What began in 1995 as a personal struggle became a vocation for Essie Davis, who was recognized by the Autism Society of North Carolina this week for her work to promote the well-being of autistic children in Scotland County.
“I’m an admirer and a person who greatly respects Essie, having known her for many years not just a skilled and talented advocate and a committed parent, but also a person with great heart, great spirit, and great humanity,” said Maureen Morrell, N.C. Autism Society special programs director.
The Autism Society’s Scotland County office, officially founded in 1998, began as a support group for the parents of autistic children. One of that group’s founding members, Davis has been the local chapter’s parent advocate since its inception.
“I felt that, as a parent of a child with autism, we all need somebody and we need to feel that we’re not alone,” Davis said. “From that spark, we were to start what was then a support group. We knew that other people wouldn’t understand us when we talked about our children and they didn’t know what we went through with our children. So we brought the parents together to be able to share their feelings - they know what we’re talking about.”
Davis was commended in particular for the series of summer camps held annually beginning in 2006. The camps bring children with autism together with instructors who specialize in teaching developmentally disabled individuals for several weeks in the summer for specialized programming and peer interaction.
“I have been working with Mrs. Davis for the past five years and it has been my privilege to see how our kids have grown in this program and to watch the program expand,” said Rodney Byers, principal of North Laurinburg Elementary School, where the summer camp is held. “All of these children appreciate the program during the summer, and we look forward to continuing to work with her.”
State Rep. Garland Pierce attended Tuesday’s ceremony, also held at North Laurinburg, to present Davis with a General Assembly resolution in her honor.
“She really works hard, and this program is very near and dear to her for so many reasons,” Pierce said. “I know it’s all about the children, that’s what she’s about and she’s been that way for a long time.”
As an established group, Scotland County’s autism society provides an experienced and educated group of parents as a resource for parents whose children have recently been diagnosed with autism.
“We meet new parents all the time, children are still being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder,” said Davis. “We can bring together parents of newly diagnosed children along with others, and I’m very proud of that. It’s about helping and supporting the parents.”