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.






February 24, 2014

Parents of Autistic Children (POAC) Gala 2014

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 3:57 pm by autismmommytherapist

POAC 1(Gary Weitzen, Executive Director of POAC)

This past Saturday evening I had the luxury of having a girls’ night out with a dear friend at the annual Parents of Autistic Children (POAC) gala, a celebration of fifteen years of their service to the New Jersey autism community. I was deliriously happy to get out of my house (this winter has taken its toll in more ways than one, ask my poor scale), and an event with parents of children with autism as well as autistic adults themselves was something I’d eagerly been looking forward to for weeks.

In addition to good music, good food (a pasta appetizer bar!) and even greater company I always seem to come away from this evening reenergized, more able to focus not only on the issues my two children on the autism spectrum are experiencing, but on their accomplishments as well. And in addition to eating and dancing the night away, everyone in attendance spends a good part of the night bragging about their kids’ successes to people who “get it.”

Frankly, it’s a fabulous perk of the night, right up there with those addictive chocolate-covered strawberries Eagle Ridge always serves at the end.

As my friend Babette and I settled into our table I prepared myself for POAC Executive Director Gary Weitzen’s annual speech (he never fails to make me cry at least once), searching through my night purse for a pen to take notes as my memory (and many other things) aren’t what they used to be. As usual, with his words I was rewarded. Gary did a wonderful job outlining the myriad ways in which POAC, which is the largest provider of free autism training and education in the entire state for both teachers and law enforcement officials, also provides a myriad of free recreational events for families.

POAC 2(Me, Gary, and fabulous friend Babette)

He also recounted a moving anecdote about his wonderful adult son Chris, regaling us with his desire to hear his then four-year-old child speak just one single word, a wish thankfully granted. Gary went on to inform us that for the past decade-and-a-half POAC had been building a parachute for families, and that now their focus would also include job and residential opportunities autistic individuals over twenty-one. As always, POAC is always looking both to improve their services, and to plan for the future of our children.

I have no doubt they’ll come through for all of us.

The night’s speeches were capped off by a moving slide show featuring autistic children and their families at various events, as well as the volunteers who single-handedly make POAC such a successful autism organization. Traditionally this hails my second crying spectacle of the night, and for once in an effort to preserve my mascara I permitted myself to turn away and take a good look, a really good look, around the gorgeously decorated room.

As I scanned the tables I saw fierce and Congress-celebrated autism advocate Bobbie Gallagher rubbing the shoulder of her beautiful adult daughter Alanna, and couldn’t help but recall how she’d helped me when I first moved to our town, assisting me in navigating the special education component of our school district. I watched as Simone Tellini (Gary’s right hand at POAC) was held rapt by the power point, and thought of the struggles she’d shared with me about her adult son with autism, how she’d moved mountains for him during a time when nobody really knew much about the disorder or truly seemed to care.

As I shifted in my seat I felt behind me the presence of Geoff and Roe Dubrowsky, two advocates who have advised politicians and served on every local, state and federal committee known to man, who also have an adult child on the spectrum. I truly looked around the room at one hundred and fifty people in their finery, all here to support one another as well as the organization hosting them.

I entered that room and saw it mostly full of strangers. By the end of the presentation, I felt myself to be an integral part of a growing, vibrant, and incredibly committed community.

POAC 4(Geoff Dubrowsky, Gary Weitzen, Roe Dubrowsky)

I’ve been a POAC member since shortly after I moved here in 2008, and I cannot emphasize enough how much this organization has meant to my family, and to countless others in the state. They are a well-spring of information, and provide those all-important recreational events for families in a safe environment, where no child or adult is ever judged. I am truly grateful to them for their continued support, and most importantly for the friendships I’ve made there, men and women whose acceptance, kindness, and humor have helped get this family through some dark times into the light.

It’s possible I appreciate their humor the most.

Whether you’ve had the “autism experience” for over a decade as I have, you have a child who’s newly diagnosed, or you’re simply looking for a wonderful place to volunteer, I can’t recommend POAC enough. I’ll list their contact information below, and I encourage you to reach out, whether it’s to gain help, or to offer yours. We are a community unto itself.

And if you’re seeking a community who cares, you’ve found your home.

Contact POAC at www.poac.net


April 23, 2012

The Show Must Go On- “Raising Autism”

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:06 am by autismmommytherapist

I’m fidgeting, and as I stand in the wings with my actresses, preparing to take the stage for my autism play, I admonish myself to stop (using my own “teacher voice” no less). Gary Weitzen, Executive Director of POAC Autism Services, is wrapping up his introduction, and I’m anxious to be up there and get this show literally on the road. I take a few deep breaths, solicit the last remnants of saliva from their hiding places in my mouth, and attempt to clear my head.

I recall my “performance mantra”, which is SEL (“Slow down Jersey Girl/Emote, woman!/Look at people on occasion”), and feel my uncooperative stomach settle. I remember the trick I’m using to get through the play without bawling continuously, which is to conjure up clips with female comedians to my stressed-out brain. Melissa McCarthy during the bathroom scene in Bridesmaids easily comes to mind. Kristen Wiig holding a raw chicken on Saturday Night Live, and losing it, follows. An Amy Poehler and Tina Fey chaser in, well, anything, concludes my comedic quad.

Gary wraps up his speech, takes his seat, and I hear the strains of my brother’s music emanating from the sound board backstage. We reach the song’s first crescendo, I gently tap my friend in front of me, and we head for the stairs.

Ready or not, it’s showtime.

This past Saturday night, through the graciousness of POAC Autism Services,I had the great fortune to both act in and produce a play I wrote almost a year ago. It’s entitled “Raising Autism”, and its stories are shared through the medium of three mothers reading from faux diaries, laying their experiences with their children bare for the audience, and themselves. I came up with the idea last summer, and thinking that attempting fiction for the first time while entering middle-age might not be a realistic goal, I didn’t take it too seriously. I had a desire to create a fundraiser for POAC that could be easily replicated down the road, and an urge to divert a bit from my path of writing about my daily life with two boys on the autism spectrum, but truthfully, I didn’t really think I could do it. I’d wrench myself away from my pool every morning the boys were in summer school (the horror!) and write an entry or two, then leave it alone for a few days to write for my blog.

About six weeks into the summer I realized I had half a play, and my husband said it was pretty decent. Who knew.

Ten months, a lot of rewrites, (and a profound amount of begging for donated services later), we’re here, and I’m thrilled to say minus a few sound issues (there’s always something, it’s THEATER), the night went beautifully. My friend and mom of two on the spectrum Babette Zschiegner truly threw herself into her part, and got laughs in all the right places. My other friend and actress Bobbie Gallagher, also the mom to two with autism (I know, there’s a theme here) brought a raw emotion to a role I frankly am too chicken to play, and simply dominated the stage. Given the sniffles (and chuckles) I heard in the audience I think my slightly sarcastic college professor was well-received, even down to her anti-religious leanings and the difficulties of raising autistic twins with her partner back in the early nineties. Although I could only see a few legs from the front row (thank God for the black void of extinguished house lights), I’m told the audience was truly invested in the performance, and for that I am eternally grateful.

After all, I gave up a ton of tanning hours for this little production. It’s nice to reap some reward.

There’s one performance left this coming Saturday April 28th, at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove, 8:00 PM. If you’re interested, you can purchase tickets off the POAC website www.poac.net, or pay in cash at the door (the theater seats 600, I promise you’ll get in). All proceeds go directly to POAC Autism Services. I promise, if you either have or teach a child on the autism spectrum you’ll find something in the play to relate to. If you don’t, I can guarantee you’ll learn something that evening.

And if you make it next weekend, on behalf of POAC and all the families it serves, and this mom/writer as well, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

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!