Jill Holman: A Passion for Helping Others
After her son was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, Jill Holman started a support group for parents.
When Jill Holman’s son Adam was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome 11 years ago, Holman started attending an autism support group in Naperville, but found it just wasn’t the right place for her.
Wanting more answers and motivated to get them, she started an Asperger’s support group out of her home.
“I didn’t know anything about it and I didn’t understand it,” she said. “I wanted to have a better understanding.”
A group of three people started meeting in her kitchen, she said. Over time, the group, which she started as a way for parents to gather and support one another, kept growing. The meetings were eventually moved to Knox Presbyterian Church where the group holds regular meetings.
She started the group because she wanted to learn more about Asperger’s syndrome and thought other parents might have the same needs, she said.
Asperger’s syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder and those with the developmental disorder have characteristics that include limited interests and a preoccupation with a subject to the exclusion of other activities, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Holman’s son, now 23, graduated from Hope College and has a job working as a geologist. But, when he was first diagnosed with the syndrome, she said there were very few people who knew about it and not much information available.
Her son is high functioning, very smart and capable, but she said, “Everything is very black and white. You have to be very literal and straight forward.”
As an example, Holman related a story about when her son was younger, she called him dear and he said, “I am not a deer, I don’t have antlers.”
Those with Asperger’s syndrome don’t easily interact socially with others and usually have very few, if any friends, she said. As her group for parents increased in size, adults with Asperger’s syndrome started to attend the meetings, eventually she launched an offshoot group for adults with the disorder.
“It’s been amazing,” Holman said. “I’ve watched parents make huge connections. People have been able to share. When they leave they say ‘I’ve never been able to be in a room with so many people who understand how I feel.’”
The adults with Asperger’s syndrome have also made connections and several of the members now have friends they can spend time with, she said.
For the parents of children with Asperger’s syndrome, meeting with adults with the disorder is helpful because they are able to learn more and gain knowledge about what life may be like for their children in the future, Holman said.
Unlike 11 years ago, today most people have heard of Asperger’s syndrome, she said. There are even characters on TV, such as Max Braverman on NBC’s Parenthood, who are examples of those living with the disorder.
Holman started writing a book a few years ago with the premise that everyone knows someone with Asperger’s, she said. The book is still a work in progress.
“My goal has always been to educate people about Asperger’s so they aren’t so judgmental about it,” she said. “I believe that once people are more educated about it, they will be more understanding.”
Holman has made volunteering at Families Helping Families and running the Naperville Parents of Children with Asperger’s group her full-time job. Her sons, Adam, 23 and Drew, 21, are now grown, and her work keeps her busy. She gets calls regularly from those seeking more information on the group or Asperger’s syndrome, she said.
People attend the group meetings from all over the Chicago area, she said.
“People find me,” she said. “I don’t need to advertise, if people need me, they find me.”
She is in the process of creating a website for the group, so that information can be put in one easily accessed place. Often parents learn about Holman and the group through schools or social service workers.
“When I started 11 years ago I never thought it would last,” she said. “The need is so huge and there are so few support groups, especially for adults [with Asperger’s syndrome]. They just want to be with others who understand them.”
Being able to meet for the parents and adults with the disorder is healing and helpful, Holman said.
“I like helping others and doing things that can make a difference,” she said. “… I feel everybody has their purpose in life and Asperger’s is my passion.”
The Naperville Parents of Children with Asperger’s group meets the first Thursday of every other month at Knox Presbyterian Church and the Naperville Adult with Asperger’s group meets the first Thursday of every month.