Tenisea Higgins, the president of the Haywood County Chapter of Autism Society of North Carolina, took the time to talk to rumble about her personal story with raising a daughter on the Autism spectrum and how she helped start the local chapter to support other families. Be sure to support the organization on April 27 during the Shop & Dine event. Read more about it below.
Rumble: How did you get involved with advocating and education regarding Autism?
Tenisea: I became involved and interested learning more about autism when my 11-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism days before her 3rd birthday. I spent time reading books & connecting with other parents. In 2016 we moved from a larger city, back to Haywood County. We found that there wasn't as many resources offered in the county or an Autism parents group of any sort. I reached out to the Autism Society of NC in 2017 and that is when the Haywood County Chapter of the Autism Society of NC was founded. It has been a labor of love and I am so glad to see it impacting more families.
Rumble: Do you have a personal connection to Autism in your family you’d like to share with us?
Tenisea: Our first child was a terrible sleeper. She pulled at tags or socks that had seams that rubbed too hard. She was obsessed with books and spent her time lining toys up or placing them in categories, instead of playing with them. She memorized and recited television shows & radio commercials. Going to a public bathroom was terrible. The flushing and hand dryer made my baby scream and cover her ears. She was smart. So smart. Oddly smart. But walked late. Talked late. Didn't play with others often. My husband and I started doing our own research to learn more about autism, after we went to the beach with a close friend and she mentioned noticing some things that made her wonder if my daughter may be on the autism spectrum. She suggested I read a book by John Elder Robison, called "Look Me In The Eye; My Life With Asperger's". That was when a light bulb went off for us. Our baby had autism.
After her diagnosis days before her third birthday, we began a new journey. We did tons of reading, learning, exploring. We tried new things to help her with her sensory difficulties. We pushed her to try new things. We used a visual chart for our daily routines. We worked on ways to cope with changes in schedule or loud noises. What to do if her socks were too itchy, or her tag was rubbing her neck. We also worked on ways to advocate for her and teach her to advocate for herself. Eventually, we became more comfortable in our own knowledge and knew it was time to help others with their own journey.
Rumble: Tell readers about the Autism Society chapter in Haywood County and what services/resources it provides.
Tenisea: The Haywood County Chapter of the Autism Society is one of over 50 chapters across the state of North Carolina. Our chapter has roughly 200 members on our Facebook page and email list. We strive to provide a safe place for families, individuals, and caregivers who are impacted by autism. All of the county chapters are run by volunteers, such as myself. There is also a regional office, in Asheville. This office is staffed and includes services such as ABA therapy and other autism resource specialists. There are also resources for adults and teenagers on the spectrum.
Members may attend our chapter monthly meetings (which have been virtual, but will soon be in person again) on the 3rd Tuesday of each month. These meetings may be a social gathering for families to connect with others, it may be a guest speaker to provide information regarding services, a non-profit that can help provide services, or an autism specialist that can provide ideas for helping with struggles a family or individual may face.
We also have an awesome new Parent Resource Library, which includes informational books, children's books about autism, as well as other items like sensory tools or weighted blankets for families to request, free of charge. This Parent Resource Library was funded by a grant from the Haywood Healthcare Foundation.
Lastly, we are hoping to provide scholarships to several school-aged children this summer to be able to attend a local summer camp, Camp Ability.
Rumble: How can people get involved with those efforts?
Anyone interested in attending a chapter meeting is welcomed to do so! They may join our Facebook Page and follow us for updated events, and to meet fellow families and individuals who "get" autism. We are also always looking for ways to educate others in the public about autism. You may contact us anytime to help provide more information for any groups, etc. Also, since we are volunteer led, we are constantly raising funds for our chapter and the families who need support, whether that looks like a summer camp scholarship, a book to learn more about autism, a sensory tool, or a guest speaker to help provide needed information. Others can donate directly to our chapter here: https://www.autismsociety-nc.org/donate-online/
Rumble: What’s the focus right now in Autism advocacy efforts — research, diagnoses, education, family services?
Tenisea: The Haywood County Chapter of the Autism Society of NC's main goal is to help families get the resources they need, with as little obstacles as possible. The Autism Society's mission includes supporting families and educating communities. We aim to educate everyone regarding autism, which will raise awareness, which will ultimately lead to more acceptance of neurodiversity. Education also means helping get rid of misconceptions of what autism is or is not.
Rumble: Any other big issues or information our readers should be aware of if they’re interested in learning more, getting involved or supporting an autism nonprofit?
Our chapter is growing and continues to grow. I am always looking for others who are like minded and would be interested in helping in a more active role in the chapter. If you're not ready to commit, then please join us and join the "autism tribe" we have found in each other. I am excited to reach more community members who are still not aware that we exist in the county and can be a resource. Please share and spread the word!
Rumble: Tell us about the Shop & Dine event coming up April 27.
Tenisea: Our Haywood County Chapter will be participating in the state-wide event on April 27th. This event will include some amazing local businesses who have registered and will be donating a portion of their daily sales to our chapter directly. These funds will be used to help support our chapter meetings, families, and Parent Resource Library.
The public may support this in two ways:
- If you own a business and are willing to register, contact me directly and we can get you registered to participate.
- Shop or dine at one or more of the participating businesses and help support our chapter!
The following businesses have already registered:
Otherside Hemp – CBD and hemp
Anna’s Kiddie Korner, 7945 Carolina Blvd, Clyde
Papertown Coffee, 119 Main Street, Canton
Soul Sisters Depot, 88 Main Street, Clyde
Stamey’s Heating and Air Repair, 176 Relief Loop, Clyde
Three Oaks Studio, 240 Depot Street, Waynesville
Younique with Melissa Nelson, Clyde