February 9, 2015

Brick SEPTA Meeting

Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , , , , at 2:20 pm by autismmommytherapist

This December I had the opportunity to attend the Brick Special Education PTA’s 10th anniversary “Meet and Greet.” It is an event which included various organizations devoted to helping those with special needs, a visit from Mayor Ducey, and a strong turn-out from parents, teachers, and administrators alike.

It also holds multiple raffles just for attending, and I win something cool every year (and trust me, I never win anything.)

I’m writing today about SEPTA in part to praise its president, Brenda Calderone (and the board too,) for putting together such a wonderful evening. I’m also writing about it to urge all parents of special needs students, whether they have a full-fledged IEP or just a 504, to get involved in the organization.

I began attending meetings in 2006 when SEPTA was just two years old, and my eldest son with severe autism was only three. I remember feeling so generally overwhelmed at the time, as we had just moved to Jersey from Washington, DC a few months earlier, and I had yet to really connect with any other parents. I recall knowing I’d found a safe haven when after the first meeting I attended Mary Tara Wurmser, SEPTA’s past president, came up to me afterwards with a welcome and an offer to help if I needed anything.

Since then I’ve met many helpful people through SEPTA, and those connections have been invaluable in helping both of my autistic sons.

SEPTA runs several fabulous events, including an annual Easter Egg Hunt, and Halloween Fest which my boys particularly love. While these events are wonderful, the best part of SEPTA is the opportunity to feel a part of a community, to know that help is not far away. I strongly encourage any parents of special needs children in Brick to consider joining (the membership fee is only $6.50 per person, a steal) and also consider attending their next meeting, which will be held on 2/24 at 7:00 PM at Civic Plaza, 270 Chambers Bridge Road (right corner of the strip mall.)

I hope to see all of you there, and thanks!

SEPTA Facebook page: Brick Township Special Education PTA (SEPTA)
For more on my family visit my blog at autismmommytherapist.wordpress.com/

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October 17, 2013

Brick SEPTA Meeting/Halloween Fest

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , at 6:13 pm by autismmommytherapist

Sum 11 thru Oct 11 034
As I help Justin up that first big step of the slide inflatable he so adores I see a witch whip by me out of the corner of my eye, and hear Zach gasp with delight. Pretty soon a young Luke Skywalker queues up in front of me for his turn, and Zach dashes off with his father in tow for the far more challenging inflatable maze which has caught his interest.

I soon capture on film my son’s joyous face as he hurtles down to greet me, and we are off to collect his brother. My youngest asks “what’s next?” and I lay out his choices for him- a hayride, pumpkin painting, and both boys’ ultimate favorite, free popcorn. Zach takes off for open field at a dash with me trailing behind, and I smile and wave at familiar faces out on this gorgeous fall afternoon.

It’s just another day at Halloween Fest, one of Brick Special Education PTA’s many fabulous annual events (hosted along with Brick Recreation), and we’re all lucky to be here.

As I head back from the hayride I spot Brenda Calderone, current PTA president, and we exchange greetings and I thank her for her efforts to create such a fun day for our families. Brick SEPTA hosts a number of events each year, from Halloweenfest to an Easter Egg Hunt also at Havens Farm, to dances for tweens and teens with disabilities.

They have monthly meetings as well, and it’s often the same core group of parents who attend, so we’ve gotten to know each other a bit throughout the years, and a camaraderie has developed. The parents who attend have children with a wide range of disabilities, from ADHD to Downs Syndrome and others as well. At most meetings we’ve had the privilege of having a school administrator attend, as well as some teachers from the various schools which educate our children.

Traditionally the first meeting in the fall is a “meet and greet”, with a number of agencies attending who cater to families. I particularly enjoyed that particular meeting last year as I won a massage in their raffle (yes, the girl who never wins anything), and other prizes were distributed as well.

Free donuts AND door prizes, you can’t beat that.

I’m writing about the Brick SEPTA today to invite more parents to attend their next meeting, which will be held at the Brick Primary Learning Center (PLC), on Monday, October 28th, from 6:30 to 8:30. I write this knowing it’s difficult for even the most “typical” families to spare a parent in the evenings, and for those of us with kids with disabilities it can often be a Herculean effort to get out for even an hour.

The truth is however that this is a wonderful avenue in which to come together as a community to learn from one another, to share, and to provide support. I’d love to see it grow. Every year the SEPTA Board has worked incredibly hard to provide activities for children with special needs, and my own children have enjoyed their events with gusto. The Board hopes to add even more activities throughout the year, and I know they’d love greater participation and a larger attendance at all of their meetings.

Again, the next meeting is Monday, October 28th, 6:30 at the PLC, and if anyone reading this has the opportunity to attend, I truly recommend you do so. Thanks in advance for attending!

Follow Brick SEPTA at Brick Town Special Education PTA SEPTA

April 16, 2012

Easter Blessings

Posted in Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , at 10:44 am by autismmommytherapist

“Mom, is it okay if I run?” my youngest asks me innocently, even though he’s just heard our SEPTA president (Special Education PTA) tell all the kids not to barrel through each other during the Easter Egg Hunt. I ask him to repeat what she just said, and he looks at me and responds dejectedly, “no running”. He then proceeds to strike a perfect runner’s pose, teetering on an imaginary line keeping him from conquering hundreds of half-hidden, brightly-colored ovals.

I fear this will be a losing battle.

Sure enough, on the count of “three” over a hundred special needs kids, their siblings, and my son make a break for their treasure, skirting every copse of trees in this sparsely- populated wooded area that is hosting the event. We’ve been asked to limit our take to twenty, and as me and my sister-in-law trail behind Zach I ask him to count his pile, which he dutifully does. When we reach the magic number I gently remind him we’re done, and for once there are no “but Mom!” protests. We head back toward our point of origin, a parcel of land now hosting the Easter Bunny, which of course makes me eager for a photo opportunity. I ask Zach if he’ll pose with him, and he smiles shyly and says “yes”, for which my scrapbook is eternally grateful.

I have my priorities.

I treat Easter as I do my birthday, which means it is a holiday meriting multiple celebrations. Next weekend there will be two more such excursions, one taking place in my own backyard, and one in my mother’s (they are guaranteed a good crop at either venue). If we’re feeling brave Jeff and I will attempt to take the boys on the Easter train at Allaire State Park, an activity which will require patience on Justin’s part, so we’ll play it by ear. Of course the grand denouement will involve elaborate Easter baskets which I love to create, particularly given the fact I’m not sure how much longer Zach will think this is cool.

Given his newfound burst of maturity, our days with this activity might be limited.

Zach bounds back over to me after I’ve clicked a half-dozen shots just in case, and asks if he can play on the equipment. I nod yes after checking my watch, then call after him to remind my son not to bowl over several toddlers standing between him and a soggy slide a few hundred yards away. We have a little bit of time left before we return home and relieve Justin’s home therapist from her duties, and I smile, because this outing, unlike last year, has been a resounding success.

A little over a year ago Jeff and I split up with the boys on a frigid Saturday, my husband taking Zach to an Elks Easter party, and me escorting Justin to this very spot. He had seemed excited when I lead him to the car with basket in tow, making his energetic “eee” sounds all the way to the park. I’ve learned how to time things so he’s there neither too early nor too late, and last year we made it with five minutes to spare. After freeing him from the car I grabbed his hand and inserted a pastel-colored handle into it, and we made our way over to the starting point.

I had enough time to greet the SEPTA Executive Board before Justin was off like a shot toward the water, pumping arms and legs steadily to reach the pier, often a coveted destination. I remember my friends calls to him were echoing mine, even as I knew it was a losing battle. Once Justin makes up his mind that something else is more rewarding for him, there’s no reversing that decision.

Can’t imagine from where he acquired that amount of stubbornness.

I recall feeling a fleeting stab of disappointment as I trailed after him, felt sad he wouldn’t be participating in such a lovely and meticulously planned event, sorry for me that I would neither get to witness it nor record it for posterity. Then, with our feet sunk in sand as we trudged our way toward brackish water, it hit me. He’s almost eight years old. Even if he didn’t have autism, he might not want to score pastel-colored cylinders. He’s perfectly thrilled to do his usual routine here.

Nobody’s sad but me.

I felt a weight lift off of me then, a void where guilt sometimes resides when I don’t attempt certain activities with him, even though I know in my mother’s soul that just because Justin “should” like them doesn’t mean he will. We continued our trajectory out onto the dock, my eldest running back and forth, entranced with the ripple of waves on river. He was perfectly content with our adapted activity.

As my youngest son is before me, right now.

I snap back into the moment, as I’m trying to do more often, and know that both boys are safe. Both of my sons are happy. Both children are living in their respective moments, one at home with his therapist, one outside and immersed in play. The two of them are exactly where they’re supposed to be.

And for once, so am I.

March 14, 2012

Brick SEPTA Easter Egg Hunt

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , , , at 9:23 am by autismmommytherapist

I hear a triumphant “Got one!” shouted from behind me, but I am in pursuit of my eight-year-old son with moderate autism, and can’t stop to behold the treasure a pre-schooler has found. I’ve attempted to bring Justin to the annual Brick SEPTA (Special Education PTA) Easter Egg Hunt at Windward Beach, and he’s let me know in no uncertain terms that he wants no part of it. I make a mental note to skip this part of our Easter traditions with him next year, realizing he may just have outgrown rooting around on the ground for colored plastic cylinders. As I chase him down a hill toward the river, I look back over my shoulder one more time to take a brief glance at the festivities.

To my delight, at least fifty special needs children are gleefully participating in the event that Justin has decided he is way too cool to attend.

This is just one of many events that our wonderful local Special Education PTA has hosted over the years. There’s the annual Halloweenfest, where special needs children can paint pumpkins, participate in a hayride, and down large amounts of free buttery popcorn, which has always been my son’s favorite part.

For the first time this year SEPTA, in conjunction with the Lake Riviera Middle School and the Brick Challenger Program, hosted a dance for special needs children and their siblings, an event which was a resounding success. All these efforts are an attempt to make certain that kids who may be seen as “different” have the opportunity to participate in the same childhood staples that most of their parents have attended in the past.

This is why, despite my son’s disdain for this particular event, that I love the SEPTA Easter Egg Hunt.

I’ve taken my other child to local hunts over the years, but due to his tender age, he was often crowded out of the chance to collect his coveted prizes. On occasion I’ve had to literally cover eggs with my feet just to make certain my boy would walk away with one plastic concoction.

The great thing about the SEPTA Easter Egg Hunt is the abundance of eggs placed strategically in open view so that every child can claim at least a few for his or her own, and can truly participate in a traditional holiday ritual. There’s also a guaranteed visit from the Easter bunny himself, which after I concluded chasing my son back up the hill I was gratified to see that his presence brought joy to a number of children. Every kid who wanted to greet him was able to get a turn, and in a timely fashion.

All in all, it was clear that every child participated fully in a timeless, and fun, tradition.

I’ll most likely be taking my youngest child to scour the earth for pastel eggs this year, and I’m certain he’ll revel in discovery and acquisition, much as his mother did many, many, many decades ago. If you are a member of the Brick SEPTA and would like to participate, please see the link below:

http://www.facebook.com/events/185215351587371/

Saturday, March 31st, 11:00 AM, Windward Beach

See you there, and don’t forget your Easter basket!

November 16, 2011

Brick SEPTA Goes Green

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:10 am by autismmommytherapist

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a proud member of the Brick SEPTA (Special Education PTA), an organization that under Mary Tara Wurmser’s leadership has shown tremendous growth over the past few years. The SEPTA board, including Nicole Barresi, Janet Bixenman, Dina Crepaldi, Vinnie Muti and Sherry Doyle, have worked tirelessly to provide fun events for children with special needs. They have frequently invited expert speakers to come enlighten us on topics ranging from transition planning to understanding Down’s Syndrome, and have also recently added recycling to their list of projects, an effort which remains near and dear to my heart.

Heck, they had me at the chocolate donuts.

The board and members of SEPTA have been making a concerted effort to “go green” by using social media to convey their news, but have recently decided to take things a step further. They are also attempting to raise funds and earn assistive technology (i.e. iPads), with the express hope of donating several to our local EEC (Educational Enrichment Center), the building which houses our town’s pre-school autism programs. I’ve seen firsthand how this technology has opened up worlds for Justin, who didn’t have the opportunity to employ such an elaborate communicative device until he was seven. I can only imagine how access to iPads might enhance the education of a three-year-old.

And knowing the Brick SEPTA board, I’m certain the EEC will soon find out.

The vehicle through which such donations can be made is called the “Funding Factory”, and is an ongoing free fundraiser and recycling/Go Green program. SEPTA can accept ink cartridges, laser cartridges, cell phones, electronics, and laptops, then send them to the Funding Factory. Drop-off is simple- individuals can leave their items in a drop box at the EEC, or if the item is too large for such a container, a pick-up can easily be arranged.

Other organizations can also come on board and raise funds for their own projects by listing SEPTA as the referrer (Group ID # 275622). Companies can sponsor SEPTA as well by donating their cash or points from the program directly to SEPTA. There are no shipping costs, as Funding Factory takes financial responsibility for that issue, and they make sending in the materials very simple. For more information, please see:

http://www.bricksepta.org/pdfs/FundingFactoryparent_letter.pdf

Finally, there is one last option for helping out SEPTA this season. The Funding Factory is partners with Maxback, a website which individuals can use to get cash-back for unwanted smartphones, tablets, ipods, and video games. Maxback pays senders directly through Paypal, check, or Amazon gift certificates, but the bonus is, they will match each contribution with a 10% donation to SEPTA. You’ll need to establish a free account on Maxback and designate SEPTA as the recipient (Mary Tara assures me even I could figure out how to do it, it’s that simple). For more information, please check out this link:

http://www.maxback.com/Home.aspx?school=275622

Given how much we’re all watching our wallets stay closed these days, these are some easy ways to contribute without emptying a bank account. Thanks in advance for your participation, and hope to see you at our next SEPTA meeting on January 9th!