Did you know that, according to the Autism Society of America’s Facts and Statistics page, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder?

To put 3.5 million people into perspective for you, it’s the entire estimated population of the state of Connecticut in 2014.

Yet even though the numbers are growing and autism awareness is too, there’s still a frustrating amount of misleading autism advice, misinformation, untrustworthy autism support, and prejudice in America today.

Here at FirstPath Autism, it’s our job to gather and share the best possible information, research, and tips for you. But in this post, we’re addressing some of the worst pieces of advice we’ve ever heard.

Why? Because we know that, if you haven’t heard them yet, you probably will soon. If you can recognize and identify bad advice for what it is, it loses power.

That said, in many cases these bad pieces of autism advice are unspoken. They’re the implied, hinted-at undercurrents of conversations that leave you unsettled and frustrated.

So today, we’re bringing them out into the light so that you can see them for the falsehoods that they are.

Bad Advice #1 – You should allow your entire identity be subsumed by your child’s autism. As a parent of a child with special needs, you must be a saint, preferably of the martyring kind. 

Where is this coming from?

Along the same lines, you may hear comments such as, “I don’t know how you do it,” or, “I could never do it.”

Where’s it coming from? Most likely, this attitude is coming from an acquaintance who doesn’t know how to relate to an autism family.

This person may have never met someone with autism, and they are afraid of what they don’t understand. They can’t imagine what it’s like for you to love your ‘different’ child unconditionally, so they see you as very self-sacrificing.

Don’t buy into it.

You might take the educational route, saying, “Look, I’m not an angel, I’m just a mom who loves her kid. But I understand that parenting a child with autism can seem daunting if you haven’t done it. If you’d like, I’d love to tell you more about my son.” Then share stories of your life together, demystifying your experience.

If you don’t want to get into the topic, you might simply change the subject in a lighthearted way. You could say something like, “Trust me, I’m only human. Want to hear about how I almost burned down the house trying to cook dinner yesterday?”

#2 – You need to find out exactly why your child has autism, so that you can have something or someone to blame. 

Where is this coming from?

This idea may arise from family members who feel upset at the loss of the neurotypical child, grandchild, niece, or nephew they expected.

Perhaps news of the diagnosis took them by surprise, and now they’re seeking answers and a sense of control. They may not realize how hurtful their attitude is.

The answer is now.

Gently remind people that autism is complex, and that researchers are only just beginning to understand its significant genetic component.

Emphasize the idea that what’s important is to love and support your child right now, today. Put your focus on loving and supporting your child and securing support to help him or her grow and develop.

#3 – Since your child has autism – poor thing! – you need to smother and over-parent him/her.

Where is this coming from?

Probably a helicopter-style parent, or a person who pities all individuals with special needs. It may come from someone who is afraid for your child’s future and believes that he needs everything done for him.

Refer to the experts.

Remember that fostering independence is essential to good parenting. Remind yourself and others that your child is capable of learning, and persist in teaching him to navigate the world for himself.

As Temple Grandin says in her Huffington Post interview, “Temple Grandin On the Secret to Success for Kids with Autism,”

“For these kids with autism, I’m seeing them getting too coddled. I’ll go to an autism convention and a ten year old comes up to speak to me, and the mom does all the talking. I want to hear what the kid has to say.”

#4 – You need to tell everyone you meet about your child’s diagnosis and medical history, in great detail. 

 Where is this coming from?

This may come from someone with a gossipy streak, perhaps a friend or family member who doesn’t see the value in discretion.

Trust your instincts.

Recall that your child’s diagnosis is medical information, best shared on a need-to-know basis. Autism is a part of who your child is, yes, but it isn’t the whole story.

In some cases, saying, “My son is on the autism spectrum,” can build a bridge between people. In other cases, it’s unnecessary, even counterproductive. Trust yourself to know the difference.

#5 – Maybe it would be better for your family if your son was sent away to live … somewhere else.

 Where is this coming from?

Fortunately, comments like these are rarer now than they used to be, but many people – particularly those who grew up in the era of institutionalization – still believe that people with developmental disabilities should be separated from their families and communities.

In all likelihood, this person hasn’t spent much time with anyone with autism. They probably can’t imagine how amazing your son is, and how much you love him.

There may also be an element of concern for you, and a desire to spare you the difficulties that come with being ‘different’. Beneath the ignorance lies simple fear of the unknown.

Be honest.

Respond as firmly and honestly as possible. You might say something like, “Our child belongs with our family and in our community.” Preferably with a bullhorn.

The truth is, you’re not only a parent, you’re also an advocate. By loving your child and including him in your community, you’re making the world a better place.

It may not seem like it, but you’re making a difference. You’re doing your part to ensure that these bad pieces of advice won’t be around for future generations. And for that, we thank you.

Did you know that using schedules can alleviate agitation and promote self-determination for children with autism? It’s true. Parents of children with autism agree that using visuals to explain a child’s schedule makes a big difference in both their children’s home life and educational experiences.

As Catherine Davies notes in her Indiana Resource Center for Autism article, “ … A parent was asked to share the most helpful thing that she had tried with her son (a 15 year old with a diagnosis of high functioning autism). She replied that a visual schedule has been the key to increasing his independence and managing his anxiety.”

Coupled with social stories, visual schedules can help children with autism to thrive in a classroom environment. Social stories feature brief overviews of common social situations, along with tips on how to communicate, respond to cues, and engage in safe behaviors. Visual schedules employ pictures and text to outline a series of planned events.

These tools help students with autism by presenting necessary information in a clear, understandable way. They render abstract concepts concrete, allowing students to focus more easily. They also break down complex tasks into single steps, thereby reducing feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.

Plus, they are useful for an entire class, and teachers use them in both mainstream classrooms and special education settings. In this way, these tools promote an atmosphere of inclusion. Though they’re particularly effective for individuals on the autism spectrum, most students can benefit from them.

As we wrote in our recent post, visual tools “play to the strengths of students with autism, whose cognitive processes often differ from those of neurotypical students. They facilitate greater learning and independence for students on the spectrum because they present information in an accessible format.”

At FirstPath Autism, we’re committed to helping students learn and grow through ABA, but we also realize that what happens outside of an ABA session matters tremendously too.

As such, we’ve put together this list of tools so that you and your family can practice on your own.

In our years of experience as ABA clinicians, we’ve seen that the most effective interventions are simple, direct, and user-friendly. All the tools listed below are available in free as well as paid versions, so you can choose the best option for your child and your budget.

Tool #1: The Head Start Center for Inclusion’s Free Tool Kit 

The University of Washington’s Head Start Center for Inclusion website features a wide array of printable templates designed for teachers and students with autism. The site is a treasure trove of materials designed by professors of early childhood education and special education.

The Head Start Center’s mission is to promote inclusion or “the full and active participation of young children with disabilities in everyday settings,” and their resources empower educators and parents to do just that.

Click here to view and download The Head Start Center for Inclusion’s collection of free stories, and click here to peruse and download their free visual teaching tools such as schedule templates, classroom expectations, emotions charts, and more.

Tool #2: The Autism Speaks Visual Supports Free Tool Kit 

This extensive directory includes links to free online services that allow you to create your own social stories and visual schedules. Most resources are custom-designed for autism families.

For example, you might visit Autiplan and make a free printable or electronic visual schedule, or hop on over to Do2Learn’s Social Skills Toolbox for visual support templates such as behavioral thermometers, circle organizers, decision-making guides, and more.

You can also download Autism Speaks’ free four-page guide for an overview of first-then boards, visually-set parameters, and what to do in case challenging behaviors arise while using visual supports.

Click here to visit Autism Speaks’ website and explore the Visual Supports Tool Kit and resource list.

Tool #3: The TouchAutism Social Stories Creator and Library  

If you’d prefer to use an app, TouchAutism offers one via iTunes. With this tool, you can customize your stories and schedules with your own photos and voice recordings too.

At present, the free version of the app allows you to save two free stories; if you like the interface, you can upgrade to the pro version (predesigned stories are also available for purchase).

If you decide to upgrade, you’ll be able to print, upload, and email your customized stories, making it easier to share them with the rest of your child’s school support team.

Click here to visit the TouchAutism site and download the free Social Stories Creator and Library.

Do you want to facilitate your child’s education and social development? Then pick one of the resources listed above and download a free visual support today.

While you’re at it, take a moment to comment below and share your favorite tool with us! That way, more autism families can find and access these free tools and help their children succeed too!

In the United States, IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. But for many parents and guardians facing their first meeting, the letters “IEP” might as well stand for Intensive Experience of Panic.

The IEP is a legal document outlining the learning goals of an individual with autism or another disability. Essentially, it’s an accountability measure that ensures teachers, clinicians, specialists, parents, and other supportive figures each do their part to facilitate a child’s education.

If you’re getting ready for your child’s first IEP, know this: there’s no need to stress out. In fact, there’s a great deal that you can do ahead of time to prepare for the IEP meeting.

Preparation beats panic any day of the week. So with that in mind, let’s run down a list of suggestions to help you feel ready for your child’s IEP meeting.

First, address the basics. 

Check and double-check the meeting date, time, location, and other relevant details. Plan to make a positive personal impression by dressing appropriately (business attire is ideal) and arriving early. Build margin time into your schedule for traffic, parking, and other unexpected delays.

It might sound obvious, but we’ve seen many an IEP meeting delayed by team members who wrote down the wrong date, showed up late, or drove to the previous year’s meeting location.

Likewise, review a checklist of items to bring with you to the IEP, and pack evaluations, progress reports, and schedules well in advance. Not sure where to start? Understood.org offers this free list of what to bring to an IEP meeting.

Next, check in with yourself. 

What do you envision for the IEP meeting, and how are you feeling about the prospect of attending? Are you imagining the IEP as a time to vent grievances, or as a time to partner with your child’s team in coming up with productive solutions?

As a parent, your emotions and beliefs help set the tone for the meeting, so it’s important to approach the IEP with a spirit of collaboration. If you come into a meeting with a posture of defensiveness and hostility, you could set up a difficult dynamic for the whole team.

As the Wrightslaw post, “8 Steps to Better IEP Meetings: Play Hearts, Not Poker” notes, “When parents feel like they have to battle educators for benefits, they lose confidence in those educators. When parents lose confidence in their educators, those educators (who are often acting in good faith to do an extremely difficult job) feel unappreciated.”

When you approach an IEP meeting from a place of contention, no one wins, least of all your child. So consider yourself as one member of your child’s support team, and value the contributions that others make to your child’s education and development.

All of that said, the IEP is an important time to discuss your child’s challenges, as well as any gaps in their current educational experience. So don’t shy away from tough topics. Instead, make a list of your concerns and ideas.

In doing so, make sure to include several positive observations for your fellow team members if possible. If your child’s ABA clinician or teacher is doing a great job working with your child, speak up and say so! It’s helpful to give credit where credit is due.

In addition, enlist the help of a supportive person to attend the IEP with you. 

There are a plethora of wonderful autism resources, professionals, and others you can enlist to help you with your first IEP meeting. You might choose a family friend, a specialist, or a fellow parent who has experience with attending IEPs … anyone who you feel can contribute to the discussion. Just be sure to let your child’s case manager or school know about the attendee ahead of time.

Zero in on what matters most when it comes to setting goals. 

Before the meeting, brainstorm ideas and narrow down your list to present the essentials to the team. Our free IEP checklist is a great place to start your planning.

As UNCO.edu’s website says in their “How Can Parents Prepare for an IEP Meeting?” page, “Parents should decide what they think are the three most important goals, skills, or strategies to implement or work toward for the child in the coming year. While we want much more for our children, by narrowing the focus, it helps all the team members stay on target.”

In turn, think about your child’s educational goals in terms of measurable practicality and daily data collection. The clearer and more concrete the goals, the better the IEP.

“I want my son to learn to be more polite,” is a vague, non-specific goal, whereas “I want my son to say ‘Please’ when making requests of his teacher, 75% of the time,” is much more concrete and actionable.

As the Wrightslaw post cited above says, “Make sure [IEP] goals are realistic, specifically stated, and penned in layman’s terms. As the school year unfolds, the team can look at these goals to objectively assess the child’s progress. To this end, IDEA requires that the goals as they appear on the IEP form must be something that can be objectively measured.”

Remember to request a copy of the completed IEP.

Be faithful about following up with any other post-meeting action items. As you do so, know that the IEP is a living document, meant to be revisited and revised often.

For example, if your child’s support team agrees to try a new behavioral strategy or scheduling change and it doesn’t work well, you can request changes to the IEP.

Finally, download FirstPath Autism’s free IEP Readiness Checklist.

In it you’ll find:

  • The answer to, “Who and what comprises an IEP Team?”
  • Special factors to be considered for your child with Autism. written by Amalie D. Holly, Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
  • An explanation of timelines and rules with regards to signing an IEP.

Download our free IEP Readiness Checklist

 

Do you know why flight attendants regularly remind parents to don their own oxygen masks first in the event of an emergency, before assisting children? Because it’s counterintuitive. It goes against the parents’ instinctive response, which is to help their child first.

But, if parents fail to put on their oxygen masks, they put both themselves and their children at risk. This reality holds true both in the air and on the ground: parents need to take care of themselves in order to provide safe, effective childcare.

At FirstPath Autism, we know that the first post-diagnosis days are difficult, and finding autism support for parents can be tricky. We’re familiar with the questions that run through every parent’s mind: How did this happen? What do we do next? Am I doing all that I can for my child? And what about the rest of our family? Where will we find the time?

While every individual with autism is different, we know this to be true: the investment you make in your own support during this time will pay dividends for years to come.

Wondering where to start? In this post, we’ll outline several key ways for you to receive support in your parenting journey.

Find a Support Group

Though autism prevalence continues to climb, a diagnosis can trigger feelings of isolation. As such, connecting with fellow parents and receiving support is particularly essential in the post-diagnosis period.

When you and your family are figuring out how to navigate the new world of autism spectrum disorder, it helps to connect with people who empathize. When you’re feeling alienated from friends and family, you can turn to a support group to find common ground, vent, or just get much-needed information.

We know you may be asking, ‘Do I need to attend an in-person group when so much information is available online?’ While it’s true the internet makes it possible to do extensive autism research from the comfort of your home, if you can get out we think you should give it a try! There is no substitute for interacting with fellow parents.

Plus, families in your area have valuable experience with government programs, school systems, non-profits, and more. Local parents have a wealth of information about how to advocate for your child in your specific town or city. It’s much more efficient to ask questions of fellow parents than to try and figure everything out alone.

Approach support group interactions with an attitude of discernment, but don’t be afraid to query families about their experiences in the post-diagnosis period and beyond. Most likely, they will be eager to pass along the knowledge and insights that they’ve gained along the way.

What’s the best way to find a group that meets in your area? Check the state-by-state Resource Guide provided by Autism Speaks, and The Autism Society of America’s Autism Source Online Directory. You can also Google “autism parent support in (your geographic region)” and check MeetUp.com and other social networks as well.

How can you tell if you’ve found a “good” group? Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Autism Blog writer Katrina Davis, BA, lists desired group qualities such as a small size, an equal distribution of authority, and the creation of a safe space.

Explore Free Online Resources

If you have internet access, you have a plethora of free autism resources at your fingertips. Here are just a few well-known, trusted websites to get you started:

  • The 5 autism resources listed in our recent blog post are free, concise, and readily accessible. This is a great place to start.
  • Autism Speaks offers free online Family Support Tool Kits, with packets designed specifically for parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends. The Parent Support Tool Kit discusses stressors specific to mothers, fathers, and single parents, and it includes a step-by-step guide to building a strong support network for your family. The Tool Kit also addresses frequently asked questions regarding respite services, inclusive faith communities, financial assistance, and more.
  • In addition, Psychology Today blogger Dr. Darren Sush is a licensed clinical psychologist and behavior analyst. His ongoing “All The Pieces”column offers resources and support for parents.

Learn to Separate Fact from Fiction

It’s sad but true: some autism service providers make unsubstantiated claims and false promises. As a parent, it’s your job to discern what’s best for your child, and that includes deciding which protocols are worth your family’s time.

As Caroline McGraw notes in her Lowcountry Autism Consortium blog post, “How to Sift Through Autism Therapy Options”, “Even in this time of increasing awareness [and] research, and therapeutic possibilities, autism remains a territory of tremendous unknowns …. However, there are some very good options, especially when an early diagnosis is made. Most of these options center around Applied Behavior Analysis.”

ABA is a safe, effective intervention for behavior modification. As a 2007 study published in Pediatrics (the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) states,

“The effectiveness of ABA-based intervention in ASDs has been well documented through 5 decades of research … and [in] controlled studies …. Children who receive early intensive behavioral treatment have been shown to make substantial, sustained gains in IQ, language, academic performance, and adaptive behavior as well as some measures of social behavior, and their outcomes have been significantly better than those of children in control groups.”

In short, ABA is a proven method for supporting the social and behavioral development of individuals with autism.

Furthermore, the Pediatrics paper also emphasizes the importance of parent and family support. Its authors note that, “Parents and siblings of children with ASDs experience more stress and depression than those of children who are typically developing or even those who have other disabilities. Supporting the family and ensuring its emotional and physical health is an extremely important aspect of overall management of ASDs.”

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out as a parent, plug into a support system. When you address your own concerns, you’re empowered to advocate for your child, too.

Let FirstPath Be Your Partner in Success

The choice to seek support for yourself is one of the most powerful decisions you can make as an autism parent. When you seek out relationships and resources that empower you, you give your entire family a boost. We created the FirstPath program to bridge the gap between effective ABA services and individuals with autism, and our training videos allow you to educate yourself as you teach your child.

Think of the best present you’ve ever received. What made it so wonderful? Chances are, that memorable gift made you feel seen, known, and valued. Accepting a well-chosen gift from a trusted friend triggers a sense of renewed strength and hope.

When your child receives an autism diagnosis, it’s important for you and your family to receive specialized support and encouragement. Feelings of disorientation and isolation are common in the post-diagnosis period, but know this: you are not alone.

1 in 68 children in America have an autism spectrum diagnosis, and that number continues to climb. Millions advocate for autism awareness and support each year, and myriads of free resources are available to you as a parent.

That said, you probably have plenty of work and family responsibilities without adding in extensive online research. As such, we’ve compiled a user-friendly list of essential resources for the post-diagnosis period. Consider it our gift to you.

At FirstPath Autism, we’re committed to standing with you through every stage of your child’s development. We understand the challenges of an autism diagnosis, and we’re here to help. All of the autism resources listed below are free, concise, and readily accessible.

1. First, check out “After the Diagnosis”, a four-page introductory Autism Society article by Carin Yavorcik. Practical and concise, it’s a helpful place to begin as you navigate the post-diagnosis period. The piece encourages you to begin thinking creatively about next steps, and serves as a crash course in peer support, pediatricians, funding streams, self-care, autism advocacy, and more.

“The single most consistent piece of advice you’ll get is to find other parents who have been through the process. The services available through any given school system, local and state government are about as varied as people on the spectrum, so it’s important to talk to people who have similar challenges to your loved one with autism, and are dealing with them in the same geographical location.”
– Carin Yavorcik
2. Next, be sure to explore the free Family Services Tool Kits provided by Autism Speaks. We recommend downloading the free 100 Day Kit, created especially for newly-diagnosed families of young children with autism. The kit includes chapters on family dynamics and autism services, as well as form templates and a week-to-week calendar to help you track everything you’re doing to support your child in this time. If you need a comprehensive game plan for you and your family, this is the resource for you.

“It took everything I had to have that conversation, but it was such a relief. This other mom was reaching out to make a connection – to find someone else who struggles on a daily basis like she does – something I myself had been desperate to do for weeks and months. I was instantly welcomed into a community of people who ‘get it.’”

– Alysia K. Butler

3. In addition, review the Partington Behavior Analysts Newly Diagnosed? page. This well-respected organization offers a framework for post-diagnosis evaluations, which will help you to identify skill gaps and develop a plan to teach your child. Read this piece for an outline of physical, educational, and developmental concerns, and links to helpful assessment tools as well.

“Don’t put-off the educational program while you explore medical issues! It is very important to have both programs working simultaneously. Get started immediately on learning how to teach your child.”

– Partington Behavioral Analysis

4. For daily doses of inspiration, check out The Mighty. The site features real-life stories of special needs families who turned their challenges into opportunities for personal growth and public service. The Mighty was created to “improve the lives of people facing disease, disorder, or disability”.

You’ll face difficulties in your parenting journey — after all, what parent doesn’t? — but you’ll have moments of tremendous grace, too. For a hope-filled glimpse into the life of a parent of a young son on the autism spectrum, read this post by Tricia Rhynhold.

“And I want you to know that because of you I can get through another day. Because of you I can get through another appointment. Because of you I can take more stares and more questions. Because of you I have hope for Timothy’s future.”

– Tricia Rhynhold

5. Finally, this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our very own FirstPath video library! Our collection includes fifty-plus professional ABA videos, created to help your children succeed. Topics covered include social skills, transitions, inappropriate behavior, safety skills, and much more. Plus, we offer a live helpline, staffed seven days a week.

FirstPath Autism – Are you feeling alone and overwhelmed in the wake of your child’s autism diagnosis? Are you frustrated by the lack of effective, accessible services available to you?

If so, you’re in the right place; FirstPath Autism is here to support you and your family. Our program is designed to bridge the gap between families and trained ABA specialists. We empower children to reach their potential and interact successfully with their peers by providing families and professionals with access to clinically-based support.

FirstPath’s full website launches Fall 2015, but before we do we’d like you to know 5 things about our program:

1. FirstPath Autism is your Autism lifeline. 

We offer online ABA-based video training for parents and care providers of children with autism, but in reality, we’re much more than that. FirstPath Autism is a service with the potential to transform your family’s daily life. Our lessons facilitate developmental strides for children and peace of mind for parents and care providers.

We are offering research-proven autism support. So, if you’re dealing with daily meltdowns, anxiety, challenging behaviors, or you just need more autism help, we are here for youDownload our helpful guide to managing a meltdown and sign up for notification of our launch. Soon you will have access to FirstPath Autism’s video library and the power to reduce challenging behaviors.

The best part? Our offerings serve as an introduction to ABA for individuals who have never received services, yet they’re also a helpful resource for individuals who currently receive ABA. FirstPath Autism can be a starting point, or supplemental reinforcement for an existing learning process.

2. FirstPath Autism identifies with your struggles and celebrates your triumphs.

It is tremendously difficult to parent a child on the autism spectrum, but it’s rewarding, too. Individuals with autism are uniquely talented, and capable of significant contributions to their families and communities. FirstPath’s ABA program is a scientifically-based way to allow that potential to unfold.

FirstPath Autism founder Romina Kiryakous is an autism pioneer who has dedicated her career to mitigating challenging behaviors. Along with her team of Board Certified Behavior Analysts at the Genesis Behavior Center in central California, she has worked for over ten years to develop a unique, highly effective, ABA research based approach.

Romina and her team have helped hundreds of children with ASD over the years. Individuals who were once unable to make eye contact are now smiling and talking with the help of ABA clinicians.

We know that your child’s tangible gains mean the world to you. That’s why Romina founded FirstPath Autism: so that more children can receive ABA and connect with the world in new ways.

3. Our ABA helpline provides live, personalized support.

What’s one of the best things that you can do as a parent to help your children progress? Receive support yourself. As a FirstPath Autism member, you’ll also have optional access to a live helpline staffed by autism professionals. You can ask autism therapy questions and receive real-time guidance on your ABA journey.

We understand that having a child with autism can be an isolating experience, and we are committed to supporting you every day. You are not alone.

4. You have complete access to FirstPath Autism’s blog which is full of free autism resources.

FirstPath is launching a blog to cover topics relevant to you and your family. We’ll take on social skills, emotional regulation challenges, ABA therapy tips, sensory processing disorder information, autism news, and more. You can count on us to share relevant information and educational resources through new posts each week.

5. FirstPath Autism serves the needs of many.

At FirstPath, we help individuals from preschool through high school age, and our clinicians are qualified to help children with many neurological diagnoses, including:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Emotional disturbance

In fact, we can even help neuro-typical kids experiencing difficulties related to teenage rebellion and tasks such as homework. Our team believes that behavioral analysis is like physics; it works with everything. 

So, don’t miss out on free resources, support, and an exclusive free trial. We believe in your children, and we believe in you.

 

Lastly, if you’re brand new to the FirstPath community, please take a moment to leave a comment and say “hello!” We can’t wait to get to know our growing community.