Support groups set

Published 9:42 pm Monday, August 13, 2012

The Up Center in Suffolk, with Obici Healthcare Foundation funding, is running free support groups to improve dads’ parenting skills and the social skills of autistic children.

Dads Make a Difference, part of a nationwide initiative, runs 6-7:30 p.m. Thursdays at the center’s 109 Clay St. office.

“Fathers play an important role in children’s lives,” said The Up Center’s Mary Brantley,

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“Dads have something they can bring into a children’s life that even the best mom in the world can’t.”

The group is open, so men can join at any time. It contains three main threads, Brantley said: parenting skills, communication skills and developing values with children.

Communicating with both the child’s mother and the child are important, she said.

In terms of values, “We always ask (fathers), ‘Was your dad around when you were growing up?’”

Many fathers whose own father was not present can struggle with instilling appropriate values in children, she said.

The group is open to all types of dads, Brantley said. “We have dads come in on their second families and decide they want to do it better this time,” she said. “We have dads who never married (and) dads just given custody of their children.

“We have a variety of dads attend for a lot of different reasons.”

The Autism Social Skills Group runs 6-7 p.m. Mondays at the same location. Groups run for six weeks, and Brantley said the next one will probably start Sept. 10.

Children learn social skills and parents are offered support and resources, she said.

“How to say ‘Hi,’ how to start conversations, (and) what to do if someone asks a question” are examples of lessons for child, according to Brantley.

Parents learn what other resources are available in the community, how to navigate the school system, and how to handle interactions between autistic children and non-autistic siblings.

Brantley said the next group would probably be focused on ages 8 to 14. Parents interested are encouraged to pre-register, and can contact Brantley for the necessary paperwork and to organize an initial face-to-face meeting.

“We do need them to be verbal so they can interact with other children,” she said.

For more information, call the Up Center at 622-7017.