Grandparents’ autism group slates third picnic
Dr. Shirley Craven (left), a Skokie grandmother, created a support group for grandparents of autistic children. She has worked with Mary Rios of Autism Speaks. | Mike Isaacs ~ Sun-Times Media
GRANDPARENTS UNITED FOR AUTISM
What: Third annual intergenerational picnic
When: 12 p.m.- 4 p.m. Sept. 9
Where: LaBagh Woods, Grove 2, Foster and Cicero Avenues, Chicago.
RSVP: By Aug. 24 to Chicago@autismspeaks.org or by calling (224) 567-8573
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:06AM
SKOKIE — Dr. Shirley Craven of Skokie came to a realization six years ago that changed her life: There has to be other people out there going through the same difficult experience.
That experience involves being the grandmother of a child with autism. She reached out, networked with different people and formed Fearless Grandparents Against Autism, now called Grandparents United For Autism.
The group will hold its third intergenerational picnic from noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 9 in LaBagh Woods, Grove 2, Foster and Cicero Avenues, Chicago.
Three generations of families are expected to attend the event, which is a testament to its success and the void it fills.
For Craven, the picnic is the shining example of why she formed the group.
“I felt so alone and sad that I didn’t have anybody to talk to about this,” she said. “It’s not something you can talk to everybody about. It’s a delicate topic. Other people don’t understand. I don’t understand it myself. I couldn’t talk to my children and burden them with my thoughts because I wanted to help them.”
After asking people to her home for the first time six years ago, she quickly learned that she was right — there was a void that needed filling.
Grandparents came and have been coming from all over — from nearby communities like Morton Grove and Niles, Glenview and Deerfield, Highland Park and Northbrook, Wilmette and Arlington Heights, Oak Brook and Oak Park and Oak Forest, Cary and Wheeling, Evanston and Chicago.
But also from Rockford and Tinley Park, from Little Beach and Brookfield, even from towns in Wisconsin.
“I knew I had honed into a void and filled that void,” she said about the response. “No one was paying attention to the impact autism has on grandparents.”
That first group of about 18 came with pictures of their grandchildren and spontaneously talked about how they felt when they first learned that their grandchild was autistic. It was both emotional and heartfelt without Craven intervening too much.
One major source in launching Craven’s group was Autism Speaks, a resource group which publishes a regular newsletter. Craven advertised her new group there, which was mostly responsible for bringing many of the dozen-and-a-half grandparents to her home from so far away.