The WellSpan Spotlight

Bright spots

WellSpan BrightSpot: She gathers moms of kids with autism

April BrightSpot Autism Lunch

  Elyse Fisler with her son Gavin. 


Who: Elyse Fisler, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital. Elyse’s family includes a son, Gavin, 22, who has autism.

What: Since 2007, Elyse has organized an event called the Autism Mother to Mother Luncheon. This year’s luncheon, to be held later this month in Chambersburg, will be the ninth year for the event, with about 225 attendees coming from as far away as Ohio, New York, and Virginia.

“When the luncheon started, there was not a lot out there about parenting a child with autism,” says Elyse, who was seeking to understand how having a child with autism dovetailed into her spiritual beliefs at the time. “A lot of things in this world make my child’s life difficult. These are kids who might not want to wear certain clothing, who find sound difficult…how does God create a child who has such a difficult time understanding and fitting into this world? I saw myself and other parents struggling with this.

“I got this idea: what if I brought mothers together under that spiritual umbrella and we tried to work through this together?”

Every year, the luncheon features a speaker and, just importantly, time for moms of children with autism to be together.

Words to live by: “What I hear most from moms is that it’s nice to be with other women who get it,” Elyse says. “It helps people to realize that they are not alone in this. To be able to talk about your experience and feelings about things and have someone else walking that same path and be able to relate to that – there is a lot of comfort and encouragement in that.

“It’s also helpful to moms who are newer to the diagnosis to have people like me say, ‘You do get to the other side of this.’ When you are neck deep and new to it, you can’t see that. I have learned so much from other parents. It’s a support that is different than is provided by other resources. I try to bring the tribe piece into this and provide a place where people can share it with others.”

Elyse says she also wants moms who give so much to others to have their own cup filled. The luncheon includes a time when moms have their hands washed and blessed, to mark all the work those hands do.

Dee Barbour, of Harrisburg, who has a son, Kenyay, 28, with autism, has attended every single one of the Autism Mother to Mother Luncheons.

“I went alone the first year,” Dee says. “I didn’t have a support system at the time, and I tend to be shy. So I was nervous about what to expect, but I felt so welcomed. I wasn’t expecting to sit there and cry.

“What I love about it is that feeling that you can be yourself. Being in the midst of people who are on the same journey as you are, you can breathe, you can be yourself, you can laugh, and you can cry. When I listen to other mother’s stories, I feel like I am listening to my own story. It’s those shared experiences. There are so many people like us. Even though we are all different, we all have that connection. It is amazing.”