IF YOU GO
DAYTON, Tenn. - Stephanie McClain's 6-year-old son Corey was diagnosed with autism three years ago. She has to rely on a sound or gesture from him, rather than words, to communicate.
She refuses to believe, though, that she'll never hear her son speak.
"That would help him to blossom," McClain said.
A free orientation workshop for people who deal with autism is set for Tuesday at the Rhea County Welcome Center in Dayton. McClain said the workshop interests her because of the unknowns that families face when their children are diagnosed and the uncertainty of changes that may come.
McClain said her oldest son, Tanner, 8, and daughter, Madison, 5, have helped with "looking out for Corey." She said there have been good and bad days helping Corey face his daily challenges, but that she won't allow the "what ifs" to plague her.
"If I did ..." she said, shaking her head without finishing.
On a recent visit to Pendergrass Park in Dayton, Corey's grunted squeals and an occasional smile in McClain's direction reassured her while he sat in pea gravel and filled his lap. When other children approached, he grabbed McClain's hand and tugged her toward the isolated swing set.
McClain said her goal is to help Corey function on his own one day.
Katrina Casteel, supervisor of special education for Rhea County Schools, said the system has certified 512 children as handicapped, including 24 diagnosed with autism.
Nationally, autism affects one of every 110 children, said Tammy Vice of the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee.
Stacy Porter, coordinator for the society's East Tennessee region, said 11 orientations funded by the state's Tennessee Early Intervention System are planned this year.
The early intervention system is an educational program for families with children under age 2 who have been diagnosed with disabilities or developmental delays.
Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.