Darien mother with autistic child uses experience to aid others
Updated 2:57 pm, Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Relocating your family overseas can be a difficult endeavor, but when the transition is further complicated by your 2-year-old son's autism diagnosis, the impact is life altering.
Grace Ann Baresich was adjusting to living in Geneva, Switzerland, when her son, Alec, was diagnosed with autism.
"He was very typical kid," Baresich said. "He had age-appropriate levels of language and was actually ahead in some areas."
However, without any warning, Alec suddenly stopped speaking.
"He had somewhat of an overnight regression and we don't really know what happened," Baresich said.
Trips to numerous doctors yielded only speculation that Alec's austism could have been a result of having too much measles virus in his system.
"It was almost like he went deaf over night," Baresich said. "It took four years before he made a sound again."
The family was only in Switzerland for a year when Baresich's moved back to Connecticut. During that time, her husband continued to commute to Europe for his job while Baresich set up a home schooling program for Alec.
"I did the home schooling and I also drove him to Manhattan which is one of the reasons we moved to Darien," Baresich said. "Alec is doing really well and he is a really happy kid."
Only a year ago Baresich began the process of setting up a website, autistictraveler.com, to share her wealth of information about raising a child with autism and let other parents know they don't have to stop living their lives to deal with autism.
Starting a website wasn't the easiest project for Baresich who worked for years in financial services and then began selling real estate.
"I built the site myself and I don't have a tech background," Baresich said. "I've had to rebuild it three times and I stayed up all night when I first launched it."
One of the main endeavors of the web site is to offer advice for parents with autistic children who still want to be able to travel.
"Honestly, helping other people with their autistic children eases the pain," Baresich said. "I get emails from all around the world from parents who ask me how we still travel with an autistic child."
Baresich's lack of technological experience hasn't stopped her site from being a success.
"The number of hits I get is incredible," Baresich said. "I had 1,000 hits in one day."
Each day Baresich dedicates a few hours to reading and responding to questions.
One of Baresich's favorite questions was from a dad in Canada who wanted to know how he could take his child to Disney Land.
"I always tell parents they need an exit plan and a place of comfort," Baresich said.
Baresich also field a questions from a grandmother in Colorado who wanted to take her grandson to New York City.
"I put them in touch with some contacts I had in Colorado who could give them ideas about where to go and what to do," Baresich said.
The New York Center for Autism recently contacted Baresich to become a corporate sponsor to help raise money for a new facility.
"Besides the facility, there will also be vocational training and residence housing," Baresich said. "On June 5 Autism Speaks will host a walk which will raise over $1 million."
Raising an autistic child takes its toll on the entire family, Baresich said. Besides Alec, she also has two older children who initially struggled with their younger brother's disability.
"It was hard for the other kids at first," Baresich said. "Now my daughter does fundraising for autism organizations."
Despite the challenges, Baresich still finds certain situations humorous.
"I took my son shopping the other day and I realized I couldn't go into the men's dressing room because Alec had outgrown the children's sizes," Baresich said. "I had to call my husband to have him come to the store."
Finding the humor in situations is key to being able to deal with the stress of having an autistic child, Baresich said.
"I've talked to a lot of families in town who have autistic children and they are stressed and exhausted," Baresich said. "But everybody is still able to take a humorous look at the situation; you have to find something that is fun about it."
Having access to the Darien school system has helped alleviate some stress for Baresich who said the schools have always been very willing to work with the students and parents.
As she looks to the future, Baresich is teaching herself to use Twitter and is also creating a Facebook page.
"I'm also trying to get more of a blog going because as people talk about the issue, it is very therapeutic," Baresich said. "Having an autistic child is very hard."
To learn more about Baresich and her work, visit www.autistictraveler.com or follow her at twitter.com/AutsticTravele.