Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have a difficult time getting away for a few hours. Many children on the spectrum cannot be left alone – even for a minute.
Amanda Henzler of Bluffton has a 5-year-old son with ASD. While he is considered to be high functioning, Declan has gross and fine motor delays, which means he needs assistance with basic tasks, such as dressing, grooming and feeding.
“Because of his special needs, we can’t just ask the random neighborhood kid to babysit,” Henzler said. “We have to sit down and interview people to make sure they are comfortable with special needs and happy to watch our boys.”
Thanks to a local nonprofit that works to enhance the lives of families living with ASD, Henzler and her husband are able to have a date night or spend time alone with their other son once a month.
Lowcountry Autism Foundation offers a free monthly Parents Night Out at Island Playground, located at 1538 Fording Island Road, suite 104.
While the parents get some much-needed respite, their children are well cared for by trained occupational, physical and speech therapists with Lowcountry Therapy Center. The therapists volunteer their time making crafts with the children and playing with them on the indoor playground.
“Parents Night Out gives us a definite night out without the worry of finding someone who can handle the behaviors that come with autism,” Henzler said.
Like Henzler, Cathy Haney of Ridgeland has always struggled to find a babysitter for her son with ASD.
“We always wound up just going everywhere as a family,” Haney said. “Unfortunately, most people do not understand the struggles of dealing with an autistic child and usually assume they are just misbehaving.”
LAF’s Beaufort County program coordinator, Sophia Townes, knows that feeling, and she knows the value of a night off. Two of her three sons have ASD. While she and her husband, George, do not get the night off for Parents Night Out events, they are happy to help other parents who are desperate for a break.
While their sons Jack and Joseph have a blast playing, George helps to guard the door so no children escape, and big brother Russell helps the volunteer therapists take care of the children.
Registration is required to attend Parents Night Out, and space is limited.
For more information, follow LAF on Facebook or contact Townes at stownes@laf inc.org. To register for the next Parents Night Out event, visit lafinc.org/parents-night-out.
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.