TUCSON, Ariz.(KGUN) — Autism Acceptance Month starts this weekend, and one Tucson organization is helping adults with autism adjust and socialize at the same time. The Autism Society of Southern Arizona is working to bridge the gap for people living with autism with programs and initiatives. Board member Eric Stark says the challenges with social interactions in his life started in preschool and he had no idea why.
"I didn’t have a lot of friends and it affected every day of my life. I was playing with a group of children, and I always felt all alone. They were including me and yet I wasn’t included, I didn’t feel like I belonged because I couldn’t be on the same wavelength as them. They played as a group and I played as an individual. I couldn’t understand why that was, I wanted to be part of the group, but I didn’t have the skills." Stark said.
As Stark grew up, he says there were some tough challenges he had to work through as a teen and eventually as an adult.
“For most of my life I was in this deep dark hole of depression,” Stark said. "I saw no way out, I felt hopeless and worthless. I couldn’t understand why I was different then the kids around me. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was way into adulthood. Then suddenly it was an ah-ha moment that explained so much.” Stark said.
Time went by and Stark learned how to navigate his way through the world. Through his process of success and self-awareness and understanding, he landed a job working with the public and wanted to help others expand their horizons. That new sense of self inspired him to become a key part of the Autism Society of Southern Arizona.
"People who have a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, their brain is just wired differently than the average person. They see and perceive the world differently,” Stark said.
Not only did Stark become a board member of the non-profit, he also facilitates the adult social club. It's a way to get more people on the spectrum to socialize in a safe space. Around 25 people participate in monthly events both online and in person to connect and talk about life.
"We do everything, we interact and play games online,” Stark said. "We also share our interests and hobbies and sometimes we have deep discussions about what it means to be different and how people can cope with those feelings." Stark said.
Right now, there are over 3.5 million people in the United States on the autism spectrum and that's why Stark wants to continue to do his part to help others live their best life.
“I just want people to be the people they were meant to be, and whatever is going on in their lives, even if its barriers or challenges, they can be so much more, "Stark said.
Adult social club meetings are scheduled for the third Friday of every month from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the next meeting is set for April 15th.
Learn more at as-az.org/social-club/
Shawndrea Thomas is an anchor and investigative reporter for KGUN 9. Shawndrea is living her dream as a journalist who’s passionate about making a difference. Share your story ideas and important issues with Shawndrea by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.