Mental health forum engages community autism discussion

Several community members gathered at the Daniel Boone Regional Library Thursday night for a discussion on autism and autism spectrum disorder. (Megan Sanchez/KRCG 13)

Dozens of community members gathered at the Daniel Boone Regional Library Thursday evening for a discussion on mental health, specifically autism.

Children's Grove hosted the event which featured a panel of experts from the Thompson Center. The event was co-sponsored by the League of Women voters and Daniel Boone Regional Library.

Children's Grove is a Columbia-based organization that creates awareness surrounding the mental health needs of youth. The organization created the Children's Grove in Stephens Lake Park - a child's garden designated as a remembrance for all children that have met harm in any way.

The Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders is a nationally known center that helps diagnose and treat individuals with autism and autism spectrum disorder.

Panelist Alicia Curran serves in several roles at the Thompson Center. Autism awareness became a passion and eventually career for her after her son, Sam, was diagnosed with the disorder.

"It was really tough at first," she said.

"There was no Autism Speaks. There was no Thompson Center. We lived in a rural community with very little resources, so it was very scary. I had no knowledge of autism whatsoever, but the more I learned about autism the less scary it became."

Curran along with three other people who work for the Thompson Center answered questions from the panel's facilitator Dr. Steve Kanne. He is the executive director of the Thompson Center.

"Events like tonight help us so much to be able to get the word out and have an open discussion," he said.

"It's not anything to be afraid of. It's not stigma. It's just a thing that happens, so let's talk about it. People have so many questions about it. They have so many myths about it that we're able to debunk."

Curran said knowledge is where action begins. She said she hopes people will take the conversation and let it spring them into action.

"I learned very quickly that knowledge is power, and I made a personal decision that I didn't want any other family to experience the devastation and ambiguity that I did," she said.

"Take the plunge," she said.

"Let's have employers help these individuals. People with autism have everything we have to offer it just looks a little bit different in some than it does others, but they all have a meaning."

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