December 12, 2011

POAC Gala 2012

Posted in Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:11 am by autismmommytherapist

(Gary Weitzen, director of POAC)

I’m always on the lookout for unique holiday gifts (especially ones I don’t have to wait in line to purchase). So, as I was waiting for Zach to finish dance class last Friday at the Rebecca Martin School of Dance I listened with some interest as the other parents were discussing their takes from Black Friday and Cyber Monday (in my house, these are my husband’s domains, as he is a wizard with a coupon). That lovely woman from the California Walmart came up (you know, the one who found it absolutely necessary to Mace people, because that of course is the Christmas spirit), as did the fabulous bargains some people had acquired. A few of their prizes led to a couple of ideas for two little boys who most certainly are on Santa’s “nice list”.

Bet you can guess who they are.

As I relaxed on the unforgiving bench, grateful for an entire forty-five minutes of sitting down AND adult conversation, one of POAC’s members and volunteers casually mentioned an incredibly creative gift idea that a high school classmate of his had offered to him and their friends. It seems this generous woman had decided to buy enough tickets for the upcoming POAC Gala to fill three tables, simultaneously donating quite a large amount of money to a wonderful autism organization, while providing a great night out for friends.

I’ve decided she’s brilliant.

As I sat and listened to her “back-story” (just a nice person, no autism connections whatsoever), I thought about what a fantastic present this would make for someone, particularly that person who has “everything”. Tickets are around $150 a pop (so clearly this gift would be more than just a stocking stuffer), but it would at once provide the recipient with a great night out, and help an incredible local autism organization continue to provide trainings, workshops, and perhaps most importantly, those recreational events that fill a void for so many autism families. I thought it was such a great idea that I’d write about it here, and attach the post I wrote about the Gala last February.

This year it will be taking place once again at the Eagle Ridge Golf Course in Lakewood, on February 25th at 7:00 PM. To purchase tickets please contact POAC (Parents of Autistic Children). Please forward this idea on to anyone who might be interested, thank you, and happy holidays!

(Me and my guy)

Eagle Ridge Golf Course is a beautiful venue, and thanks to the diligent efforts of the gala planning committee and their staff, the entire affair was lovely. Faux fires spaced strategically around the rooms rid the air of that damp winter chill, the open bar was, unlike my twenty-something remembrances, not thirty people deep, and the appetizers were delicious and plentiful (did I mention the open bar?). Due to the benevolence of one of the primary volunteers for the organization Jeff and I were seated at a primo table, which although its proximity to the DJ would render me temporarily deaf for a few hours that night, did afford me the opportunity to survey the room and its occupants. I’d have to say it was almost a giddy crew, including many parents with offspring on the spectrum, grateful for a break from the usual grind.

In general, when it comes to entertainment, we are a people easily pleased.

After somewhat reluctantly tearing ourselves away from the hors d’oeuvres and cocktail hour (free samosas, yum!), me, my husband and a few friends I’d been fortunate enough to have assigned to our table made our way to our seats, and settled in. There was already food set before me which made me inordinately happy, and once most of the assembled guests had taken their places, the lights subsequently dimmed. Gary Weitzen, the president of POAC, took the floor. He then proceeded to deliver a speech that momentarily made me abandon my salad AND my breadstick.

Trust me, that is no small feat.

As he dove into his recital of POAC’s myriad accomplishments over the last decade, he began with an anecdote many of my readers can relate to, one that made me regret not bringing to the party both my mascara and my lipstick. In a moving tribute to his child, he shared with us the devastating day a specialized pediatrician had told him, and his then three-year-old son, that the latter had major developmental delays. I wrenched my eyes away from Gary for just a few moments during his discourse, glanced around the dimly lit room, and noticed many heads nodding, viewed multiple bodies braced against chairs in anticipation of what surely was to come. Of course the crushing blow arrived in the form of an almost casual chaser, “your son has autism”, which quickly concluded the physician’s visit. Sadly, I am certain our POAC president, even in this day and age, is not alone in his suffering through the brevity, and coldness, of that concise phrase.

Gary shared with us that he drove home alone from Philadelphia with his son, mired in a fog that he couldn’t seem to dissipate with wiper fluid or headlights, until he realized its origins commenced with his own eyes. This was 1997. There were not as yet thousands of agencies, websites, blogs, and chat rooms for parents to commence their descent into the labyrinth of scant local services. There were autism organizations throughout our state, but there was nothing reminiscent of what we today know of as POAC. Free, plentiful trainings for teachers and parents throughout New Jersey, did not as then exist. Law enforcement did not readily have the option to be instructed in the signs of autism, were not frequently educated in the ways in which an individual on the spectrum might react in a stressful situation. Perhaps, most importantly, there were precious few opportunities for parents to congregate with their children in safe environments for recreational purposes, always for free.

Rather than capitulate to that reality, Gary Weitzen transcended that fog, and rose to fill the void.

I could share with you that POAC, in addition to offering the services listed above, is the largest provider of free autism training and education in the entire state. I could inform you that its classes for teachers and aides, focusing on the core deficits of autism, namely communication, behaviors, and socialization issues, have literally transformed entire classrooms. Finally, I could regale you with the joy I feel every time I watch my eldest child mount his ride, tell you that his intense love for the equestrian life would never have been discovered if POAC hadn’t pursued a local horseback-riding farm, and requested that they host an event.

I could tell you the latter, but then I’d just be bragging..

Instead, I’ll share this with you. I am so thrilled this organization exists in its many manifestations, with its bountiful services at my fingertips. I am so intensely grateful for the numerous companies who fund its endeavors, many of whom have only tenuous connections to autism through a valued employee. Watching my friends, and numerous people I’ve come to have a great deal of respect for whoop it up on a dance floor was a joy (and yes, me and my husband were most certainly included in that gyrating posse). In an act of over-the-top abundance I not only won a basket through the elaborately constructed raffle (then had to be educated as to who Ed Hardy is, it’s sad getting old), but I believe I’ve also scored a new playdate opportunity for my youngest, just one town over. I could tell you, with all honesty, that my oft-filled wine glass overfloweth.

But I’ll relate this to you as well. At the end of a beautifully constructed film montage, resplendent with unforgettable images of our children and their triumphs, one phrase, recited by those young voices able to enrich our lives with intelligible sound, rang honest and pure. In a world where often nothing is certain, this truth is indelibly clear.

We are family.

For information on how you can volunteer for POAC, or simply enjoy their events, please visit the website at:

November 7, 2011

All He Wants to Do is Dance

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , , , at 11:46 am by autismmommytherapist

“Mommy, Miss Katie has a big spider!” my youngest shouts breathlessly into my ear, and I have to smile in spite of my temporary deafness, because he is indeed correct in identifying that large arachnid. Rather than terrifying him however, this eight-legged creature has inspired him to attempt some new dance moves, which I was fortunate enough to view through the glass partition separating parents from participants. He is beside himself with excitement, and I am witness to the same level of glee from the other children as they tumble through the door into the waiting arms of their moms and dads. Miss Katie herself comes into the waiting area with Halloween goody bags, the prospect of which almost makes my son momentarily still as he absorbs the fact that after a fabulous hour of dancing, he will actually receive a gift too. He bounds over to her and hugs her, clutching his treasure, and remains motionless (for once!) as I slip on his socks and sneakers for our trip home.

John Travolta has nothing on Zach when it’s time to shake his bootie.

Zach has always liked moving around (perhaps that’s an understatement, as the child possesses more energy than me and my husband ever had, combined), but this affinity for dance has only been unleashed in him since he became a member of the Creative Arts Project. The founder of the program, Katie Laurino, developed the idea in order to afford children with a myriad of developmental challenges the chance to participate in the arts in a meaningful, safe environment. The instructor and her assistants have incorporated the dual goals of promoting self-confidence and socialization into the classes, concepts dear to Ms. Katie’s heart. The desired outcome of the lessons is to provide a forty-five minute class that helps children gain better body awareness, an understanding of dance, and facilitates creativity in movement.

If you could see Zach’s face after every lesson, you’d know there’s at least one child living out Miss Katie’s dream.

Ms. Laurino’s desire to create a place where children are encouraged just to be themselves came from a personal experience, one which inspired her to action. Upon relocating back to the Garden State after a half decade teaching dance in a North Carolina studio, she spent some time babysitting a family with two boys, one on the autism spectrum, and one who was neurotypical. Part of her duties included taking the children to karate class, where she often heard the other students publicly discussing how her charge with PDD-NOS was “different”. She wasn’t certain if the little boy comprehended what was being said about him, but she was confident his sibling understood it all. Miss Katie decided that he, and every child, deserved better.

And from a desire to transcend tolerance and promote acceptance, the Creative Arts Project was born.

The Creative Arts Project (CAP) holds several different reasonably-priced sessions on Friday afternoons, with placement of each child being determined by both age and level of ability. Miss Katie is hoping to add some new elements to the school soon, including yoga-for-kids, at a later date. The fancy footwork takes place at the Rebecca Martin School of Dance, 1628 Beaver Dam Road, Point Pleasant, NJ. For further information, please contact Katie Laurino at:

With Halloween over (sigh!) I can’t promise your kids spiders, but I can guarantee them all a great, and affordable, hour of fun.