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      Pike County man creates autism awareness group to help people connect

      Taylor Sweeting and a co-worker.

      Almost one and a half million American adults live with an autism spectrum disorder.

      In fact, it's the fastest growing developmental disability in the country, according to Autism Speaks.

      But there's a man in Pike County who has made it his mission to make sure no one experiences autism by themselves.

      Taylor Sweeting was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at a young age.

      He founded Puzzlebox, an autism awareness/support group, and shared in his own words his experiences with autism.

      "Certainly growing up in Pike County, I understood that there was a lack of awareness of autism, and it didn't seem like it was something that a lot of people talked about. I know personally for me growing up with it, I wish that I'd had more support and people to be there to talk about things and to kind of be there to connect with other people," Sweeting said. "I made it kind of my goal to create an awareness group that would allow for people to connect to each other and to find a common ground, so that everyone doesn't feel like this is something that they're having to deal with by themselves."

      "One of the things that I want to really emphasize with this group is autism is all about stepping out of your comfort zones, and your boundaries and expanding to everything that you can do and beyond, and that's what I hope this group does for people," Sweeting said.

      "Growing up, it was not a very well known topic, autism. So it kind of was one of those things that you know you kind of pushed to the wayside, hmmm, we don't really talk about that. And so I was kind of told to be somewhat hush hush about that, you know, my whole life. As a whole, you know society was not very open about autism," Sweeting said. "When I started realizing that not only is autism a common thing, but that there are people, even within my own community that are affected by this same condition, I thought you know we need to get together. We need to get together, we need to share our experiences and we need to feel like we're not the only ones fighting this."

      Sweeting invites anyone in the Tri-States to attend the group meetings, whether you know someone with autism, or you have it yourself.

      The Puzzlebox meets on the third Monday of every month at the First Christian Church at 225 N. Memorial St. in Pittsfield, and the group will next meet on Monday, November 18th.

      Doors will be open starting at 6 p.m., and the meeting will start at 6:30 p.m.

      If you cannot make it to the meetings, or would like more resources on autism, you can contact Sweeting by calling 217-370-8142, or e-mailing taylor.sweeting@yahoo.com.

      He is also available for guest-speaking for professional conferences, or educational presentations on autism.