Free support group for grandparents of autistic kids

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Free support group for grandparents of autistic kids

When a child faces a mental health challenge, the entire family is impacted. But while people may sympathize with parents and siblings, they often forget that grandparents also struggle with feelings of sadness and helplessness.

That’s why North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center (the Guidance Center) runs a free support group just for grandparents whose grandchildren are on the autism spectrum: GASAK, for Grandparent Advocates Supporting Autistic Kids.

GASAK’s mission is to support, inform and advocate for grandparents with autistic grandchildren. At meetings held on the last Thursday of each month, GASAK participants network and share information on issues critical to families impacted by autism. New members are welcome to join at any time.

While the program isn’t new, it recently returned to in-person meetings at the Guidance Center’s Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center in Manhasset after being virtual since the start of the pandemic.

While there are many programs for parents of autistic children, few if any address the specific issues that come up for grandparents, said Dr. Sue Cohen, Director of Clinical Services at Right from the Start. “Sometimes the parents are overwhelmed dealing with their children’s needs,” she said. “At GASAK meetings, grandparents can share their own concerns with their peers.”

One GASAK member said, “A lot of times your friends can’t relate to what you’re going through, but when you walk into the GASAK group, you feel comfortable instantly. Nobody judges you.”

The program occasionally features guest speakers, including education lawyers, social workers, special education advocates and others. “When a grandparent leaves a meeting,” said Cohen, “they walk away with information that can make a huge difference in the lives of their children and grandchildren.”

But the camaraderie members experience is perhaps the most important benefit of the group. Case in point: one grandmother who has two autistic grandsons who were nonverbal until they were three years old. When one of them said “Mom” for the first time, the GASAK group celebrated her good news. “There is such compassion among members,” she said. “And by sharing our worries as well as our joyful moments, we give new members hope.”

In addition, the Guidance Center provides a variety of therapeutic services for children on the autism spectrum, as well as their parents and other family members. They also provide testing for preschool-age children to young adults.

To learn more about the GASAK group and the testing services, contact Cohen at 516-484-3174 or email scohen@northshorechildguidance.

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