Erin was a gentle, sensitive girl just slightly different in her manner than other kids her age … now because of that small variance, she is gone. She took her life at 17. 

Kids on the autism spectrum frequently have difficulty making friends — and  even if they feel like they are making progress during the week, social networking proves to them they are not. Never invited to a party, or a movie, they can clearly see their classmates enjoying these activities — always without them.

In their grief, Erin’s parents Darren and Stacy Horst, wished there had been a place where Erin could have experienced the relief and comfort of true acceptance, relief that a difference could have made life manageable for her.  

So, from that dark and hopeless place, the Horsts created E’s Club, a bright comfortable place where other kids on the spectrum frequently excluded like Erin, could always feel welcome, accepted and included.  The Horsts were determined to help protect other parents from experiencing such a unbearable tragedy. E’s Club was born out of their sheer determination and the resolve of that vision, to serve others.

Frequently, toddlers seem to be developing as expected. Then without much warning, it becomes clear this beautiful child is going to require a uniquely varied combination of opportunities to reach their true potential. Parents learn that the range of differences in these kids is so drastic that even getting help to define what is possible for them can be nearly impossible.

While other students immerse themselves in the excitement of the college application process, many of these kids will experience this common rite of passage as further evidence that they are, and will always be, outsiders. Entering adolescence brings a growing self-awareness for all kids. For kids on the spectrum it clarifies their difference — compounded and reinforced by the reactions of others.

In my own experience as a chaperone at E’s club, I have spoken to high school seniors (who are college bound) about the philosophy of a civil society and the complex challenges of negotiating policy with North Korea. 

Sometimes, I just sit at the table with members drawing quietly. The most socially confident students can even learn to play pool. There are kids playing video games while more may choose to watch them in silence. However, whether these young adults do, or do not, participate is totally OK. Here it is comfortable, because their silence or lack of eye contact is always unremarkable in this wonderfully predictable haven. 

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