By Chelsea Meuleman

The Autism Society of Acadiana, an organizational chapter of the Autism Society of America, was created to enable care and encouragement to all members as well as to provide the education and support towards real people who have been affected by autism in one way or another.

Founded in 1985, this organization was started by a group of parents and professionals who formed together, wanting to share information about their autistic children. Now years later, the Autism Society of Acadiana has become a successful organization, with plenty of information and education on anything there is to know about autism.

“The organization was a great help, especially when my child Catherine was first diagnosed with autism at the age of two. After going to the meetings for a while, I felt like I belonged there. I made friends, became part of the advisory board, and felt very comfortable there,” said Vickie Nettles, co-facilitator of the Lafayette Parish support group. Vickie Nettles is the mother of 16-year-old Catherine Nettles, who was diagnosed with autism at two years old.

According to Nettles, the Autism Society of Acadiana was a great organization and treatment program for her daughter Catherine. When doctors first diagnosed her daughter as autistic, Nettles did not realize how many other people were out there going through the same situations. Some of the symptoms Nettles started out experiencing before becoming diagnosed were things such as delayed speech, tantrum behavior, aggressiveness, and would not engage with other people. At two, her daughter said few words, but mainly was able to sit, stand, walk and crawl.

“Catherine, now at age 16, has progressed tremendously from the time that she was diagnosed with autism. With the support of our family and voicing my opinion at every conference and support group, it has changed how I deal with people and given me more self confidence,” expressed her mother.

There are many events and group meetings that are held within the Autism Society of Acadiana. The 3rd Annual Walk for Hope took place on Saturday, March 28 and was a big success. There were more registered participants than ever before. There were many smiling faces, music, dancing, food, and a great time of fun. The Walk for Hope was and continues to be a great aspiration to the Autism Society of Acadiana and all chapters of the Autism Society of America.

“The numbers of registered participants have drastically increased since the first Walk for Hope, three years ago. I was the chair leader of the first walk, and I am happy to still participate, seeing more and more people each year,” said Vickie Nettles.

There are also other events that take place during each year in support of autism. On June 22, there is the LASARD Autism Summer Institute in New Orleans, on Nov. 6, 2009, there is an LA State Autism Chapter Conference with speakers that include Linda Hodgdon and James Ball, Ph.D. For more information on upcoming events, there is an ASA newsletter Web site, known as www.acadianaautism.com. To find out more information about Autism in general, visit the Web site at www.acadianaautism.org.

Vickie Nettles expressed, “Coming from experience, if someone in your family has autism, the first thing I would recommend is to learn everything that you can. There are many books out there to explain everything. Secondly, I would contact the autism chapter and get involved. You’re all in it together, and it is a place to celebrate success. No one will quite understand like we will and are glad to help.”