One in 68 children nationwide has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a condition characterized by developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
To help individuals with autism who often struggle to fit into mainstream environments, an increasing number of local services are being offered on Long Island to make typical family outings that may be intimidating easier.
“Many families with children who have autism often feel isolated and shut out from the rest of the community,” says Corinne Brown, Kings Park mother of 10-year-old Patrick, who has autism. Brown also represents the Long Island chapter of Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to educating, empowering and supporting families affected by autism. “When theaters and museums do offer sensory-friendly events, it is a great opportunity to take our children out as a family and not feel judged.”
While further progress is needed, great strides have been made in understanding the needs of families and children with autism.
“New York is probably the most aggressive of all states in advocating for people with autism to be integrated in society and succeeding in that,” says John Pfeifer, senior director of clinical services at Life’s WORC Family Center for Autism. “The ultimate goal in supporting kids with autism is helping them succeed in the outside world.”
Established in 1971, Life’s WORC is a nonprofit that provides services and support to people with developmental disabilities and autism and their families in Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. Life’s WORC offers classes such as cooking, yoga and music therapy, to help improve sensory development, communication and social skills.
Helping people with autism takes a village. As kids with autism learn how to function in their natural environment, their families are learning how to support them.
“Parents are trained to implement and maintain strategies to help generalize the skills throughout the day and different environments the child is exposed to,” says Andrea Kotler, a licensed behavioral therapist and regional director of Cedarhurst-based Proud Moments ABA Therapy. “Staff will go with clients to events in their community and facilitate their involvement.”
Proud Moments also offers social skills programs and “in-the-moment help” in the community. Beyond the agencies, sensory gardens, modified theater performances and special play centers offer opportunities for community inclusion for kids with autism.
Beyond the agencies, sensory gardens, and modified theater performances, special play centers offer opportunities for community inclusion for kids with autism.
“There is a huge increase in community events and programs meant to include individuals with developmental disabilities in activities that some have not beenable to attend in the past,” says Nicole Weidenbaum, executive director of Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism (NSSA), which offers educational, outreach/training and recreational programs, consultation services and in-home respite services. “We see doctors and dentists opening early for us and allowing us to visit and just sit in the chair for no charge. And doing rounds at our school to have some firsthand training and face time with individuals diagnosed with autism. The youth of today is involved in buddy programs, mentorships, joint soccer teams… the list is endless and I am hopeful that this trend will continue.”
Full disclosure: Long Island Press Co-publisher Victoria Schneps-Yunis founded Life’s WORC.
AUTISM-FRIENDLY VENUES ON LI
AHRC Suffolk’s Sensory Garden
283 Route 25A Shoreham, 631-585-0100, ahrcsuffolk.org
AMC Movie Theaters Multiple locations, 877-262-4450, amctheatres.com
Gersh Academy at West Hills Day Camp
21 Sweet Hollow Rd., Huntington, 631-385-3342, gershacademy.org
Gymboree Play & Music
Multiple locations, 631-266-1114, gymboreeclasses.com
Long Island Children’s Museum
Charles Lindbergh Blvd., Garden City, 516-224-5800, licm.org
Next Generation Dance
295 Larkfield Rd., East Northport, 631-486-9191, dancenxg.com
Pump It Up
Multiple locations, 516-466-7867, pumpitupparty.com
Sensory Beans Inc. Children’s Gym
3309 Merrick Rd., Wantagh, 516-308-1462, sensorybeans.org
Sky Therapeutic Riding Long Island
989 Connetquot Ave., Central Islip, 516-241-2046, SkyRidingLI.com
Sweetbriar Nature Center
62 Eckernkamp Dr., Smithtown, 631-979-6344, sweetbriarnc.com
412 Main St., Port Jefferson, 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com