Parenting is never easy, and the only way to hopefully secure a success story is through a foundation of unconditional love. No matter what happens – even a diagnosis of autism for your 18-month old child – the love must remain unconditional.
Kelly Andrus and husband Brandon weren’t totally shocked when they heard the word autism applied to their older son, Bradley. Like most parents, they paid close attention to their child’s mental and physical developmental skills. “He hit all his milestones until a year old,” Kelly said. “Then, he just stopped.”
She had begun researching autism as a possibility. “We took him to his regular doctor, who sent us to an autism specialist. He confirmed the diagnosis,” Kelly said. “At least we had identification and could move forward to get our baby the help he needed.”
Kelly had never encountered autism among family or friends. All she knew was what the doctors told her and what she learned online.
“I needed to find a support group quickly,” Kelly said. “But I had no idea how difficult that would be. They were too far away, or they were the wrong age dynamic, or any number of other problems.”
Kelly knew how to be proactive. She’s currently a graphic designer for a large home builder, but she also has founding and operating a bulldog rescue for over 10 years on her resume.
“I emailed six groups for a get-together,” she recalled. “That was good, but it was confusing. I started a Facebook page and online chat with just six other moms. That went well, and soon we had more than 1,000 members. Those numbers validated the need. We just expanded organically, so we decided to move into a 501c3 non-profit format. That meant establishing a board and crafting a mission statement.”
The mission statement for AUsome Moms is specific and straightforward — To provide support (mental, emotional, physical, financial), social opportunities, and education to the families of children on the autism spectrum throughout the DFW metroplex, to support moms in the community and to make a positive impact in their lives and the lives of their children. Only mothers of, and/or caretakers of, children on the autism spectrum are approved into the group.
“We’re a volunteer grassroots organization,” Kelly said. “We hold Resource Fairs with education and holistic medicine panels. We’re funded by donations, T-shirt sales, and a silent auction in September that raises $10,000 or more.” This year, AUsome Moms were also awarded two grants – one for $5,000 and one for $10,000.
“Texas has very few resources for people affected by autism. Most of us live by lists we’re on for helpful resources.”
Autism is a complex condition with a vast array of symptoms. Bradley, as an example, is verbal but non-conversational. He’s able to communicate his basic needs and feelings, but he’s unable to engage in a back-and-forth conversation about them or anything else.
Some autistic kids have extreme behavioral issues, even violence. Some are completely non-verbal. Others refuse to be touched. One child has taught himself to speak six languages. There is not a “one-size-fits-all” treatment or medication. Each case requires individual behavioral analysis followed by the teaching of specific coping and communication skills.
“One thing most people don’t discuss is who cares for these millions of kids when we, their parents, pass on?” she asked. “Sooner or later, it becomes a government issue for many, and the government isn’t ready.
“Bradley is nine, and we’re blessed that his autism isn’t worse. We’re also blessed to have a second son, Wilson, who is four. At least I know Wilson will look after Bradley when Brandon and I are no longer here. We are so grateful for that.”
How does AUsome Moms use the money it raises? They help pay for ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) classes and other necessities for families that are struggling financially.
“We want to give these moms a place to talk and to learn, to reinvigorate and recharge themselves,” Kelly said. “We want to celebrate them. Some haven’t been out of the house for months at a time. We have the Super Mommy Awards with dinner and gift bags. They must have adult encouragement.”
Remember, AUsome Moms began with six members. Today, there are 9,000. They are family and friends. They are loving and grateful and generous. In a word, they are AUsome.
Facebook.com/Ausomemoms (open group)