New Haven mother starts ‘Total Joy Are You’ autism-support group
Help for families on the autism spectrum
NEW HAVEN >> Tracey Foskey has always embraced her 11-year-old son’s autism, and now she’s spreading that positivity to others in a support group that allows parents to share resources and, on some weeks, give the kids a way to socialize.
Foskey calls her group, “Total Joy Are You,” – acronym TJAY - because her son’s name is Troy Jr., nickname T.J.
And she really does consider him a total joy, although Foskey remembers early on being “overwhelmed,” as a single mother, by the behavioral challenges.“Yes they are (total joy), they’re unique. They’re different, but they’re not less,” Foskey said. “They just learn differently… For me it’s a blessing.”
The group meets the first Friday of the month at Panera in Hamden and welcomes people from all communities. Kids meet every other month at Stetson Library to do crafts. So far, they have anywhere from four to eight parents and on kids’ days, about 15. For more information, email Foskey at email@example.com.
Foskey, a social worker for the state of Connecticut, said Troy was diagnosed at 3 years old and she went into fast action to get him services because the younger you start, the better the outcome. It is not uncommon for parents of children with an autism diagnosis to spend time in denial.
The most important lesson Foskey has learned is “Not to take ‘no’ for an answer,” while advocating for a child’s educational services.“
You have to fight for your kid,” she said. For instance, Foskey was successful in advocating to get Troy a paraprofessional in third grade.
She said she told education officials, “I would rather have a para than to have my son or some other child get hurt.”
Today, Troy, an energetic sixth-grade honors student, is mainstreamed and pulled out of class for special education services.
Foskey said she used to feel like when they were around typical children, she had to have Troy act like them.
She got tired of that and wanted to meet with others who had kids on the spectrum, so she started the support group in 2015.
“I think having the support in a situation like this is the best thing you can do,” she said. “People can relate to what others are going through.”
In addition to the meetings, they have play dates and social gatherings.
They get together mainly to “embrace autism,” share stories and resources.
Sometimes they deviate from the schedule or location with guest experts, such as recently when they met at the Center for Speech and Learning on Edgewood Avenue, where speech and language pathologist Alida Engel spoke about comprehension.
Mothers at the meeting at Engel’s office said one of the most challenging parts is dealing with other family members who ask questions such as: “Why isn’t he potty-trained yet?” and “Why won’t he eat solid foods?”
One young mother said a family member suggested maybe her young son has autism because she didn’t take her prenatal vitamins.
Engel, in an informative presentation, told the group that being able to read or decode words is different from comprehending them.
Engel said comprehension is complicated and that parents of kids on the spectrum should talk about the pictures and in some cases use different words than the ones in the book to explain concepts.“It’s about teaching and telling,” Engel said.