Jamie Upshaw of Hazelwood says it was hard to get a proper autism diagnosis for her youngest son. She says it was even more difficult to find the proper resources her family needed when the diagnosis was ultimately made. Upshaw has since started her own support group, called Autism Urban Connections.
She spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Elaine Effort as part of our series 90.5 WESA Celebrates: 90 Neighborhoods, 90 Good Stories.
Below are excerpts of their discussion.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Jamie Upshaw discusses her motivation for creating Autism Urban Connections following her son’s autism diagnosis:
There was nothing out there that was geared toward our African American community. So, I just kind of jumped in head first and started Autism Urban Connections, and we've been going strong for four years now. We actually incorporated as a nonprofit in September 2018, and we're looking to continue to move forward.
We offer online supports. We offer workshops. We do two annual events. We do a lot of outreach in the communities and partner with a lot of organizations. We do a monthly meeting groups, and we actually do that three times a month.
Upshaw on what parents of children with autism need most after a diagnosis:
In most cases, I've found we all kind of need that shoulder to cry on. Maybe we're happy that somebody listened to us, and we finally got the right diagnosis. Or it may be that we're going through the grieving process because we had these hopes and dreams for a child that—now their future is kind of altered.
Then I also found a lot of families need resources—wraparound services, service coordination. We can guide you in the right direction to get you any services that you need; may it be medical assistance, social security, early intervention. We're here to provide the resource and the assistance to help you get what you need.
I hone in on self-care for my parents and caregivers. That's one of my biggest things at AUC. Self-care is imperative for our parents and caregivers. Because if we're not taking care of ourselves from the top, we can't work our way on down to the bottom. We have to make sure that we're caring for ourselves. And that means putting our best foot forward, whatever that may be for you for the day; everybody measures up differently. Don't compare yourself to what another parent is doing. Your measure of success is different than somebody else's. And, wherever you're at, we're willing to meet you, to help you. We want you to be your best self, to be that best parent for your child.
Why Upshaw feels compelled to share her knowledge and experience with parents and families in similar situations:
I remember a good friend of mine said to me, "What good is knowledge if it's not shared?" I want to share everything that I know. If I can teach somebody to be a better them, to not have to fight so hard in a system that is really hard fighting. If I can help them navigate that in a little smoother capacity, I'm here. I want them to be able to get what they need.