In 2021, Northeast Arc’s Autism Support Center launched a new group for Cambodian parents. The group is led by Sreya Shepard of Groveland. In celebration of Autism Acceptance Month, Sreya shared her story and why she has chosen to facilitate this new support group.

My name is Sreya Shepard. I was born in Cambodia and moved to the United States in 1989. I was eight years old at the time. I learned how to speak English through school and continued to speak my native language, Khmer at home with my parents and other family members.

Currently, I am married and have two sons. My youngest is autistic. He was diagnosed at the age of two years old, back in 2014. I remembered it well. The brochures, pamphlets, and listing of resources were there but I was unsure of where to start.

I learned about the Northeast Arc because it was clear my son needed early intervention services. So, the relationship began shortly after we learned about his diagnosis. He had therapists going to his daycare and working with him. They worked on his speech, fine motor skills, and feeding.

Sreya Shepard with her family standing in front of a Christmas tree

Sreya Shepard with her family

It’s been eight years now and I have continuously accessed the Northeast Arc for a variety of services as my son develops and our family needs change. The Autism Support Center and Family Resource Center have been central in helping me discover help, resources, and connections. I have attended parent training workshops and family activities. I have also received flexible funding to help meet my son’s needs because it wasn’t covered through our insurance.  I also learned about Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and made sure to apply for my son and be counted. Lastly, I have engaged in the parent support group. The Northeast Arc has several parent support groups that bring caregivers together to share experiences and wisdom, and occasionally a night out together to provide fun, community, and respite.

The parent support groups are continuously growing. I was fortunate to be asked by Gloria Ricardi Castillo, Northeast Arc director of Family Support Centers to facilitate a support group back in October. It was clear to Gloria and I that outreach to Cambodian families was needed. To do so we needed to have interpretation and be intentional about cultural sensitivity. We addressed both of these needs by partnering with CMAA (Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association) Monorom Family Support and their program coordinator Leakhena Vong.

Helping to facilitate the only Cambodian Support Group for families living with autism is very personal to me and has been a work of giving back, community, and love. Representation, language, and culture all matter. I hope that we don’t see it as a deterrent but as an invitation to learn, support, and share.

The first Cambodian Parent Support Group launched on November 4, 2021, via Zoom and it was a success! We had six moms join. The group meets monthly, usually the first Thursday of every month from 6:30-8:00 PM via Zoom for now. Hearing fellow moms saying they don’t feel so alone anymore and can talk about autism without the stigma is a big deal. Sharing resources so we can learn how to also take care of ourselves along with our kids is crucial.

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