountry Autism Consortium has the world's largest FREE autism conference. I attended this conference a few weeks ago and was blown away. Look it up and plan to attend next year. Again, it’s free, but the wisdom you gain is worth more than gold. 

For more information:
http://www.lafinc.org/
http://lowcountryautismconsortium.org/
http://earlyautismproject.com/
http://www.ccsdschools.com/Academic/ExceptionalChildren/index.php
http://www.projectrex.org/