A voluntary autism support group in Banbury has celebrated its fourth anniversary as it continues to support families in the town.
Since founder and principal Karen Irvani set up a Facebook page called Parents Talking Asperger’s in March 2012 and held the first group meeting in the sitting room of her Banbury home, the group has continued to grow and now attracts families to its regular Fun Nights/Parents’ Forums, and supports nearly 1,000 interactive members online.
Mrs Irvani said: “It’s been an incredible journey for me personally. Four years ago I didn’t know another parent like me and my son Reza didn’t know anyone like him.
“Today, the group has grown life-long friendships among children, young people and parents. It’s such a blessing.”
In those four years, Parents Talking Asperger’s (PTA) has held six speaker events, won two awards, one at national level, and expanded its support team of volunteers from three to seven.
On Facebook they operate 24/7 and understand the stresses and strains of living with autism in the family. Volunteers are all parents with highly relevant experience in autism both personally and professionally.
Michelle White, PTA volunteer, said: “Karen and PTA came into our lives at a really vital time. They’ve united a community through founding PTA and sharing their precious time, experiences and love.
“PTA’s Pastoral Manager Pastor John Jeffs and Karen’s husband Shahram are also extremely dedicated to supporting all of our families. Karen’s dream when she set up PTA was to unite families in the living of a life wired differently so that nobody need ever feel alone again.
“It’s making such a difference and I’m proud to be part of it.”
The group receives support from the customers of Old Town Deli & Café in Parsons Street who regularly put money into owner Cathi Cooper’s giraffe box.
Mrs Irvani said: “I’m so grateful for the ongoing fundraising which helps us to buy more equipment and games for our Fun Nights. We’ve come a long way in four years. We have fun and share food at our Fun Nights but PTA is so much more than ‘coffee and cake’.
“The going sometimes gets tough and we take calls about a young person wanting to harm themselves due to extreme anxiety. Thankfully, we’ve built firm links with professionals who can quickly step in and advise when things get to this level.
“In the meantime, as a team, we’re going to be undertaking accredited training for counselling to further enhance the support we can offer to parents.”
The next PTA Fun Night and Parents’ Forum is after Easter break on Thursday, April 21 at 6.30pm at The Baptist Centre in Queen Street, Middleton Cheney.
For more details visit www.parents-talking-aspergers.co.uk or find PTA on Facebook.