Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Jardim Lindoia, in Porto Alegre, Brail, recently started the “Support Center for Families of Autistics Kids,” a space created to bring together those who live and take care of people with autism.
In two different rooms, one for meetings and the other filled with toys, crayons and paper for drawings, family members and children are cared for by volunteers who are dedicated to provide an open environment of fellowship. The project, created by Gissele Aguilar, aims to make people feel welcomed in the Church. “This space was an old dream we had, because we saw these families and their children needed the support,” she explains.
Aguilar says the idea came to her six years ago when her son Isaac was diagnosed with autism. Since then, she never stopped imagining a place where other parents could share their experiences and create a bond of friendship. “Often, parents and families end up being lonely because many people who do not have children with the disorder can’t understand what they go through,” she says.
The Center also helps bring together families who attend the Adventist church and others who have never been or know much about the denomination. “We are a family here,” says Aguilar. “In this place they can share their experiences, their dramas and, also, their victories. The important thing is that they know that they can always count on us.”
The Support Center is the fulfillment of the Projeto Incluir, or Inclusion Project, created by Aguilar. The initiative also develops awareness campaigns for autism and helps to dissemnate correct information, as lack of information can become a huge problem.
According to Gissele, the Support Center will also provide rides and leisure time for parents and family members who participate. Aguilar wants to provide them a moment of recreation and relaxation. “We will have walks with them because most families cannot even go out with their children because many places are not suitable, or because they are fearful. So we want to unite everyone and make them feel like they're in a big family,” she says.
Jose and Claudete Cardoso also helped Gissele organize and to turn her dream into reality. Jose, who is pastor of the Adventist Church in Jardim Londoia, believes this work is one of the roles Adventists can play in society. “We understand that the church needs to be a space, not just for worship, but an open space for the community,” he said. “We realize that autism is not a very understood illness in our society, even though there is large number of people with the condition. So we saw this as an opportunity to bring the parents into the church and also give them support, because that is a very delicate matter.”
Claudete and José are also parents of an autistic child. For Claudete, the presence of other people in the same condition in the center is a constant learning experience. “Actually, that's the most important part. Here we are learning, because we are a group of people who understand each other. I believe that this is a very important moment for us, parents, and for the children,” she points out.
What is Autism
According to the World Health Organization, Autism Spectrum Disorder is a condition of neurodevelopment that affects a person's communication and social interaction. Those who are autistic usually present restrictive and repetitive behaviors. However, the degree of difficulty in interaction and autism itself varies greatly from person to person.