Introducing Melana Griffee
Melana Griffee is Carolina Therapy Connection’s Office Support and Community Outreach Coordinator. She also recently completed her Autism certificate designation, granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). Her role is to embrace and encourage our culture within our organization and support our mission being carried out within our community. She graduated from Craven Community College in 2019, with her Associates in Arts degree. Since she was 16, she has worked with children at the YMCA and has helped lead summer camps and afterschool programs. She grew up with a brother with Autism and has a heart for serving children that need extra support. Melana is a huge asset to our team and has helped us launch our New Bern Clinic. In her spare time, she loves to spend time with her hubby, hang out with her family, and be outside!
Becoming the Sister of an Autistic Child
My brother said only a few words at the age of 1, but then stopped suddenly and was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 4. I was only 1 at the time and obviously, I did not understand. Now, I am 22 years old and my brother, Ashton, will soon be 25. Ashton is non verbal, has a seizure disorder, a venus implant and has had major back surgery. The one thing I remember from my childhood is how I always wished that my brother would start speaking. My family and I always joked about what he would say when he did start talking. It gave us hope.
Once I was old enough to understand more about my brother’s special needs, I became very interested in it. I volunteered at Special Olympics, with a special needs baseball team, and I was even the club president for Project Unify when I was in high school. Doing all these things made me feel more involved in not only Ashton’s life, but the life of other children who have special needs. I hoped to learn all I could about Autism so that I could help my brother.
Developing Patience and an Understanding of Autism
I can say from experience in my own life that growing up with an Autistic brother has made me more mature and aware of the needs of others. Without knowing, Ashton has taught me more about patience then anyone in my life. I believe that is one of the more important things to realize when you have a Autistic family member or friend: Patience. Patience. Patience. There will be times when they’re not understanding you, and they may get frustrated or upset. As long as you are patient and kind, you will be able to help that person calm down.
Another important thing to remember when dealing with the different behaviors of someone with Autism, is knowing what helps them calm down – whether that be a favorite activity, movie or place. My brother has never said one word to me, yet I still know what he loves and hates. He loves watching Clifford, Thomas the Train, Barney, and Lilo & Stitch – all the classics, right?! He absolutely loves lighthouses and clocks. His room is filled with them, and I like to think it gives him joy seeing them all around him.
Sometimes I picture what it would be like to see through Ashton’s eyes. I think he would see the world so differently than us. He would see others differently and understand the difficult things life can throw at you. Whenever I am around Ashton, I just love to watch. Watch him smile and laugh at the show he is watching. Watching him smile at me every time I say, “I’m going to get your sugar, Ashton!” My favorite thing is whenever I first see him, he comes to me with the sweetest face and hugs me. That always makes my day ten times better.
It wasn’t always easy growing up with the struggles that come with Ashton’s diagnosis. I can remember countless nights crying to my mom, wondering why he was the way he was. Was he ever going to talk? Will the seizures ever stop? Why do people stare at him at school? I can remember times I would hear the word ‘retarded’. Even in high school, hearing that word made me cringe in frustration. I would hear people saying things like, “You are so retarded,” or “That is retarded,” almost as if they were comparing that word to something stupid or dumb. I could go on and on about how that is not the proper word to use at all. Mental Retardation is a formal diagnosis my brother has and I was always very offended when I heard someone call someone that.
As I have gotten older, I have realized this word is not being thrown around so easily. It has become less of a slang word and more of a word, that when heard, people may feel uncomfortable about. I feel like people are more aware of how the word is offensive and disturbing.
It was during those moments in my life that I realized there needs to be more awareness for Autism. It is so important that people start learning about Autism, because 5.4 million adults have Autism in the United States. That is about 1 in every 45 people (First US Study of Autism, 2020). I am so grateful for Carolina Therapy Connection. Even though my brother did not have a facility like this to come too growing up, I recognize how important it is for an Autistic child to start these services early on. I would recommend Carolina Therapy Connection to anybody who is in need of life changing services for their child!
Continuing to Embrace and Serve the Autism Community
Carolina Therapy Connection of Greenville, NC is now the first Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) in Eastern North Carolina. The CAC designation is granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). This certification requires staff to complete autism-specific training and professional certification. Carolina Therapy Connection is one of only two therapy clinics in NC with the Certified Autism Center designation. The Carolina Therapy Connection listing for becoming a Certified Autism Center can be found here.
At Carolina Therapy Connection, our highly qualified and diverse staff provide a collaborative approach to apply extensive knowledge and understanding for children with ASD. We are committed to providing your family with the necessary tools, resources, and encouragement throughout your autism journey, making a way for greater resilience. Our team will work with your family to co-construct a sustainable story for how autism shapes who your child is, both personally and relationally.