Local Autism Society group photo

The newly christened High Country Support Group of the Autism Society of North Carolina took a group photo during its first meeting on Feb. 23. Pictured are, front row, from left, Maria Belen Ledezma, Jessica Roland, Terry Richardson, Margarita Ledezma, Kim Denny, Melissa Weaver, Sheena McNeill and Diana Killen; and, back row, from left, Norma Bouchard, Kendra Graybeal, Michelle Isaacs, Jennifer Harr and Tali Denton.

WEST JEFFERSON — The High Country Support Group of the Autism Society of North Carolina held its first meeting at the Ashe campus of Wilkes Community College on Feb. 23.

The new support group will serve Ashe, Alleghany, Watauga and Wilkes counties.

“Our High Country has a huge need for both services and awareness in regards to autism,” said group founder Melissa Weaver. “Our area does a fantastic job answering the call for awareness to cancer, heart disease, etc., but when you mention the word autism, people have no idea what that is.

“My goal and passion in staring this group is to raise more awareness in our area and get more access to services for our children and adults who are within the autism spectrum and their families who are supporting them.”

During the group’s first meeting, guest speaker Tali Denton from the N.C. Autism Society spoke about the history of the Autism Society, its guiding principles, chapter requirements and shared strategies for success.

Following Denton’s presentation, a group discussion gave parents, service providers and educators an opportunity to share their concerns and suggestions for increasing services and awareness in the High Country.

After the meeting was over, paperwork was signed making the new group an official support group of the N.C. Autism Society. Weaver was named the office support group leader.

“Our goal is to raise awareness and get access to services for families,” Weaver said. “We have very dedicated members who are committed to seeing these goals met. We would like to encourage others in the community to take an active role.”


According to Weaver, autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a brain disorder that impacts an individual’s ability to understand what they see, hear and otherwise sense.

“It impacts social communication and is the second most common developmental disability,” Weaver said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 people will be diagnosed with autism, and in North Carolina, the rate is higher at one in 58. There are currently more than 65,000 individuals in North Carolina with a form of autism.

According to Weaver, autism is more common in boys, at a rate of almost 5-to-1.

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