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Virtual autism support group gives parents a lifeline during pandemic

Brandon Lowery talks via Zoom about his meaningful connection to his virtual support group for parents of children with autism.
Posted at 6:53 AM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 06:58:21-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Brandon Lowery’s son Kaleb was diagnosed with autism at two years old, shortly before the pandemic began.

“A lot of chaos, kind of in the mix with trying to set up therapies and what direction to move in,” Lowery said, recalling the uncertainty and stress after Kaleb’s diagnosis.

Once COVID restrictions started, in-person support groups were not an option.

The circumstances drove the Autism Society of Southern Arizona to form a virtual ‘Parent-Peer support group’ that meets once a month.

“We knew that we had to do something in support of families in need,” said executive director Brie Seward. “Families were isolated, as we all know. Lost a lot of therapies, lost their school supports. Their routines.”

Lowery says his insurance provider introduced him to the online support group, and he joined soon after.

Brandon Lowery's son Kaleb.
Brandon Lowery's son Kaleb.

“Kinda just threw myself in and said ‘Hi, I’m Brandon and here’s my situation,’” he recalled. “And I instantly felt really connected to that group of people. They were super welcoming. They were very attentive, letting me kind of just talk and say ‘Hey, this is where I’m at, these are some of the concerns I’m having, give me as much advice as possible.”

“You connect with parents that are going through a similar experience so their knowledge helps you along the way,” Seward explained. “And you can create a sense of unity and community through that.”

Lowery says through the group, he’s learned that every child with autism is different, that there is no exact formula for how to raise his son.

“That really opened up my eyes to try and understand my son more,” Lowery said. “I realized that I wasn’t gonna be given any shortcuts… Ever since then that’s kind of how I’ve approached the situation with my son is I’m really open to hearing about what has worked and what hasn’t worked and trying whatever I can that’s going to help him kind of navigate life.”

The meetings are led in part by a bilingual informational referral specialist.

“She’s able to say ‘Let’s talk tomorrow about that question that you had,’ or ‘Let me email you a resource on that therapy or that program.’ So she’s really in tune the families’ direct needs,” Seward said.

That, combined with hearing from other parents, has given Brandon more confidence and more ideas about how to help Kaleb.

Brandon is now very involved in the support group and was eventually asked to be an official co-host.

“I gained so much in the last year from this group that when I see, especially another father who might feel kind of lost in the same aspect that I did when I first joined, that I want to make a point to make them feel welcome,” Lowery said. “Whatever battle we’re facing, it’s much easier with the support of other people.”

Those other parents have helped him gain a new perspective on raising a child with autism.

“In the beginning I had maybe more of a selfish attitude about how this was going to affect me and my life: ‘This is definitely not traditional. There’s gonna be things I may not get to do with my son that I had looked forward to my whole life,’” Lowery said. “But this is gonna be just a different journey. And I really need to embrace that. And since I’ve had that attitude, being much more optimistic, I’ve discovered things about my son that I would just not give up for the world, that I may not have ever gotten to experience or maybe I would have taken for granted had I not been sent down this path, too.”

To learn more about the Autism Society of Southern Arizona's programs, you can click here.