Michelle Gabrielle Centamore

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North Fork Community Theatre Marks Milestone

The North Fork Community Theatre is gearing up for major renovations.

Since 1962, the North Fork Community Theatre has performed more than 200 high-quality shows in a quaint, circa-1830 space rented from the Mattituck Presbyterian Church.

Determined to make the beloved space their permanent home, the NFCT launched a fundraising campaign, “Building on Tradition,” aiming to raise $1,000,000 to purchase and renovate the structure. The community wholeheartedly embraced the endeavor and NFCT bought the building in 2012 for half their fundraising goal. It is now partially renovated, with major renovations to commence following NFCT’s Youth on Stage production of Seussical, running July 19 to Aug. 5.

“North Fork Community Theatre is an integral part of the community,” says Mary Motto Kalich, board president of NFCT. “The joy of working really hard on a project with like minded people…it is good for everyone, especially kids.”

The all-volunteer organization presents a fall and spring musical, two winter plays and a Youth on Stage performance in summer, providing an opportunity for individuals to use their talents, learn and have fun.

Seussical will showcase an “outrageous level of energy and talent in the kids [ranging in age from 14 to 22],” she says. Following Seussical, the NFCT will extend the stage by three feet on either side, build an orchestra pit and rehearsal room below the stage, and add new lighting.

“The main goal is to keep the local charm and feel of the theatre but also enhance outdated technology so our patrons can better see, hear and experience live theatre,” says Kalich.

North Fork Community Theatre is located at 12700 Old Sound Ave. in Mattituck. They can be reached at 631-298- 6328, 631-298-4500, or nfct.com Tickets cost $25.

Suicide Prevention: Talking Down Depression

The recent passings of fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain left many asking, how could two successful people who brought others such joy be so unhappy?

Their tragic deaths raised awareness of suicide and depression, shedding light on startling statistics indicating a national uptick in people taking their own lives. If there is any silver lining, it is that the back-to-back celebrity suicides sparked a healthy, open dialogue about depression and suicide because, most importantly, while increasingly prevalent, it is also preventable.

“Spade and Bourdain were human beings struggling with a core human emotion — a profound sadness that caused them to lose all hope and take their lives,” says Eda Franco, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Nassau County. “It could happen to anyone.”

Rates of suicide have increased by 30 percent between 1999 and 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that each year, nearly 45,000 Americans take their own lives. Locally, Nassau suicides declined from 100 in 2013 to 91 in 2015 and 141 to 137 in Suffolk for the same time period, according to the latest statistics available from the state health department.

Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, grandparents. Poor, wealthy, famous or not. All ages, any race, gender, ethnicity. Depression does not discriminate.

WIDE-RANGING FACTORS

Contributing factors to someone committing suicide may be unrelated to mental illness, experts say.

“A loss of a relationship on top of other losses, coupled with a lack of coping skills — for some individuals that could be a significant reason for them to consider their life worthless,” says Garra Lloyd-Lester, director of Community Initiatives for the Suicide Prevention Center of New York.

Feelings of deep shame, embarrassment, and being trapped could also cause someone to act irrationally in a desperate state, he notes.

Individuals with depression who are taking prescription medication for depression, anxiety, etc. must be consistently monitored, says Karen Boorshtein, CEO of the Huntington-based Family Service League.

“All medications have side effects,” she says.

Alcohol consumption in addition to drugs such as opioids can increase feelings of hopelessness, she adds.

KNOW THE SIGNS

“Look for changes in behavior,” says Franco.

Extreme exhaustion, irritability, sadness, distraction, aloofness, decrease in work productivity, lack of motivation.

“When you’re in a deep clinical depression, you may experience prolonged sadness,” she adds. “You don’t want to move.”

UNDERLYING MOTIVATIONS

“They don’t know how to go on living at that particular moment in time with the psychic and emotional pain they are feeling,” Lloyd-Lester says. “They’re not able to see clearly at the moment and everything leads in one direction [for them],” he adds.

Bring them to the present.

START WITH CONVERSATION

“It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Lloyd-Lester says. “It’s about being real and genuine and connecting with that person. So, if you ask someone directly and openly in a caring manner [if they are contemplating suicide] and they say ‘no’ and you don’t believe them, ask them if they ever did get to that point, what would they do or who would they tell?”

Most importantly, let them know they are not alone. Share resources. Trained professionals — counselors, therapists, psychologists, etc. — can help both the individual in crisis and their loved ones, too.

“People in the community can play a role in helping keep people safe,” Lloyd-Lester says.

It’s OK to talk more openly with kids, too, he notes: “How they understand it needs adult guidance.”

SUICIDE PREVENTION SOURCES

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
212-363-3500

Crisis Hotline and Services, Nassau County
516-227-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line
Text HOME to 741741

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
800-826-3632

Family Service League, Suffolk County
631-427-3700

Long Island Crisis Center
516-826-0244

Mental Health Association of Nassau County
516-489-2322

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
800-273-TALK

Response of Suffolk County Crisis Center
631-751-7500

Suicide Prevention Resource Center for New York
716-816-2249

The Trevor Project (For LGBTQ Youth)
866-488-7386

Lyme Disease Sufferer Fights For Patients’ Rights

Brad Schrwartz

After being bitten by a tick while hiking in Connecticut two decades ago, then-Wesleyan University student Brad Schwartz visited the college medical center, getting a clean bill of health.

After the bite and testing negative for Lyme disease, Schwartz began experiencing Lyme symptoms, several months later: lower back pain, joint pain and swelling, headaches, and trigeminal neuralgia on the side of his face. One year later, he developed a limp. Schwartz says that the lack of advanced and reliable testing, comprehensive treatment, and health insurance coverage to appropriately treat late-stage Lyme, wreaked havoc physically, mentally and emotionally and affected his family financially. He says his experience is not unique.

“Upon recovery, I became determined to stand up for patient rights and universal access to affordable healthcare,” says Schwartz, the Democratic challenger to New York State Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill).

Schwartz says the odds were against him because the only test available when he was bitten was the ELISA test.

“The test is susceptible to false negatives, especially in earlier-stage Lyme where the body has yet to produce higher levels of antibodies, which is what the test looks for,” says Schwartz.

He sought answers and relief from rheumatologists, neurologists and orthopedists. One practitioner misdiagnosed him with a rare autoimmune condition and prescribed immunosuppressants.

“That likely further worsened my illness,” Schwartz says.

Despite his illness, Schwartz earned a master’s degree and pursued a career in film and television.

“By the time I turned 29 my body crashed,” he recalls. “I lost almost 60 pounds and could barely get out of bed. My family took me to the Mayo Clinic and Columbia Presbyterian, which has a Lyme Disease clinic.”

Doctors administered the new Western Blot test. Schwartz tested positive. While relieved to have answers, there was still much frustration.

“We ended up spending years and tens of thousands of dollars going down a rabbit hole while the illness decimated my body and finances,” he recalls.

But Schwartz wasn’t out of the woods. He learned that treating Lyme so late would take more than antibiotics.

“Without agreement among the medical community on how to treat late-stage Lyme, and insurance companies unwilling to cover most treatments, my family and I began another frustrating journey going from doctor to doctor and spending large amounts out-ofpocket,” he says.

Schwartz says that the protocol for treating late-stage Lyme needs to be changed.

“Unfortunately, there are many in the medical profession who still believe a two-week protocol of antibiotics cures late-stage Lyme,” he says. “Of course, the premise of treating any disease in a late or advanced stage with the exact same protocol as treating early onset is entirely faulty.”

“Lyme is expensive to treat,” he adds. “So, in addition to battling the disease, patients are subject to this battle with healthcare companies–left to choose between getting better or going broke.”

Schwartz says that creating awareness is critical, beginning with testing.

“Anyone suspected of having Lyme disease should receive both available tests—the ELISA and Western blot,” says Schwartz.

Physicians need to inform their patients that both tests are not reliable and false positives are possible.

“This is a law I would like to see passed here in New York State and which I would strongly fight for if elected to the state Senate.”

TICK PREVENTION TIPS 

Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected black-legged or “deer” tick. Between 2013 and 2015, 22,545 cases were reported in New York. Up to 10 percent go unreported, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Scott Campbell, director of Suffolk County’s Arthropod-Borne Disease Laboratory, offers some preventative tips:

Dress appropriately. When near tall grass, bushes, especially, cover skin with long pants or socks.

Apply tick repellent. It acts as a chemical barrier.

Do frequent tick checks. Lyme is transmitted between 24 and 48 hours.

Put clothes in dryer upon removal. Ten minutes will kill a tick.

Remove ticks carefully. Reach close to the skin and pull straight up. Avoid squishing. Put tick in rubbing alcohol; save it in a dated container if needed for testing.

Consult a physician following a bite or if you have symptoms. Symptoms could include a (bull’s-eye) rash, headaches, joint pain, swelling or stiffness, aches, and fatigue.

How To Achieve Feng Shui at Home

Feng shui includes comfy furnature and conversation-starting art in the living room.

Feng shui, the 3,000-year-old Chinese art of arranging surroundings to achieve a balanced “chi,” or energy, is increasingly being adopted to help people feel more at peace in their abodes.

The result is a healthier home or work environment and a more connected you, says Nadia Vee, award-winning designer, feng shui and staging expert, owner of Great Neck-based GNR Design, LTD., and faculty member of the Metropolitan Institute of Design.

Vee offers tips to get started with feng shui (pronounced “fung shway”) and embark on a wondrous path of opportunity

CLUTTER BE GONE

Sounds daunting, but by decluttering your space from nonessential “stuff,” you free your mind and almost instantly gain clarity, inviting opportunities for new, positive emotions and successes.

“Ask yourself, ‘Do I need it? Do I love it? Do I use it?’” Vee says.

If the answer is “No,” bid farewell.

OPENING TO PEACE

The path of opportunity begins at the front door.

“It is the transition between the outer and inner world,” says Vee.

This is where you make your first impression to others and set the tone for your day, your mood and your life. Make sure you can open the door to a 90-degree angle.

“If you can’t, it means you’re blocking opportunities,” she says.

Clear the entranceway of piles of shoes, magazines, newspapers or boxes. No squeaky door hinges. No overgrown greens.

Don’t take the easy way out by entering and exiting through side or garage doors, Vee says.

COOK UP PROSPERITY

It’s no secret that the kitchen is often the key gathering place for company and the life source of your home, where good, healthy food is prepared and enjoyed amongst family and friends.

The kitchen is symbolic of health, wellness and prosperity, says Vee. She suggests a round table with no sharp edges, a clean stove, and a decor that features earthy tones, not just on the walls and cabinetry but with displayable food — colorful fruits and vegetables and an herb garden, too.

FOSTER JOY, SERENITY

The living room or family room is where you entertain friends and enjoy quality time with family.

It’s where you socialize in the comfort of your home, regroup and reconnect. Earthy colors are [again] very important, says Vee.

“They enhance the mood,” she says.

Create a focal point — a fireplace, television or coffee table, in an area where everyone can gather together. Comfy seating is super important. This room needs to be warm and inviting.

Sentimental photos or children’s artwork are also a nice touch.

ART INSPIRES CONVERSATION

Art has information, a story. Nature has life. When both are strategically placed in the environment, energy radiates throughout.

Choose art — paintings, sculptures, photos, a special vase — that carries a positive message or triggers a fond memory. Welcome beauty, strength, prosperity and growth with lush, living plants, orchards or palm trees…a bouquet of homegrown flowers on the kitchen table, in the living room and hallway.

“If you have a small, dark bathroom, display a bamboo with rocks…you will be amazed how good it will do,” says Vee.

THE THREE S’S

“Sleep, sex and senses,” says Vee. “You’re spending so much of your life in the bedroom, replenishing your energy and connecting to your senses.”

The bed should be comfortable and always have fresh linens. Situate it against the wall with a clear view of the door and window(s) from the headboard. Represent an equal partnership by placing a nightstand on either side and assuring that there’s space for each partner to walk around the bed.

“The bedroom is a sacred place for you and your partner,” says Vee.

Decorate with soft, pastel colors. Avoid photos and memorabilia that are tied to negative memories.

When you initiate feng shui, you’re not just enhancing decor, you’re taking the next step toward a better you, Vee says.

Equal space for partners on either side of the bed is another tenant of feng shui.

Guys and Dolls a Hit at The New Argyle Theatre

Guys and Dolls is The Argyle at Babylon Village’s debut musical. Photo by Richard Termine.

The Argyle Theatre at Babylon Village made its Long Island theatre debut May 10 with the 1950 classic musical Guys and Dolls.

Father-and-son owners Mark and Dylan Perlman and artistic director Evan Pappas, along with their fantastic creative production team and cast, mounted an extraordinary production that put ear-to-ear smiles on a full house of excited theatregoers on opening night.

“It’s a very sweet show with great characters that you fall in love with,” Pappas says.

Guys and Dolls features brilliant choreography, lighting and a set that puts the audience right in the heart of New York City to experience gambling shenanigans, tall tales, broken promises and finally, unequivocal love.

Argyle’s beautifully renovated theatre boasts lots of legroom, new concession area, balcony and orchestra pit. The seats are quite nostalgic, too, as they’re right from New York City’s own Beacon Theatre.

The cast stars Elizabeth Broadhurst and Todd Buonopane as Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit, Spencer Plachy as Sky Masterson, Melissa Maricich as Miss Sarah Brown, and Robert Anthony Jones as Nicely-Nicely Johnson.

In addition to comedic flair, each actor portrays their character with so much heart and “honesty,” that “the audience is sure to go on their journey with them,” says Pappas.

With all-time favorites such as “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Luck, Be a Lady,” “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” and “Adelaide’s Lament,” Argyle’s Guys and Dolls is a toe tapping, hand-clapping, laugh-out-loud show, not to be missed.

Rounding out the cast are Piera Calabro, Connor Cook, Nancy Evans, David A. Ferguson, Tom Giron, Whitney Renne Hickman, Danielle Sue Jordan, Gerard Lanzerotti, Kyra Leeds, Cody Marcukaitis, Datus Puryear, Stephen Valenti, and Shelley Valfer.

“This production, while staying true to the story, music and lyrics, is so fresh and innovative,” Dylan Pearlman says. “The proof is in the pudding.”

Argyle Theatre, 34 West Main St., Babylon. argyletheater.com, 844-631-5483. Guys and Dolls tickets $74-$79. Through June 17.

Practice Sun-safe Skincare This Summer

Many Long Islanders are thrilled to shed their winter layers and spend warm, carefree days poolside, on the boat, or at the beach — but that’s what makes them so susceptible to skin cancer.

During that fun in the sun, remember to protect your skin — your body’s largest organ — from UV or ultraviolet exposure, experts warn.

Become better educated on skin cancer facts and prevention.

BEST DEFENSE

Consistent, daily sunscreen use reduces risk of melanoma by 50 percent, according to the New York-based Skin Cancer Foundation. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher that is labeled “broad-spectrum.” Apply to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors; reapply .

BEWARE THE VARIATIONS

“Basal cell [carcinoma] is the most common and least serious; treatment is simple,” says Dr. Rajiv Datta, chair of the Department of Surgery, director of the Division of Surgical Oncology and Head and Neck Surgery, and medical director of Gertrude & Louis Feil Cancer Center at South Nassau Communities Hospital.

“Squamous cell is a little more serious,” he notes, but the outcome is typically positive. “Melanoma is very serious.”

It can spread to other organs, including the lymph nodes.

“All three skin cancers are related to sun exposure,” he says.

RISK FACTORS

“It is true that people with really light skin, freckles and light hair are more susceptible, as they have less of the skin pigment melanin in their skin cells,” Dr. Datta says.

AVOID TANNING BEDS

The New York State Department of Health bans the use of tanning beds for individuals under 18 years old.

Still, “the tanning bed remains a huge problem,” says, Dr. Abraham Abittan of Comprehensive Dermatology in Woodmere. “It induces a tan by utilizing UVA, which absorbs much deeper into the skin and has much more of a carcinogenic potential than UVB.”

LIMIT SUN EXPOSURE

“It breaks down the collagen and elastic layers of the skin and increases the rate of duplication of skin cells that can cause precancers of the skin,” explains Dr. Abittan. “Chronically sun-damaged skin will be atrophic, dry and more translucent than normal skin.”

GET SCREENED REGULARLY

“Unless you do a total body exam, there’s no way of knowing,” says Dr. Michael Dannenberg of Dermatology Associates of Huntington, PC in Huntington, who is affiliated with Huntington Hospital and other medical centers.

Adults should be seen annually, he says.

“If young children have a lot of moles, absolutely bring them in for a baseline exam,” he advises.

The qualities of the mole — size, color — should be recorded and monitored. Teenagers should also be seen for a baseline evaluation.

KNOW THE SIGNS

“Any single mole should be fairly homogeneous in color,” says Dr. Dannenberg. “If you have multiple colors within a single mole… if its diameter is greater than 6 millimeters or larger than a pencil, it absolutely needs to be evaluated.”

Any new spots, lingering sores, rough or scaly red patches that crust or bleed, and raised growths or lumps should be addressed, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

ABCS OF SUN-SAFE SKINCARE

Avoid direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That’s when the sun’s rays are the most intense. Clouds do not block most UV rays. Keep extra sunblock in your purse, briefcase or backpack. Use it for quick application to the face and neck if you take a last minute walk or grab a bite outdoors.

Wear makeup with SPF. While it won’t replace sunscreen, added protection is always good, especially for morning errands.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Hats are fun, fashionable and more importantly, help protect your head, eyes, face, ears and neck from damaging rays. Choose one that is lightweight yet tightly woven.

Wear sunglasses. Damage from  the sun’s UV rays causes up to 20 percent of cataracts cases, according to the World Health Organization. Extended sun exposure can cause eye cancer. Achieve style and protection with close-fitting, wraparound frames.

The Argyle Theatre in Babylon Debuts

The Argyle Theatre is located in the heart of downtown Babylon. (Photo by Jen Uihlein)

Babylon village is joining the Long Island neighborhoods where community theaters take center stage, thanks to a father-and-son team that has transformed the historic Bow Tie Cinema into The Argyle Theatre.

Mark and Dylan Perlman have been working tirelessly for the last year to usher in the single theatre space, complete with orchestra pit, balcony, state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and rigging systems. The Argyle Theatre will offer main stage productions, children’s theatre, concerts, comedy acts, film series, specialty shows, and educational programs.

“We encourage theatregoers to enjoy a complete experience,” says Dylan. “Dinner, shopping and a nice, short walk to our theatre, which is centrally located in town. It’s pretty cool.”

Owning and operating The Argyle Theatre is a dream come true for the Perlmans, who purchased the space in February 2017 and invested more than $1.6 million to refurbish the nearly century-old building. It will have seating for up to 700.

The theater first opened its curtain to a Donna Summer tribute and several comedy acts in late April and early May, but their first theatrical performance won’t start until mid May.

They’re ecstatic to be debuting their first main stage production this month with Guys and Dolls, a comedic tale of love and scandal during the Depression era. Directed by longtime Broadway director and Argyle Theatre artistic director Evan Pappas, Guys and Dolls features classic hits such as Luck, Be a Lady,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

Dylan says, “It’s a beautiful, funny, touching, roll the dice and fall in love classic story.”

The musical will surely bring love at first sight to theatergoers visiting the new venue.

Guys and Dolls, Argyle Theatre, 34 West Main St., Babylon. argyletheater.com $74-$79. May 10-June 17.

How To Use Your Tax Refund Wisely

Looking forward to a big refund check from your tax return?

Don’t be so quick to spend it, says David Schwartz, CFP, CEO of FCE Group, a wealth management, investment advisory and financial planning firm in Lake Success. While it may seem like an easy and justifiable round-trip ticket for your dream vacation, your refund is truly an opportunity to secure your finances.

So, spend — and most importantly, save and invest — wisely.

GOT DEBT?

If you have any type of high-interest debt, clear it, or pay as much off as you can.

“There is no good debt,” says Schwartz.

Start with the credit card that is the most costly or has the highest interest rate and then work your way down from there.

If you have no debt, then apply the “spend 1/3, save 1/3, invest 1/3” rule.

SPEND ONE-THIRD

Spend on something that creates worth, suggests Schwartz.

Remodeling a kitchen can add value to your home if you’re looking to sell down the line. Fix your car so it doesn’t break down.

“If you are going to spend your refund, spend it on something that has value instead of running to stores and buying stuff,” says Schwartz.

Desperate for a getaway?

“Your family vacation does not need to involve a plane ticket or boat or something lavish,” says Schwartz.

It could be a simple day trip to Montauk.

SAVE ONE-THIRD

If you’re going to save, consider a money market fund. Visit a local bank or discount brokerage firm and seek a high yield.

“It’s just like a high-interest savings account and you can withdraw funds at any time,” notes Schwartz.

That saved money can be a safeguard if your job is in jeopardy or if you’re looking to make a dramatic or risky career move. Plan ahead for your kids’ college tuition with a 529 plan.

“You can save New York State tax, which is a good thing,” says Schwartz, however, that money could affect whether or not you qualify for financial aid.

INVEST ONE-THIRD

Establish an individual retirement account (IRA) or contribute to an existing one and you’ll be setting yourself up for a healthier, more financially stable retirement, says Schwartz.

You don’t need a minimum to open it and whatever it earns, you won’t pay taxes on the interest until you start taking retirement distributions. You should also see if you qualify for a Roth IRA: Although the contributions are not deductible, the retirement account grows tax-free and there is no tax to be paid when the distributions begin.

“If you have extra money and you put it away,” says Schwartz, “it compounds and it grows and it makes life so much more enjoyable down the road.”

WELLNESS PLAN: PERSONAL FINANCE HEALTH 

It’s but a lucky few that haven’t found themselves behind in their bills and struggling to get out of a financial hole at some point in their lives — some more so than others.

Since it is only a matter of when, not if, financial hardships — natural disasters, divorce, job loss, to name a few — will occur, the best course of action is to plan ahead with a rainy-day fund and these tips from financial experts:

Make a Financial Calendar: Key to balancing your budget is tracking when income comes in and when bills are due.

Check Your Interest Rate: APR too high? Research lenders that offer lower rates. And switch to a credit union with a higher yield on checking accounts.

Track Your Net Worth: Checking your credit score isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes time for a big-ticket purchase.

Set a Budget: And if more money is going out than coming in, take corrective action immediately.

Try an All-Cash Diet: Think of the savings at the gas pump alone!

Take a Daily Money Minute: The budget isn’t going to track itself.

Allocate 20 percent of Income to Financial Priorities: Like paying down debt, for one.

Budget About 30 percent to Lifestyle Spending: Because once you have a budget, you’ll know exactly how much guilt-free fun you can afford.

Helping Hands for Kids With ASD

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

Theatre Three
412 Main St., Port Jefferson, 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com

Setting Your Sights On Eye Health

Our eyes allow us to see life in all its natural wonder. What we see serves as inspiration to awaken the rest of our senses.

As March is Eye Health Awareness Month, consider what the experts have to say on how to keep those windows to the world healthy.

Get routine checkups

For adults, annual exams are critical for a proper evaluation of eye health, says Dr. Matthew Gorski, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in Great Neck. A comprehensive eye exam in which the eyes are dilated explores the entire eye and its surrounding structures, testing vision and eye pressure.

“Cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, floaters, dry eye syndrome, and refractive error are common issues that are diagnosed and routinely managed with an ophthalmologist,” says Dr. Gorski.

In addition to annual screenings with their pediatrician, children should also be periodically checked by a pediatric ophthalmologist, says Dr. Ketan Laud, retinal surgeon for Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island (OCLI).

“The circuits between the brain and the eyes are established by age 11,” so it is critical to identify any weak connections early, explains Dr. Laud.

A lazy eye or amblyopia in a child could be corrected by therapy, surgery, or a patching program in which the stronger eye is covered to force the weaker eye to work harder. If caught early enough, this condition may be corrected with prescription lenses, he says.

Watch for warning signs

If you’re experiencing unusual symptoms — a sudden onset of flashing lights or floating spots, sudden loss in vision, double vision, headaches or increase in headaches — follow up, says Dr. Cheryl Berger Israeloff, a neuro visual optometrist at the Neuro Visual Center of New York in Garden City.

“It’s important to rule out an ocular problem,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be life threatening but if someone is seeing flashes of light, it can be vision threatening.”

Nearsightedness or farsightedness could be corrected with glasses or contacts, she adds.

Choose your eyewear wisely

Choosing between contact lenses or glasses is truly “a lifestyle choice,” says Dr. Richard G. Davis, ophthalmologist and managing partner at Precision Eye Care (an OCLI Division) and medical director at Island Eye Surgicenter in Huntington.

Contacts come in handy during “sports activities where having the correction closer to the eye aids in better visualization of fast movements with less peripheral distortion.”

Having a backup pair of eyeglasses is valuable if contacts can’t be worn due to an irritation or infection.

“Eyeglasses provide an element of protection to the eyes not afforded by contact lenses,” he says.

Avoid eye-related injuries

Wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from UVA and UVB light helps prevent the development of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, and decreases the risk of eyelid skin cancers, says Dr. Gorski. Use protective glasses during activities such as gardening, operating heavy tools or machinery, fishing, or playing sports.

Prevent infection by “properly cleaning or discarding contacts, never sleeping or swimming in contacts, and routinely seeing your eye care specialist.”

And don’t smoke.

“Smoking has been linked to the development of cataracts, age- related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and dry eye syndrome and can worsen thyroid-related eye disease,” he warns.

Heart healthy = eye healthy

According to Dr. Laud, there isn’t a strong link between diet and eyesight, however, “you can always be proactive,” especially if you have a family history of macular degeneration.

“Everybody should be eating a heart-healthy diet,” the doctor says. That means one that is low fat and rich in fish and dark, leafy vegetables that provide antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin.

Your eyes help you to connect to people, the environment and the world. They are the windows into your overall health and well-being. Practice due diligence to achieve a clear path of eye health and a greater quality of life.

TAKE A LOOK

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