Cherry Hill moms Debbie Schmidt and Christy Carlson started the nonprofit Just2Moms in 2007 to raise awareness of autism. What started with an assembly at their sons’ school, Woodcrest Elementary, has quickly grown into something larger.
Schmidt and Carlson are not professionals, but just two moms who want to help people understand autism and how it can appear different to everyone. Beginning with Schmidt’s autistic son being bullied, over the next 15 years, the pair spread awareness at schools and public events in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York. April marks Autism Awareness Month.
“When my son was diagnosed, there were no books at Barnes and Noble on the bookshelf that we could buy,” Schmidt recalled. “The internet was just beginning. We were breaking new ground, and that was a huge thing to try and seek support.
“It was really difficult in the beginning to find people who were also going through what we were going through.”
Schmidt and Carlson have now decided to end their school appearances and focus on adult audiences.
“When our kids were in elementary school and middle school, it was a lot easier to talk to a kids’ audience and have them relate,” Carlson explained. “Now that our kids are older, we don’t really want to talk about our adult children with kids.”
When the women began Just2Moms, their kids were 10 and 5: Schmidt’s son is now 26 and Carlson’s son is turning 21. Their approach with adult audiences is to provide one-on-one support, address staff training sessions, and connect with parents and caregivers.
Just2Moms does not diagnose or make referrals, but provides a parent’s perspective as it listens to issues faced by parents and caregivers. While a licensed professional might use a formal presentation, the two moms speak more off the cuff. In their school assemblies, they often included a video made with Schmidt’s son and his fifth grade to help explain what autism is.
One in 44 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, and it is four times more common among boys than girls, according to the CDC. Schmidt described autism as a neurological challenge that can affect everything from social and emotional skills to communication and language skills.
“The thing is, our kids are amazing,” she said. “They just have some things that are difficult on certain parts of the day or many parts of the day. They still want to have friends, they still want to play sports, be amazing people in the world. There are things that stop them from doing certain things and that’s what people need to understand.”
“Individuals with autism continue to make wonderful and important contributions to the world with their out–of-the-box thinking and unique way of looking at the world,” Carlson added. “However, sometimes they may need help in how to best communicate their thoughts, feelings, ideas and needs in a way that others will fully understand and value.”
To learn more about Just2Moms, visit www.just2moms.com Schmidt and Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.