The YAWS Group: What a Gift

When I first discovered the YAWS group (the acronym for parents of young adults who struggle), I didn’t know what I wanted from it.  I just knew that it was important that I attend, and I expected that I would figure out the why as I went along.  What I quickly came to experience was that it was a safe haven unlike any gathering that I had previously encountered.  Conceived of and led by a courageous temple parent, and with the support of temple clergy, this group welcomes not the struggling young adults who have already had untold opportunities, but their parents who have suffered so much, mostly in silence and emotional isolation.

Our son was in his mid-teens at the time that I discovered the YAWS group.  His Autism Spectrum Disorder (read incurable and life-long), had not been diagnosed until he was 12.  From the time he was six, when we began to worry that his was more than an attentional problem, I had been consumed with trying to understand him and provide him with every conceivable means to have a “normal” life.

Parents who attend the YAWS group have sons and daughters not only with Autism Spectrum Disorders but also bi-polar and other serious mental disorders, severe depression and life-threatening eating disorders, alcohol and drug problems, etc.  Some have been hospitalized; others incarcerated. Many have attended, even graduated, from prestigious universities.  We the parents had all started out with the usual high hopes reflective of our professional, high functioning community.  As our children’s challenges unfolded, our hopes of course had to alter accordingly.  Our success is getting to accept that what’s most important for our young adult children is not to be a professional with multiple degrees, a large bank account, a spouse and children, but to be as independently functioning as possible, to be kind and respectful with others, and to have some satisfying, enjoyable work or other activity, and a few friends, i.e. to not be idle, angry and living in our basements.  And to know that they are loved by their parents.

While we the parents have all struggled with our own anguish, fear, sadness and shame, we have also managed to be genuinely happy for our family members and friends brimming over with pride and joy in their typical young adult’s latest accomplishments.  We learn to focus on our similarities with our friends and not on our differences; to take care of ourselves as individuals and to make as interesting and enjoyable a life for ourselves as we can. We are not only as good as our kid’s worst problem; we are as good as we can be, as individuals.

The YAWS group, unique in the entire Washington area, supports parents not only by providing a range of helpful resource information but, more importantly, a safe haven of empathy and understanding.  Thank you, Temple Sinai.