When Cindy Waeltermann started a Web site three years ago to share information on autism with other parents, she had no idea how fast it would grow.
“When I started it, I found out there was really nowhere to go for information,” said Waeltermann, the mother of two autistic sons, Christopher, 5, and Alex, 3.
“The more I started to learn about autism, the more I felt the need for other parents to learn, and now, the Web site has just exploded,” the McCandless resident said. The site receives up to 700 hits a day.
After Christopher was diagnosed with autism at 2, Waeltermann, 37, decided to start her own Web site because “sometimes you don’t feel like going out to a support group, and this way you can talk to people online anonymously.”
Waeltermann’s Web site — www.autismlink.com — provides links to understanding different types of therapy, where to go to get help and services. Because of the popularity of the Web site, Waeltermann also started an online support group where people can ask questions and get feed-back from doctors, psychologists, speech and occupational therapists and other professionals in the field. So far, the site has more than 170 users, Waeltermann said. To supplement her Web site, Waeltermann also offers an e-mail list that reaches 500 people notifying them of upcoming events, conferences and support groups relating to autism.
Finding time to monitor and update her Web site while raising two autistic children can be a challenge, but Waeltermann still manages to spend at least a couple of hours a day on the site.
“I work after the kids go to bed,” she said. “I don’t watch television. I’ve always been into computers. It’s something I love to do. I find it relaxing.”
When Waeltermann started the site, she paid for the Internet service out of her pocket. Since it has grown, Winwood Internet Service in Braddock now hosts the site for her.
Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in areas of social interaction and communication skills.
People with autism usually have a normal life span but have difficulty talking, are unable to relate to others and tend to repeat body movements, such as hand-flapping or rocking, according to the Autism Society of America.
As the mother of autistic children, Waeltermann can share her experiences online with other parents. “It can be very difficult,” she said. “You’re dealing with children who have an inability to communicate. They can’t tell you precisely what is wrong, if they’re hurt or sick.”
Waeltermann compares raising autistic children to going through the “terrible twos” forever. “They have no understanding of danger. They’ll just run outside and take off. We have slide-bolt locks on every door in the house,” she said.
Mary Limbacher of Cranberry is the mother of 13-year-old Andy, who has Asperger syndrome, a condition in the autism spectrum. She said Waeltermann’s Web site and e-mail list are helpful and that Waeltermann “has really committed herself to providing information and has helped us be aware of issues that affect service our children are entitled to.”
“It’s invaluable to parents,” Limbacher said. “She (Waeltermann) does the investigative work regarding pertinent issues, and as parents, we are able to be better informed.”
Waeltermann said she is planning a picnic this summer for families with autistic children. “What will be nice about it is we don’t have to worry about how the kids act,” she said.
One of the most frustrating experiences autistic parents face is the public’s perception of their children’s behavior, Waeltermann said. “People look at your child, and they think it’s bratty behavior. They don’t realize the child is autistic. There’s no visual cue, and a lot of times the public can’t tell.”
In addition to raising her children and monitoring her Web site, Waeltermann also serves as the western Pennsylvania representative on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Action Coalition for Autism Services and has volunteered for the annual Pittsburgh area Walk Far for NAAR, the National Alliance for Autism Research.
Previously conducted at North Park, this year’s NAAR walk, June 8, will be held at Heinz Field to accommodate the estimated 5,000 to 6,000 participants, said Hampton resident Renee Georgi, a representative of NAAR and the mother of an autistic child.
The walk was established in May 2000 by a small group of family and friends who were concerned with the lack of awareness for funding of autism, Georgi said. It was the first walk of its kind in the country and today, almost 30 cities nationwide participate. Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 people participated in the first walk and close to $250,000 was raised. This year, NAAR hopes to raise more than $1 million.
The Waeltermann file
Walk Far for NAAR