EARLY YEARS: Two hometown moms on different journeys with autism, but with a common goal

April is National Autism Awareness Month
April is National Autism Awareness Month
Published: Apr. 5, 2023 at 5:28 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Angie McKissick loves to talk about her son, John.

Sadly, John died over six years ago at the age of 14 from complications of a seizure disorder. John also had autism, something McKissick wasn’t familiar with when John was first diagnosed.

“We didn’t know what autism was. We didn’t know any resources. We didn’t any families, any parents, anybody that had a connection to autism. And we were kind of out there by ourselves,” says McKissick.

Listen to this episode of the Early Years Podcast here:

McKissick started learning all she could about the disorder, launching her journey of advocacy.

Now through her work with the Piedmont Autism Action Group, there more answers and connections.

McKissick’s friend, Brooke Cundiff is the mom of 16-year-old, Hayden, who’s on the autism spectrum. She, too, says the diagnosis was a shock.

“I was blindsided. We didn’t know what was going on. We thought at one point, he’s not going to graduate. He’s not going to drive a car. He’s not - so we prepared ourselves that he’s going to live with us the rest of his life,” says Cundiff.

Cundiff says once she connected with the Piedmont Autism Action Group, she found the support she needed.

It’s been a long road, but she says Hayden becoming more independent and even learning how to drive.

“So far, he’s in Driver’s Ed this year, and we put him in a car to try it, and it was amazing. He’s really good at it. But he’s also a rule follower, says Cundiff.

Both moms know first-hand the struggles and rewards of raising a child with autism. It’s why they’re hoping other families will take advantage of educational events, like their group’s upcoming free conference called “Transitions”

“We will have a speaker. We will have breakout sessions. We will have resource tables of vendors set up with different resources. We cannot diagnose, and we cannot give legal advice or medical advice, or anything like that, but we can say here’s where you need to go,” says McKissick.

Both women say the resources are there, but parents still have to advocate for their kids. Even though her son is gone, for McKissick, the work of autism awareness goes on.

“After he passed, I thought about stepping back, but I decided to honor his memory, it’s always been a passion, that I would continue doing this,” says McKissick.

The “Transitions” autism conference hosted by the Piedmont Autism Action Group is happening Saturday, April 22 from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm at Stone Memorial Church in Collinsville.

Call 276-632-2108, extension 1237 to register for the conference.