May 28, 2014

Just Horsin’ Around

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , at 10:23 am by autismmommytherapist


Six years ago this fall I took my then five-year-old severely autistic son to a POAC (Parents of Autistic Children) event at Rein Dancer, a farm which provides a therapeutic horseback riding program for riders of all disabilities.  I confess I mostly attended to support POAC, as Justin had never shown any evidence of liking animals, and I had a sneaking suspicion he would view riding a horse with as much excitement as eating vegetables (it turns out I was right.)


So despite his disinterest in furry friends my mom and I got him in the car and took him out to western Jersey one fall afternoon, and sat him on the gentlest horse of all time with a good deal of cajoling and prodding.


The entire ride lasted eight minutes and he tried to dismount three times. I sensed “jockey” was not in his immediate future.


Still, some instinct inside of me told me to try again with him, a gut reaction to this day I’m grateful I pursued.  I signed him up for lessons, schlepped him out there, and within a month or two he was enraptured with riding, “eeeing” his little heart out on his steed for a day.  He liked it so much I even found him a therapeutic riding camp he’s attended most summers since, where I discovered something shocking about my son.


It turns out my boy loves to perform.  Frankly, he’s quite the ham.


On the last day of camp every summer the riders put on a show, the duration of which my son beamed, laughed, and made intense eye contact with me and my mother the entire time.  I had rarely seen him this happy for so long a period, and decided to pursue opportunities for him to perform in other venues throughout the year.  After much research we ended up at Copper Hills Farms in their therapeutic division (Happy Tails run by Lauren Sgroi,) and this past weekend he was able to perform in his first show, all decked out in his brand new riding attire, ready to go.


At first, I thought it was going to be a disaster.


Justin was agitated from the get-go, sensing that today would be radically different from his general lesson days.  When it was time for him to mount he first rejected his helmet, then finally acquiesced and allowed me to lead him up the stairs to his ride.  He thankfully got on, then proceeded to make his displeasure known for about a third of the show by whining profusely.


Then, about ten minutes in, he simply stopped.


My aunt and I watched as my boy straightened up in his saddle, took a new interest in his surroundings, witnessed the slightest smile spread across his face.  He did all his trainer asked as she put him through his paces, even answering a question from the judge (Can you say “hi,” yes my son certainly can) that eventually earned him a blue ribbon in one of the three categories.  I saw my son slowly take pleasure in the event, watched as yet another new world opened up to us, one outside of the confines of our home.


I admit, by the end I was already thinking ahead to the next event.


Eventually the show ended and the riders were led up to the fence for their photo opp (you know I wouldn’t miss that,) and I could see my son was eager to conclude his participation in the program, so we quickly led him back to the barn and freedom.  As we walked back to the car I asked him if he had fun and he shook his head in a slight “yes,” a response for which on many levels I was grateful.


I smiled at my aunt as I put him in the car, then backed carefully into the dirt road leading us home.  I looked in my rearview mirror to see Justin rocking out to Stevie Nicks (he is so my child,) and made a mental note I knew for once I’d remember.


Justin’s made such progress.  Don’t be afraid to try new things.


Hell, just don’t be afraid.


And as we pulled into the driveway to conclude part one of our day I let the gratitude wash over me, coupled with a never-ending sense of pride for my son.




January 31, 2012

POAC Gala 2012, a Call for Contributions

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:04 am by autismmommytherapist

(Gary Weitzen, Executive Director)

It’s a brisk, wintry Saturday evening. Feathers and fedoras abound for the “gangster ball” theme, drinks are flowing, and the driving beat of good tunes makes it impossible not to claim space on the dance floor. No, this is not a scene from Boardwalk Empire. It’s a sneak peak at the POAC (Parents of Autistic Children) Gala, which is celebrated annually at the Eagle Ridge Golf Club, and will take place this February 25th at 6:00 PM.

I will not being wearing a flapper dress. They are not that becoming when you’re short.

In a few weeks several hundred people will soon gather to support POAC, as they endeavor to raise money to support the multitude of programs they continually offer to those within the autistic community. These programs range from providing educational supports to parents, teachers, and school personnel, as well as offering recreational activities to children with autism and their siblings. POAC receives no state or federal funds, and its existence relies entirely upon private donations.

Most of these programs remain free to anyone who works with or loves a child with autism.

I can speak from personal experience about what POAC has meant to me, and to many families in the area. When we relocated back to New Jersey six years ago, our eldest child had only had his autism diagnosis for about a year. While living in the Washington, DC area I had struggled to find activities to do with my son. I also struggled to find free educational opportunities with which to enhance his in-home ABA program, the methodology many people use to instruct autistic children.

(Simone Tellini, Training Coordinator)

As soon as I found out about POAC I realized we immediately had access to a wonderful support group, a variety of free educational workshops, and recreational opportunities in an atmosphere that was always welcoming to my child. POAC gave me and my son an outlet on weekends, and through one of their fundraisers a few years ago at Rein Dancer Therapeutic Riding Center, they were instrumental in showing me my eldest’s love for all things equine as well.

Most importantly, POAC gave us a second family.

The price of a ticket to attend the gala is $150, but there are other ways to contribute as well. Each year at the Gala a silent auction is held, and POAC is in need of donations for this year’s fundraiser. The Gala committee also holds a gift auction and raffle as well, and POAC would greatly appreciate any contributions of business goods or services. Finally, another way to contribute would be to place an ad in the Journal that is distributed to all guests the night of the event.

Any contribution you or your company make would benefit children with autism and their families tremendously.

If you are interested in participating, donations can be brought to the POAC office, or will be picked up for you. Please contact POAC at:

1999 Route 88

Brick, NJ 08724

(732) 785-1099

Thank you so much!

June 11, 2011

Riding High Farm

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:35 am by autismmommytherapist

My oldest son Justin is a confirmed horse lover, and has been happily participating in lessons now for well over a year-and-a-half. When I first started taking him however, I really didn’t think he would last the month. I based this assumption on his attitude during his first encounter with a horse, which occurred through the graces of a fund-raiser for POAC  hosted by Rein Dancer Therapeutic Riding Center , an encounter which ended after ten minutes. I can honestly say Justin’s desire to dismount during that period of time was matched only by my aversion to getting off the couch after 9 PM.

Not a pretty sight on either count.

Fortunately, over time my son has not only discarded his disdain for our equine friends, but has come to regard his lesson as the best half hour of his week. For him, this is now an activity that ranks second only to a visit from his “girlfriend” from down the block..

With Justin, women will trump horses every single time.

As his affection for his four-legged pals grew, I began to think that maybe one day we could turn this hobby into a skills-based pursuit, and I started to look around for summer camps for riders with disabilities. Even in New Jersey they are few and far between, but I managed to locate one within an hour or so of our house that has an excellent reputation. Riding High Farm fit the bill, and has been providing quality lessons for individuals who are physically and cognitively challenged for over thirty years.

Last summer Justin not only was able to ride a horse twice a day, he also learned safety tips, grooming skills, and some of the chores necessary to keep such beautiful animals alive. In short, he had a lot of fun, and acquired potential job skills simultaneously. It’s my dream that he’ll live on a farm when he reaches adulthood, and experiences such as this one might help him get such an opportunity one day. I signed him up early this year just to be on the safe side (for my frequent readers, that should surprise no one). I even remembered to check in last week to make sure they’d received my check, and to reassure myself that Justin’s blond mommy had remembered to send in all of the necessary paperwork.

I spoke to the owner who reassured me that all was in order. Then my heart fell as she also shared that this year, enrollment was low. With this economy, that doesn’t bode well for the future. Since this is one of the few leisure pursuits that Justin actually adores, I mean both his future, and mine.

I told them I’d get the word out about this organization, in the hopes they’d procure more patrons for the three weeks of camp they’ll be offering this summer. If you reside in New Jersey and have a child with any kind of disability who’s able to ride, Riding High is definitely a place worth checking out. I’ve posted a few photos from Justin’s experience last summer, as well as the link below. Even if this is not of interest to your child, I’d appreciate it if you could pass on the link to anyone for whom it would.

Last, I’d just like to say that the people who run Riding High are exceptionally kind, and had absolutely no issues handling my (at times) cantankerous child. We only attempted half day camp this year, but things went so well for Justin we’re going to give full-day camp a go this summer. You can bet I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for your time, and Riding High, a special thank-you for giving Justin one of the best weeks of his life in the summer of 2010. His family appreciates your efforts, and we’ll see you in a few weeks!