BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College Department of Education is hosting a weekly support group for parents and family members of children on the autism spectrum. The Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) support group is open to the public and meets on Wednesdays from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Faculty Lounge at Steinman Hall.

Various topics of discussion for the support group include dietary and medical issues, school-based support, state initiatives and sensory-based activities. The support group was started last year as part of the College’s Autism II course and its community outreach has been very well received.

“It’s really helpful for parents to have a support group,” said Paula Webster, parent of a child with autism. “It gives you a place to discuss relevant issues and you don’t feel so alone. I have learned a lot from the topics we have discussed, the different speakers and videos and just by talking with the different families who have all had different experiences.”

Free child care for children with autism is provided by Bethany College Education students under the supervision of Dr. Keely Camden, Chair of the Department of Education. Education students from the Autism II course and several other Special Education courses work with the children on a variety of activities.

“The support group not only provides a forum where parents and family members can get together,” said Camden, “it also gives our students a wonderful opportunity to obtain practical experience working with children on the autism spectrum.” Bethany College is the only institution in West Virginia with a state-approved undergraduate endorsement for autism.

Senior Education Major Keegan Costello of Fairfield, Conn. designs an engaging theme each week with related activities for the children. Activities include sensory-based interactive projects, gross motor and fine motor skill development, books, cooking and singing. Special attention is given to all dietary and allergy restrictions related to food products.

“Keegan does a wonderful job planning and preparing the activities,” Camden said. “The theme last week was ladybugs; the children and the Bethany students had a great time creating edible ladybugs (from gluten- and casein-free ingredients), crafting ladybugs and singing interactive ladybug songs.”

The ASD support group has scheduled meetings for March 5, March 12, April 2, April 9 and April 16. Any tri-state area parent or family member of a child on the autism spectrum interested in participating should call Jill Hicks at (304) 829-7182.