Scott Kramer – “Who or What (or Both) Is Greater Chattanooga Aspies?” – Part II

In Part I, I mentioned about how GCA started and came to be.  In Part II, I’ll go into the rest of GCA and what I see in the future.

Social media has played a big role with GCA.  I have been using it since November 2010, before the founding of GCA. At the time, I wanted to get the word out there that I was creating a group.  I called it the “Chattanooga Autism Area Meetup” for lack of a better name.  I didn’t receive any responses at the time and kept developing the idea of what the group would be like.

In the years that followed, I have used Facebook for the three GCA groups (closed groups) and now the Greater Chattanooga Aspies group (an open group).  April, my fiancee, came up with the idea that I needed to put GCA on Facebook.  Wise idea.  LinkedIn and Twitter are the other two social media sites I use to promote GCA.  I looked at LinkedIn as a possibility for its use as a business networking site for me to reach out to the people in ways that Facebook could not.  I understand totally that the vast majority of people who attend GCA meetings and events live within a 15 mile radius of Chattanooga.  However, the ability to reach out to people who may use LinkedIn for business networking purposes was an opportunity for me to connect with individuals who could know of someone who is on the autism spectrum.

Around the summer of 2014, I began to receive emails and telephone calls from parents.  This interested me greatly.  The majority of the communications were based on two things.  The first was “Help!  My child graduated from high school last year (or a few years ago) and is at home all the time playing computer games.  Do you have a group for young adults?”  The second was “Help!  I’m concerned what will become of my child (the most commonly asked question that parents ask about their young adult/adult children on the autism spectrum).  What resources are out there?  Can you help me?”

After reflecting on this, I realized that a couple of things were needed.  The first was a young adults group.  One of the biggest challenges for anyone on the autism spectrum is isolation.  Because of that overload, that person may want to isolate himself away from everyone else.  The initial mission of GCA was and continues to be to “change the lives of those with AS/autism spectrum disorder – one life at a time.”  Just as I had changed the lives of adults back in 2011, the opportunity arrived for GCA to change the lives of young adults as well.

This led to the parents/caretakers groups – two of them.  I knew that many young adults would be more likely to have transportation challenges than not.  To accommodate young adults so they could attend GCA meetings, I arranged to have one of the parents meetings take place at the same time of their meeting (just in different rooms).  The second parents group takes place at the same time as the adults group (again in different rooms).  This way, young adults and adults can have the opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals, just as parents and others can with others who relate to them well.  This formula has worked well, and I am grateful to my facilitators, Lynne and Molly Ruth, for helping me.

Although things are well in Chattanooga with GCA, other areas in the South are not as fortunate.  Recently, I researched other cities whose population was at least that of Chattanooga’s.  What I discovered is the lack of support and social opportunities that exist in larger cities.  This surprised me greatly.  I reasoned that larger cities would have at least (if not more) support and social groups for adults or young adults on the autism spectrum.  But, that did not happen.

This was no less evident than when I met two individuals who came from another state to attend the Chattanooga Autism Center’s annual conference in 2015.  Both were parents of young adult children.  They wanted to know how to start a parents group.  This will be a continuing trend (along with the creation of other adult/young adult groups) going forward all across this country and in other countries.   Autism Speaks conducted a study, in which 500,000 children this country will reach adulthood within the next ten years.  Think about it.  500,000 future adults.  They will need support and social opportunities like what GCA provides.  My concern is the pattern of isolation that could occur in their adult lives if they do not develop their own support systems.

What will become of GCA?  This is one of the toughest questions I have had to answer.  First, I think GCA will develop additional groups locally.  Common sense suggests that more groups will be needed as the autism population increases in the Chattanooga area.  Second, I envision that I will be consulting with individuals from outside the Chattanooga area who want to start these types of groups in their cities and towns.  The need exists for many communities to have groups like these that do not have them at this time.

Third, GCA will be more involved with employment issues.  The unemployment and underemployment rate for individuals with disabilities (particularly those with developmental disabilities) is beyond 90%.  Supported employment may give some individuals the feeling that they are making money, which is wonderful.  However, many autistic adults, who have Aspergers or high functioning autism and are college educated (and could have a graduate degree), cannot survive on supported employment.  These are individuals who could do a great job in their fields, if a company would give them the support they need to excel in their positions.

Fourth, GCA is in the planning stages to help create an autism collaborative with other groups in the east Tennessee or Mid-South area.  While GCA is doing a good job with building community for adult autistics in Chattanooga, much work is yet to be done.  The West Coast and Northeast tend to be ahead of other areas in this country in terms of helping adult autistics with employment and other services.  I am curious to see what becomes of this collaborative and what direction it pursues.  One idea that is under consideration in the future is a yearly conference in the Knoxville area that is focused on adults on the autism spectrum.

In closing, the answer to who is GCA can be traced to an autistic adult who wanted to “make a difference” in the lives of other autistic adults and young adults, as well as their parents/caregivers.  GCA started with a vision that has enabled these individuals to “build community” around others who are like-minded as them.  In response to what is GCA, its mission statement is two-fold.  The first is to provide support and social opportunities to adults and young adults on the autism spectrum.  Support opportunities include building friendships, raising awareness, sharing information and experiences, developing skills, and connecting with others in a safe and secure environment.  The second is to provide support and social opportunities to parents of adults and young adults on the autism spectrum – so parents and other caretakers can meet others who are in the same situation as themselves and build community and friendships..

I hope this has helped given you a better understanding of what Greater Chattanooga Aspies is, and the difference that GCA wants to make in the lives of others.  If you know of an adult or young adult on the autism spectrum – or a parent/caretaker of them – that lives in the greater Chattanooga area, please refer them to this article or contact me, Scott Kramer, at GCAspies@gmail.com.  If you are looking to create a group for adults/young adults or for parents/caretakers and are unsure of what to do, please contact me.  I am happy to brainstorm with you about creating a group for your area.  Also, if you are looking for someone to speak before your group, organization, agency, firm, company, or other business, please consider contacting me.  Thanks.

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