April 3, 2014

World Autism Awareness Day Part Two

Posted in AMT's Faves, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:22 am by autismmommytherapist

Zach in a Bath 014

Today, as with every day, my heart is bursting with pride for my eldest son Justin, who has severe autism.  This week his private autism school hosted a news conference on the eve of World Autism Awareness Day, an event held by Congressman Chris Smith, co-chair of the House Autism Caucus, and Autism New Jersey.  As with any news conference there is usually a photo opp, and my son was selected to be the “face of autism” that day (the link is below.)  There are two beautiful pictures, a close-up of him apparently contemplating very deep thoughts, and a precious one of him working with his talented and adored teacher.


The accompanying article highlights the high rate of autism in my home state, which is 1 in 45 children in New Jersey, the highest rate in the country.  It outlines the work my friends Bobbie and Billy Gallagher did almost two decades ago to bring the rising prevalence of autism in the Garden State to Representative Smith’s attention, an act which contributed to bringing about Smith’s Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research and Epidemiology Act of 2000 (the first comprehensive federal program centered around autism.)  I am so proud of the Gallaghers for being pioneers well before autism was a household word, and thrilled that my son’s school was given the honor of hosting the conference.


But as I mentioned before, my heart sings for my son.


Of course it’s fun that his handsome countenance was featured in the Asbury Park Press, the paper of my childhood.  I admit, it was a thrill to see him both online (and imagine this) in hard print as well.  Quite frankly a few tears were shed yesterday, from both me and my husband too.


But I’m writing about this today not to brag about my son getting media time (okay, maybe it’s a little bit about that.)


I’m writing to you today about hope, and perserverance and love, and never giving up the fight to carve out the best life possible for him, the one he was born to lead.


Ten years ago my son was diagnosed with severe autism.  He could barely tolerate anyone in his home, was phobic of strangers, had severe difficulties pairing with therapists, and clung desperately to his parents.


Two days ago he noticed the photographers, acknowledged them briefly, and went about his business of school with a smile.


Ten years ago my son screamed and sobbed whenever anyone tried to work with him, no matter how desirable the reinforcers being offered to him.


Two days ago he worked diligently (and most importantly,  joyfully) with his teacher for his coveted bagel chips, but mostly for the love of  learning.


Ten years ago we watched as his first birthday came and went, and so did the few vowels and consonants we held so dear.


Two days ago he used an iPad to communicate his wants, and is even beginning to fashion words for us, including two-word sentences which seem like miracles.


Ten years ago I thought I’d never see him smile.


Today, and every day for the past few years, I am witness to the unearthing of his ebullient soul.


Yesterday I cleaned out our local 7-11 of every Asbury Park Press they had (we have a lot of relatives,) and I am certain the photo of my son’s slight smile will make it into his scrapbook.  There were phone calls to grandparents, emails to friends, and of course the obligatory status update on Facebook.


As I mentioned before, I’m a proud momma of an autistic child.


But the beautiful part of all this is sometimes I need a not-so-gentle reminder to celebrate how far we’ve come, how our family was forged in fire, and now revels predominantly in peace.  My son is happy.  He loves his life.


My son with severe autism loves his life.


And nothing in the world could make me more proud.






October 17, 2011


Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:24 am by autismmommytherapist

“Hon, I’m pulling out something from the paper for you to read” my husband calls to me as he stands in front of the kitchen counter, where he’s diligently clipping coupons for the week. I yell back “thanks”, and continue to supervise Justin washing his hands in the bathroom sink, a task both of my children still find fairly distasteful after all these years (must be a boy thing). I tell him to put it on my “pile” in the living room, a mound which mocks me daily as I ignore articles and magazines while I attempt to finish the most recent book in the Game of Thrones series (George R.R. Martin, you brought me back to the fantasy genre and entertained me all summer, I owe you, well, SOMETHING).

My eldest wipes his hands, then hands me the towel until I gesture for him to put it back himself (okay, technically I am the maid around here, but surely you can find the towel rack by now). Justin gives me one of his bear hugs, one of his embraces which requires me to sit down so I don’t fall over, and by the time we’ve exited the bathroom, I’ve promptly forgotten what my husband yelled to me from the kitchen.

This is not exactly shocking news around here.

I am later reminded of the existence of this article solely because my husband placed it prominently on top of the mountain of literary material which lives on our coffee table (I need my visuals). Much, much later in the day, when two boys are technically in bed for the evening and I am able to enjoy my downtime, I casually pick it up as I wait for Halloween Wars to start on the Food Network. This is a station I frequent in the hopes that I’ll absorb some of the techniques by osmosis, and they’ll translate to my cooking.

So far, they haven’t.

The title of the article from the Asbury Park Press is “Success at hiring autistic adults”, which immediately perks me up from my post-four-days-with-child haze. Along with what I like to call my “reach dreams” (adequate Early Intervention and school-age autism programs in every state, insurance coverage, and safe and appropriate housing for all), is this wish. That each adult with autism who is capable of holding a job, no matter where they fall on the spectrum, will one day be employed.

And Aspiritech, a nonprofit in Highland Park, Illinois, is just one more company working toward making a dream come true for these adults.

The article highlights several of the employees, Brian Tozzo, Jamie Specht, Rider Hallenstein, and Rick Alexander, four young men with Asperger’s syndrome. It turns out that some of the unique characteristics common to this type of autism, such as a facility with retaining detail coupled with a desire for repetition, make these particular employees incredibly skilled with computers. According to Dan Tedesco of a Connecticut-based company which used Aspiritech to test one of their iPhone apps, the workers there “exceeded my expectations”. He later goes on to say in the piece that the workers at Aspiritech had a “pride in their product you don’t usually see in this type of work.”

Apparently there are eight other clients just as pleased with Aspiritech’s work, which is a wonderful start.

The article later goes on to state that the company, founded by Moshe and Brenda Weitzberg, was founded after their son Oran, now thirty-two and a young man with Asperger’s, was fired from a grocery-bagging job. The Weitzbergs modeled their company after an organization called “Specialisterne”, or “the Specialists”, a Danish company which also hires employees with autism as their software testers. One of the testers at Aspiritech, Katie Levin, thirty-five, was not even diagnosed with the syndrome until she was an adult, was instead herself labeled as mentally ill as a child. I can only imagine what this job, and being part of this community, must mean to her.

Just reading about the existence of this company, when I think about Justin’s future and my desire for him to have a job he enjoys, holds great meaning for me.

The article is a quick read, and I put it down as the witching hour looms on cable, and edible haunted houses await me. This is just one more trickle in a rush of good fortune to befall the autism community lately, with states like California approving a bill which requires coverage of autism treatments until their federal health care law can be implemented, or (and my personal favorite) the passage of CARA. There are many more drops in our recent waterfall, too many to list here, or this would be the longest post EVER (and all of you have just so much time on your hands).

So here’s hoping that Aspiritech, and more companies like it, continue to make a splash.