Local Autistic Children’s Group Continues To Provide ‘Love And Support’

Local Autistic Children’s Group Continues To Provide ‘Love And Support’
The Cork Bar in downtown Ocean City donates funds annually to the group that patrons tape to the bar’s ceiling. The group presented the establishment with a plaque of recognition. Pictured, from left, are group co-founder Wendy DiBuo, Mark DiBuo and Treasurer Mary Jock. Submitted Photo

BERLIN – When Wendy DiBuo’s son, Mark, was diagnosed with autism in 2000, she and her husband didn’t know who to turn to for support.

So together, in 2001, they formed the Autistic Children’s Support Group of Worcester County, a volunteer-led, parent-to-parent support group that guides families living with autism and related development disorders to local resources.

“We wanted to meet other people that had children like Mark, so we started the group,” she said. “What we found was that autism does not discriminate. It can happen in any family.”

DiBuo, a parent-to-parent support coordinator, said the group initially started small, but featured parents who were bankers, physicians, salespeople and full-time caregivers.

“There were people with so many talents,” she said. “The group was just full of love and support.”

By 2002, the support group became a nonprofit organization and soon developed lasting partnerships with local government agencies, the school system and businesses.

“It gives us an opportunity to let parents know what the possibilities are and what local resources are available,” DiBuo said. “Sometimes it’s a matter of asking if they contacted the health department, or the Child Find system through the local schools, or places that have good developmental pediatricians.”

Because many parents don’t know the resources available to them, DiBuo said seeking help for their children can be an overwhelming process.

“It’s a tick-tock situation, where they needed the services yesterday versus a year from now,” she said. “So we help them think outside the box because raising a child with autism is a lot different than raising a typical child … It’s a lot to take on as a relatively new parent.”

In addition to support group meetings and guidance to local resources, DiBuo said the nonprofit also offers family outings and financial assistance for children with special needs. To date, she said, the group has provided funding for therapeutic services, special education classrooms, equipment and camps, as well as a summer work program and college scholarships for students with disabilities.

“Our goal is not to be a money-making operation,” she said, “but it does help.”

Since 2002, DiBuo estimates the group has raised a total of $350,000 through donations and fundraisers and more than $75,000 through the nonprofit’s can campaign.

“It originated because we wanted to have a newsletter, which costs money, and we wanted to be able to have a library of books and resources …,” she said. “So my father suggested a can campaign.”

DiBuo said the nonprofit has several donation cans in businesses and convenience stores throughout the area including at the Cork Bar and Grill, which her family owns and operates. Through this grassroots effort, she said, the campaign fully meets the needs of the group.

“It’s exciting how generous people are,” she said.

DiBuo added that the Cork Bar also collects money for the group by allowing patrons to tape money to the bar’s ceiling. She noted that it often takes her family an hour each week to remove the dollar bills – and on occasion $100 bills – that are left there.

“All of this money goes back out into Worcester County through the Autistic Children’s Support Group,” she said.

Though she has stepped down from her leadership position in recent years, DiBuo credits parent volunteers for enabling the group to grow.

“I’m so proud of the group and the people that have carried on the mission of the organization,” she said.

DiBuo encouraged parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder to seek help and support.

“We want everyone to know that they are not alone and that there is support out there,” she said.

It was through support and local resources, DiBuo added, that Mark was able to get the help he needed. Today, he is completing a history degree at Liberty University Online and has plans to become an online history professor.

“To the teachers and people that helped me along the way, thank you,” Mark said. “To the people that didn’t believe in me, I’m going to continue to prove you wrong. And to the families and kids that have autism, don’t ever give up.”

For more information on the Autistic Children’s Support Group and links to resources, visit www.acsgwc.org or join the nonprofit’s closed Facebook page.

“Sometimes parents are overwhelmed,” she said. “So it’s important to have a support group like ours to guide and navigate them. Everything that we do is free.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.