Michelle Gabrielle Centamore


Chiropractic Adjustments Offer Drug-Free Pain Management

Woman having chiropractic back adjustment.

For several years, Shelley of Floral Park suffered from debilitating chronic back pain, resulting in missed work, difficulty with everyday tasks like grocery shopping, and an inability to enjoy favorite activities such as bike riding. 

Four years ago, everything changed. Shelley made the choice to address her pain through noninvasive, drug-free chiropractic treatments. She felt relief in only a couple of weeks. 

“My back pain is very manageable because I keep regular visits,” says Shelley, who asked that her last name not be used. “I have many days that I am pain free and movement is very easy. Drug-free management means, to me, that I am not using a Band-Aid, or relying on medications that provide relief, but do not address, nor fix, the underlying issue. And that is truly important to me.” 

New York State lawmakers who recently designated September as Drug-Free Pain Management Month hope that if more people follow Shelley’s lead, there will be fewer fatal overdoses due to the national opioid crisis, which is largely fueled by prescription painkillers.

“You have millions of Americans — millions of people all over the world — that suffer from chronic neck and back pain…migraines, [too],” says state Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport). “It’s very important that we spread the word that there are alternatives to treating chronic pain. Unfortunately, in Suffolk County, we have an ominous distinction — that is leading New York State with opioid deaths. Now, that was in 2016; fortunately, every year those numbers are going down a little bit.” 

Raia announced the designation, which is led by the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress, during a news conference at Levitan Chiropractic at the Pagoda Wellness Center in East Northport, where he was joined by state Assemblyman John Mikulin (R-Bethpage), Dr. Mark Levitan, other practitioners at Pagoda Acupuncture and Wellness Center, and members of the community.

“There are just so many people suffering from this,” says Mikulin, noting that Nassau County has also been impacted by the epidemic. “We’ve had success, but it’s very important that we have awareness and it’s important there are alternatives to opioids.”

As a member of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress, Dr. Levitan believes spearheading this national effort on a local level is critical. 

“We need to get out to the people not just awareness of the problem, but awareness of the solution,” he says. 

Opioids were originally intended for cancer pain, post-surgical pain, and for use over a limited period of time, Dr. Levitan explains. 

“What changed was that it became too readily available and too profitable for pharmaceutical manufacturers,” he says. Citing recent court settlements in excess of $10 billion involving pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma, Dr. Levitan adds, “They misled the public in terms of the actual true addictiveness of the agents.” 

He says that doctors also need to adhere to guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, and other organizations that say, “the first line of attack for chronic pain is supposed to be nonpharmacologic alternatives.” 

“Chiropractic is the most widely researched and documented and has the highest patient favorability of all alternatives,” says Dr. Levitan. “It’s the largest nondrug, nonsurgical healing art in the world.”

Adjusting the spine normalizes the body’s inherent capability to heal and maintain homeostasis and normal balance, explains Dr. Levitan. 

“When everything is functioning properly, pain manages to go away,” he says.

Raia adds that there’s no time to waste in raising awareness of drug-free alternatives to pain. 

“The truth of the matter is four out of five people that are addicted to heroin started with prescription drugs,” says Raia. “Here, we recognize acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic care. These are all the things that are very successful in treating chronic pain. People have a choice.”

Heroes Who Turned Night Into Day at Ground Zero Now Ailing

Teamsters Local 817 provided light trucks that helps first responders at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. (Getty Images)

Teamsters Local 817 President Thomas J. O’Donnell was driving with his father in New York City when he witnessed the first plane crash into the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

“We saw that plane hit the tower and we knew the country was under attack,” recalls  O’Donnell, who leads the Great Neck-based union that works in transportation, casting, and locations for film, television, and Broadway productions.

Although his union’s members work in the entertainment industry, they were among the many unsung heroes who responded to Ground Zero within hours and spent days, weeks, and months after the attacks. And just like the first responders facing severe health challenges, some members of the union have succumbed to cancers caused by toxins present at Ground Zero. As a result, his members are among those receiving support from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), funding for which was recently extended until 2090.

The day after the attacks, he received notice of a need for mobile power and lighting with a request for volunteer drivers. For the next two weeks, Local 817 had two 12-hour shifts of about 30 teamster drivers transporting generators on box trucks with lights. They also drove flatbed trucks to help carry large equipment and cables. Water trucks were also provided to spray down dust and keep it out of the air. O’Donnell notes that Local 817 collaborated with Local 52 Motion Picture Studio Mechanics, among other unions.

“Conditions were hazardous and everybody was issued breathing masks,” O’Donnell says. “Over a period of years, some people started developing symptoms or problems that resulted from their time spent there.”

James Leavey, a third-generation Local 817 teamster and retired recording secretary, assisted in the coordination and supervision for Local 817 in the 9/11 relief efforts. 

“We turned night into day with generators and lighting equipment,” Leavey recalls. ”I was never prouder of being a teamster and member of Local 817.”

Leavey, who, with support from the VCF, is being treated for respiratory issues, sleep apnea and chronic post-nasal drip, says he is “one of the lucky ones,” as others have either succumbed to cancer or are currently being treated for more severe health issues. 

“There was actually asbestos and carcinogens down there,” he says. “When the World Trade Center collapsed the dust was so thick you were really walking in a fog at times. We knew that there was going to be health problems, but nobody gave a second thought.”

That’s just what Local 817 does.

“There were miserable nights, pouring rain at times, the temperature had dropped, and it was really a tough situation,” O’Donnell recalls. “To all my members that volunteered and served, as well as every other volunteer who gave their time and put themselves out there, I’m both thankful and proud.” 

CBD Use Gaining Popularity For Help With Everything From Pain to Anxiety

Kseniya Sullivan of Bellmore, now 34, suffered with depression since she was 15, chronic pain since she was 25, and migraines for as long as she can remember. Her 16-year-old son is challenged with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), major depression disorder, and anxiety. They both felt like prisoners of their prescription medication up until about one year ago — until they discovered CBD.

Regulated by the Food and Drug Administration , cannabidiol, or CBD, is a nonpsychoactive compound derived from the hemp plant. Not to be confused with tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the chief psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives a high sensation, CBD is available over the counter or from a trusted healthcare provider. It comes in the form of oils, drops, sprays, gummies, supplements, topical lotions, and more. 

Two gummies a day and CBD balm for pain have offered Sullivan positive results. Her son takes five drops two times per day or eats a gummy. 

“It calms him enough to focus,” she says. “It’s not a perfect fix but it has helped so much with his depression and anxiety. For me, it is a savior. I haven’t had a full-blown migraine in six months now.”

According to a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, CBD can act as an anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, antioxidant, antiemetic, anxiolytic and antipsychotic, helping to treat a number of health conditions, including inflammation, epilepsy, oxidative injury, vomiting and nausea, anxiety and schizophrenia. It has even been found to help pets: A recent study by Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine suggests 2 mg/kg of CBD oil administered twice daily can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with osteoarthritis. 

CBD works with the endocannabinoid system to achieve balance in the body. 

“The endocannabinoid system is the largest regulatory system in our body,” explains Craig Zaffe, CEO of CBD Oils of Long Island and ACD Health and Wellness in Huntington. “We have CBD 1 receptors in our brain and nervous system and CBD 2 receptors in our organs and skin that naturally secrete natural cannabinoids. As we get older, we become deficient in the natural production of cannabinoids. That’s where inflammation and disease start.” 

Phytocannabinoids such as CBD help restore the endocannabinoid system. Dr. Amir Herman of East Northport-based Natural Pain Solutions says the bulk of his patients turn to CBD to relieve pain, anxiety, headaches, and improve sleep. 

“It helps them to relax,” he says, noting that CBD also works on the central nervous system. Patients with nerve pain have reported less numbness and tingling. “It has a calming effect on young patients with ADD and ADHD.” 

While CBD has shown to be relatively safe, Dr. Herman says it’s certainly not free from side effects. 

“There are absolutely people who developed issues with vaping CBD … irritation to their throat and lungs, coughing,” he says. 

Reported side effects also include tiredness, dizziness, light-headedness or stomach discomfort. The greatest challenge to administering CBD is that there’s not yet an “established standardization of dose,” says Dr. Herman. 

“You have to slowly titrate, increase the dose,” he says. “It could take anywhere between two weeks and two months before they get their optimal benefit or know that it’s not for them.”

“Recommendations and dosages vary from patient to patient and whether a condition is acute or chronic,” adds Dr. Joy Moy, physician of acupuncture and owner of Joy of Acupuncture in Huntington. When considering CBD, Dr. Moy says to “pay attention to the quality of the CBD that is harvested and extracted and whether or not it has been backed up independently or tested by third party labs.”

Identify a healthcare provider with competent knowledge of CBD, she advises. Dr. Moy says that bloodwork results on her patients who used CBD sublingual drops revealed lower overall body inflammation. A 91-year-old patient with a severely arthritic ankle who used CBD cream twice a day for two weeks no longer relies on his cane. 

Results may vary.

For Unvaccinated Students on Long Island, Uncertainty This Back-To-School Season

For more than 26,000 students, New York State’s recent repeal of the religious exemption for immunizations means they may never be allowed to set foot in their school or daycare again.

Among those in legal limbo are children on Long Island, whose families anxiously await news of two lawsuits seeking a resolution that may allow their kids to stay in their usual classrooms as their parents feverishly consider options. For those who are steadfast in their conviction to not vaccinate, if the legal challenges fail, considerations include home schooling, moving, or splitting up their family come September. Some public and private school administrators on LI are not sitting idly by amid the turmoil.

“As we begin to prepare for the upcoming school year, we are now faced with the horrific ramifications of this decision with no clear direction on how to serve these children,” East Islip School District Superintendent John V. Dolan said in a letter supporting a preliminary injunction and a stay while a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law is pending. “As an educator, as a parent, and a member of the human race, I implore you to grant a stay so that we can work together for a solution to this situation.”

Sparking the legal challenge was a state law passed on June 13 that ended the state’s religious exemptions from immunizations, which allowed parents to send their unvaccinated children to public and private schools as well as day care. The law was in response to a measles outbreak in Brooklyn and Rockland County. The law took effect immediately, giving children 14 days to attend school, after which they are required to show they received the first dose in each series of immunizations. After that they have until the 30th day to show a schedule for the remainder. All children are required to be fully caught up according to their age by June 30, 2020.

The case Superintendent Dolan sent a letter supporting is one of two lawsuits challenging the religious exemption repeal. His letter was submitted in support of the lawsuit filed in the Albany County court — in which a key hearing is scheduled for Wednesday — seeking a preliminary injunction and a stay allowing all students that had or would have been entitled to a religious exemption to continue attending their usual schools. The second lawsuit filed in Brooklyn federal court raises federal challenges seeking the same remedies for Special Education students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

Affected families are hoping they won’t have to uproot their kids while they’re planning for the worst-case scenario.

“He will no longer have the opportunity to foster relationships with his teachers and continue to overcome his anxiety,” Valerie Domenech of East Islip said of her 8-year-old son. “My son will not be able to attend school with his friends. He will no longer be able to learn with them, play with them, eat lunch with them, or socialize with them during the school day.”

Should a stay not be granted in either case, the Domenech family plans to homeschool. Aside from a feeling of isolation, Domenech, a full-time teacher, says the new arrangement will have a negative impact on her family financially.

“We are just completely devastated,” she added. Domenech said she has friends who already quit their jobs and moved out of state while others put their homes up for sale.

“And yet others are in a state of uncertainty,” she said. “They will not violate the tenets of their religion. They cannot homeschool. They cannot move. They are at a complete loss.”

State Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), who sponsored the law, said the only thing stopping kids from going to school are their parents.

“They simply have to get the appropriate vaccinations for their children in order to protect their own children, as well as other children,” he said. “If a child cannot attend school because their parents failed to have them vaccinated, then it’s not anybody other than the parent who is keeping them out of school.”

Some school officials who made their opposition to the repeal public relayed concerns about the emotional and educational impact of losing critical academic, extracurricular, social, and special education services.

In his letter to the Albany court, Rev. Joel Maus, Superintendent of Smithtown Christian School, noted a “grossly implemented change” in which families were given little time to process the law and make a decision. He cited “students on the cusp of their educational career now graduating from nowhere.”

It’s not just parochial school administrators speaking out.

“These kids have been our students in some cases for nine or 10 years and next year, they can’t come to school anymore,” said William H. Johnson, superintendent of the Rockville Centre School District. “It would be very helpful if more time was given to both the families and the school district to work this out.”

Advocates feel as though thousands of students have become outcasts as a result of the state law.

“Families feel cast aside like non-members of society and their children like castoffs and rejects from the educational system that has nurtured, loved, and educated them,” said Rita Palma, founder of advocacy group My Kids, My Choice. “Vaccinating their children is not an option for the majority of these families. Religious beliefs did not change miraculously on June 13.”

How Today’s Women Are Redefining The Balance Between Work and Family

With women increasingly assuming home and career responsibilities, work-life balance is paramount to feeling accomplished personally and professionally.

Since 1960, the number of mothers serving as the primary earners for their household increased from 11 percent to 40 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Moreover, 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force with more than 75 percent of them employed full-time. 

“The roles of women have changed, and they will continue to change,” says Mary Hauptman, president of the Long Island Center for Business and Professional Women. “We all have 24 hours in the day. It’s how you use them that’s important.” 

Achieving harmony between family and career is an everlasting work in progress for most Long Island women — but one that if successful, could be rich in rewards.

Stacey Rees, of Northport, is married with four children. She and her husband, Kyle, opened Island Kids Early Childhood Center (two locations), prior to the birth of their first child. Organization, flexibility and collaboration are what she says keep both her family and her business up and running. 

“My children have all had chores from very young ages and we work as a team to make our larger family run a little smoother,” she says, noting that family members’ responsibilities may change depending on the daily schedule and needs. 

“Delegation” is key at work and at home, she says. “It is important that my staff all understand and can fully carry out our vision for the schools.”

“I know most people say you can’t have it all, but I would beg to disagree,” says Laura Maier of Massapequa. 

Maier and her husband, Jeff, have three boys ages 3, 9, and 11 years old. The Maiers are franchise owners of Dairy Queen Grill & Chill (Massapequa, Levittown, Huntington and East Northport) and of Jersey Mike’s Subs (Farmingdale, Massapequa Park and Lindenhurst). Laura Maier plans to run for Town Board of Oyster Bay in the fall. The secret to her family’s success is having “an amazing husband and awesome kids, a supportive family, and restaurant managers that really care and are invested in the company.” 

To keep home and businesses operating efficiently, the Maier family strives to maintain an open line of communication. Working outside the home sets an example for her children, she says. 

“I’m teaching them that it is just as important for a woman to earn a living as it is for a man,” she says.

Administrating Facebook moms’ group, Long Island Amazing Moms of Nassau and Suffolk, which boasts nearly 22,000 members, has given Fran Daniels, who is also a Talent Acquisition Specialist at Winston Staffing and director of social media for Long Island Loyalty Rewards, great insight into the most common struggles faced by working mothers, as well as what they value most.

“It’s the guilt moms feel when they can’t be there to watch a baseball game or juggling who’s going to watch your child when she’s sick…and about not going to work feeling like you will get into trouble,” notes Daniels. 

Daniels, who is married to Howard and has a 12-year-old daughter, says that women thrive on giving and receiving support to get through tough times. 

“We see we are not alone on this journey,” she says. 

Over the course of her 47-year career, St. James resident Natalie Weinstein learned that being able to prioritize, “accept you can’t do everything,” and doing your best at both jobs — family and career — has an impact on your success and happiness. Finding your “happy place” at home and work is paramount. 

With two grown children (shared with her late husband, Bernie) and two grandchildren, Weinstein, owner of Natalie Weinstein Design Associates and Uniquely Natalie/Quality Consignment Home Furnishings, and founder of nonprofit Celebrate St. James, she knows the balancing act well.

“Raising a family isn’t about just being there,” she says. “When you’re there, make it count.” Eat breakfast with them; help them with their homework. “Enjoy the process. Be kind to yourself and value yourself as a person.”

Long Island Native and Dad of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Mass Shooting Victim Advocates for Gun Safety Laws

L. to R.: Fred Guttenberg with his daughter, Jaime. Jaime's family remembers her as a budding dancer.

Fourteen-year-old Jaime Guttenberg was beautiful and intelligent. She commanded a room, whether she was dancing or dazzling her audience with her vibrant energy and empathetic, kind and mature nature.

“She had a voice that needed to be heard,” says her father, Fred Guttenberg, a Long Island native who has lived in Florida since 1989.

But on February 14, 2018, Jaime Guttenberg — along with 16 other students and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — lost her life to a 19-year-old gunman who opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, leaving behind her father, mother Jennifer, older brother Jesse, and their beloved golden doodle pups Charli and Cooper.

Almost immediately following the shooting, Mr. Guttenberg thrust himself into a mission to improve gun safety throughout the United States, essentially becoming a voice for his daughter and every other parent who has lost a child to a senseless and seemingly preventable tragedy.

In 2016, 38,658 persons died from firearm-related injuries in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Guns were used in 87 percent of homicides involving youth.

LI is not immune. In 2018, more than 30 percent of violent crimes in Nassau and Suffolk Counties combined were related to firearms, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

“I want to do everything I can to lower the gun violence death rates, so we are stopping these things and saving lives,” Guttenberg says. “I don’t get my daughter back, but I need to be a part of making sure that other parents don’t go through what my family is going through.”

Jaime was very close with her parents, especially her mother. Their family was very “tight.” Siblings Jesse and Jaime “laughed a lot,” Guttenberg recalls.

“The hardest part is not hearing them laugh in the back seat,” he says.

Jaime also had big plans.

“She was going to be a pediatric physical therapist,” he says. “Her dream was to help a kid walk for the first time. She was just an unbelievable kid and there isn’t a second I don’t think about her and miss her.”

Advocating for gun safety has become a priority for Guttenberg and a way to work through his grief. Just days following his daughter’s death, Guttenberg faced U.S. Sen. March Rubio (R-Florida) at a CNN Town Hall meeting on February 21.

“Unfortunately, there has been way too much gun violence in this country,” Guttenberg asserts. “I always felt the reaction was way too polite, way too comfortable, and way too temporary.”

After his daughter’s passing, Guttenberg established two organizations: Orange Ribbons (www.orangeribbonsforjaime.org), a nonprofit foundation aimed to honor his daughter and all her life’s passions, including anti-bullying programs and the Humane Society; and Orange Ribbons For Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun safety reforms and candidates who will pursue gun safety.

Guttenberg was instrumental in introducing Jaime’s Law, to the House and Senate.

“We have to deal with a dysfunctional and broken background check system,” he says.

The law would require universal background checks on the sale of ammunition. Restricting the age to purchase weapons or ammunition to individuals ages 21 and older is critical, Guttenberg says.

“We don’t let these kids drink until they are 21,” he says. “We shouldn’t let them buy weapons.”

Enforce red flag laws, Guttenberg says.

“Give law enforcement the ability to remove weapons from those that are a known threat to themselves or someone else—or a certified domestic abuser, because they have already shown they are violent,” he says.

And finally, “we need to allow for the CDC to do funding and study of gun violence,” Guttenberg says. “We need to limit magazine capacity.”

None of the above proposals violate the second amendment, Guttenberg notes.

“It’s all about lowering the gun violence death rate, which is about 40,000 per year,” he says. “This is my life mission.”


Former Lawmaker Harvey Weisenberg Reflects on Advocating For Son, Those With Disabilities in Autobiography ‘For the Love of a Child’

Ricky, Ellen, and Harvey enjoying a concert at Long Beach. It is something the family enjoyed all summer, as Ricky responded to the music.

Born December 31, 1933, Harvey Weisenberg was a police officer, special education teacher, elementary school assistant principal, restaurant owner, coach, lifeguard, and an accomplished politician.

He served for 13 years on the Long Beach City Council and 25 years as a New York State assemblyman, during which time he was responsible for more than 337 bills signed into law. For more than 50 years, he was a devoted husband to his recently deceased wife, Ellen, and a loving father to their now 60-year-old son, Ricky, who is challenged with cerebral palsy. Weisenberg’s recently published autobiography, For the Love of a Child, My City & My Mission by Square One Publishers, is a love story that encompasses extraordinary accounts and heartfelt sentiment about Weisenberg’s own remarkable personal and professional life.

“I am one of the happiest people I know,” he writes in the book. “I didn’t always win. I got into fights within my own party’s leadership—still do—and I’ve been double-crossed more than once … But I never stopped trying, and I’m glad I didn’t.”

Weisenberg is a down-to-earth, warm-hearted, brilliant man. He says, though that his greatest achievement is meeting the love of his life, Ellen, and her son, Ricky.

They met one magical summer when he was a lifeguard. She was accompanied by her children — son Ricky and two daughters, Julie and Vickie. Though her outer beauty did not go unnoticed, Weisenberg says he was immediately drawn to Ellen’s kind, caring and patient nature, especially with Ricky.

“The love that she was giving this child,” he recalls. “It just touched me. I honestly believe that God gave me an angel, a saint and a mission. Ricky is the angel, my wife was the saint, and my mission is doing everything I can to help people — and that’s the God’s honest truth.”

The family enjoyed “simple things in life — the beach, concerts outside, summer on the boardwalk,” he says.

Weisenberg was fascinated by Ricky’s effect on others.

“I got to know him,” he says. “He has intelligence. He can’t speak or cry, but his presence was surely felt by all. Some would bless him, others would turn away.”

Weisenberg saw firsthand not only how things could go wrong — Ricky was abused while institutionalized — but also how they could go right, as many caregivers showed Ricky love and support and care in spite of not being appropriately compensated for their work.

“They do the tasks no one else wants to do,” Weisenberg says. He became the “voice of people who did not have a voice.”

The Weisenbergs also established the Weisenberg Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports and advocates for people with special needs, their families and caregivers.

Never intimidated by politics, Weisenberg used his professional position and passion to rally for the cause.

Adam’s Law requires safety restraints in taxicabs and delivery vehicles to be clearly visible, properly maintained and easily accessible for passengers.

Louis’ Law requires that life-saving defibrillators be available in schools.

Jonathan’s Law requires residential care facilities to notify and inform parents and legal guardians of children and adults receiving services of incidents involving their loved ones.

Leandra’s Law declares that adults who drive drunk with minors will be charged with a felony. Violators face up to four years in prison and DWI offenders who kill minors who are passengers could face up to 25 years in prison.

In 2013, Weisenberg fought Gov. Andrew Cuomo to restore $90 million of previously eliminated funds to the state budget to support the disabled population.

In 2018, he secured $45 million in funding in the state budget for direct support professionals who care for developmentally disabled individuals. The average salary for these workers increased from $9 per hour to $14 an hour.

Weisenberg says it is critical to forever create awareness.

“The real heroes are the families that came forward to bring these issues to the forefront,” he asserts.  

Piecing The Puzzle: Support is Key for Parents of Children Facing an Autism Diagnosis

One in 68 children has been diagnosed with autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s data for 2012, the last year for which figures are available.

No parent wants to hear that something may not be right with their child, that the child may not ever speak or could forever be challenged with interacting appropriately with their peers. No parent wants their child to be singled out as “different.” Facing an autism diagnosis is not easy. But there is help, treatment and support. And with those things come hope and opportunities for success.

Experts offer these suggestions on how to face a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder:


What matters most is the child, their progress, their quality of life, and the family’s, too.

“The label is needed just to get the appropriate services for the child,” says Lisa Carbone, Suffolk County assistant coordinator of special education. “Beyond that, it’s about working with individual children and providing services and helping them according to their needs.”

Parents need to reach out to professionals.

“The earlier you get your child services the more effective the therapy is,” says Carbone.

Early intervention may include speech therapy, physical therapy, and other types of services. The county is the first point of contact for having a child evaluated following referrals from parents or a pediatrician, foster care, etc., she explains. They assist in coordinating services for diagnosed children from birth to preschool age; thereafter, children are transitioned to services coordinated through their respective school districts.

Parents need to maintain an open line of communication, ask questions, and return messages. They should work with professionals to understand a child’s needs and how those needs can best be met consistently, being mindful that those needs may change over time.

“When parents and educators [and doctors] work together to develop an IEP [Individualized Education Plan] that accurately identifies and targets a child’s needs at each stage of his/her development, a program can be designed to maximize progress,” says Marti White, a retired school psychologist.


Parents of children on the spectrum should be their child’s advocate and teacher as well as their parent.

“The children that do the best are the ones whose parents just sit and play with them,” says Angela J. Castillo, a behavioral analyst with the Developmental Disabilities Institute, Inc. in Huntington. “It is also important for the parent to carry over and generalize skills learned during sessions, as well as to help guide them when problem behaviors occur outside of sessions. It’s OK to push your child to be the best they can be! It works!”

Edie Brannigan’s son, Mikey, was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old. The diagnosis sent the East Northport family into a whirlwind of rigorous daily educational services, endless questions, and fear for their son’s future.

Fast-forward 20 years. Mikey Brannigan is a professional runner. He travels all over the world racing. He shook the hand of President Obama and received a hug from the First Lady.

“He has a full, rich, amazing life and he is showing my husband [Kevin] and myself the world,” Brannigan shares, adding that son’s running shoes are aimed at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. “Mikey thinks he can do it, and I believe him. He really is a powerful example to many people with autism in their lives,” she says.  


Having a child with autism can be both physically and emotionally draining. Parents should give themselves even a few minutes per day to put their own lives in perspective, gain strength, move forward — and breathe.

“You just have to keep talking, keep sharing, keep asking for support, even if that’s just someone to listen and not try to give a solution,” Brannigan says. “I am grateful today for the gift of autism. It has changed us all.  Somehow, we got through the bad times intact as a family. Life is so good.”


Nassau County Health Department
Early Intervention 516-227-8661

Suffolk County Health Department
Division of Services for Children with Special Needs

Stony Brook Neurosciences Institute
Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Marion K. Solomon & Associates, Inc.
Special Needs Services Provider

What Fresh Hell: Laughing In The Face Of Motherhood, The Funny and Informative New Parenting Podcast

Amy Wilson, left, and Margaret Ables, right, are the hosts of the podcast What Fresh Hell: Laughing In The Face of Motherhood. Photo by Jennifer Lee Photography.

Listen up, moms!

Amy Wilson and Margaret Ables are two super accomplished women and mothers who are challenging their fellow moms to find both joy and humor in parenting, through their witty and insightful podcast What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood. The podcast, which runs every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., is quickly approaching its 100th episode with almost one million downloads.

Wilson and Ables are no strangers to entertaining. Wilson wrote parenting blog-turned bestselling-book When Did I Get Like This, toured the country with her solo show, Mother Load, and was a series regular on several television sitcoms. Ables began her career in standup comedy, wrote for PBS Kids and MTV, and was a senior writer for Nickelodeon’s Nick Mom. She also wrote the blog, Short, Fat Dictator.

Both moms are married and have three children each that range in age from 7-16. They own very different personalities and parenting styles. Ables is the laid back, “sure it will all work out” mom and Wilson the uber-organized, self-professed “over-thinker.” They share a 20-plus year friendship and enjoy learning and laughing together, just like their listeners, through their podcast.

Podcasts are great for multitasker moms. Fans can listen to them while making dinner or while doing errands and pickups, says Ables.

“It’s a great way to learn stuff and feel connected,” she says. “Our community in particular is really active and fun.”

In each 45-minute episode, Wilson and Ables chat about real-life issues and situations faced by moms. They tackle everything from picky eating to sleep training to how to yell less, reduce screen time or give the dreaded birds and bees talk.

“We always say that our goal is to be funny with a purpose,” says Ables. “You’re going to laugh but you’re going to take away really useful info to help you be a better parent, or maybe more importantly, realize that you’re already doing a really good job.”

Ables and Wilson get podcast topics from their own experiences and from their audience, often relayed through enthusiastic Facebook followers. Wilson takes on initial research and Ables does most of the post-production work. Producing a polished, entertaining yet informative show is priority.

“Moms’ time is valuable,” Wilson says. “We want it to be useful right out of the gate.”

With a comedic flair, the moms discuss their findings and talk about whether they have found their research useful and valid in their own experiences.

“We try to highlight the advice that in the end makes a mother’s life a little easier,” Wilson explains, citing an episode on managing a nursing baby and toddler, which highlighted a previous suggestion made by a listener. “She suggested having a basket of snacks and books when you’re nursing … 15 seconds to save you from a temper tantrum.”

In some cases, guest experts offer life-changing advice.

“We had an expert on our podcast that said when you talk to kids you must always start with empathy…say things like ‘Wow, that must be hard,’” recalls Wilson. With her own children, she says, “I was always jumping right to the problem solving.”

Implementing that expert’s strategies transformed Wilson’s relationship with her kids.

The podcast title channels a famous phrase used by the late American writer Dorothy Parker when she answered the phone; Ables says her own mother was a Parker fan.

“It’s the phrase that best summed up parenting for her,” Ables says. “It captured the horrible, terribleness of daily parenting but it has a really funny sense of humor inherent … and that’s what we are going for. Yes, parenting is challenging and sometimes quite terrible, but ultimately, it’s really kind of funny.”

To learn more, visit Whatfreshhellpodcast.com

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

Those whose morning routines begin with a big cup of java or another caffeine-infused beverage are in good company.

Most modern-day Americans seem unable to get through a day without their proper caffeine fix. Reuters reports that a 2018 National Coffee Association survey found that 64 percent of Americans drink a cup of coffee every day, and Americans consume the most coffee overall (though Finland consumes the most coffee per capita, or per person). But being careful not to drink too much is key.

“Just like anything else in life, caffeine in moderation is OK,” says Dr. Adhi Sharma, executive vice president of Clinical and Professional Services and chief medical officer at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside. “If you are having symptoms of headaches, palpitations, tremors, that is way too much — time to cut back.”

The Food and Drug Administration recommends a maximum daily intake of 400 milligrams of caffeine. An 8-ounce cup of coffee typically has 80 to 100 milligrams. So that means those drinking five or more 8-ounce cups of coffee per day could be at risk of experiencing a caffeine overdose, which can lead to hospitalization and even death.

According to a National Institutes of Health 2017 study, Americans’ average daily intake is about 180 milligrams per day, about the amount of caffeine in up to two cups of coffee


Consuming caffeine in moderation can actually benefit your health and help start a day with gusto.

“Caffeine has a stimulant property on the human nervous system and it has a relaxing property on the human vascular system,” says Dr. Sharma. “Caffeine helps you to complete tasks,” says Ankita Sagar, M.D., primary care physician at Northwell Health and director of Ambulatory Quality for Internal Medicine. “It gives you a boost of energy.”

It also makes people happy.

“My daughter says that once I take my first couple of sips of coffee, I begin to smile and my mood improves,” says Mary Forbes of East Northport. “Apparently, I am a little cranky until I get my caffeine fix.”

A review by research scientist Astrid Nehlig validates this sentiment by reporting that one cup of coffee every four hours can help to increase mood throughout the day.


Caffeine may prevent early onset of dementia. Researchers from the University of South Florida and the University of Miami studied the memory and thinking processes of people older than 65 and found that in the two-to-four-year follow-up, those with higher blood caffeine levels avoided the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Their findings appeared in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Caffeine has medicinal benefits.

“It has been used in a class of drugs to treat asthma and as a medication in newborns who have breathing challenges.” Dr. Sharma says.

Certain caffeinated beverages, as black or green tea, have natural, immune-boosting antioxidants.


Too much caffeine may have a negative impact. Caffeine affects the bladder and gastrointestinal system.

“It’s a diuretic,” says Dr. Sagar, which, by nature, means it’s going to dehydrate the body. So, when considering your daily liquid consumption, coffee, tea, etc., should not be counted as a cup of water, she advises.

People can also experience diarrhea or the sense of urgency that they have to go to the bathroom, she adds.

Thinking of quitting caffeine cold turkey? Drinking caffeine can be habit forming, notes Dr. Sagar. Heavy caffeine consumers can experience withdrawal symptoms — terrible headaches, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating — even from skipping one day or two.

“If you are trying to cut back, do it slowly and gradually over time,” she suggests.

Caffeine may also cause “jitters.” Those sensitive to caffeine may experience heart palpitations from even one or two cups. Too much caffeine exposure can cause jitters or tremors.

“If you have insomnia or if you are an anxious person, caffeine may make you feel like you are having symptoms of anxiety, but in of itself it should not cause anxiety,” Dr. Sharma notes.

Both physicians advise checking labels for caffeine content. Energy drinks can have a much higher content than a typical cup of coffee. Too much can result in an overdose and cause harm.

“Caffeine consumption in moderation is OK by any means,” says Dr. Sagar. However, if you are having any questionable symptoms, both doctors advise seeking professional medical attention.

How does your caffeine consumption stack up?

FDA’s recommended daily maximum: 400 milligrams

  • An 8-ounce cup of coffee typically has 80-100 milligrams.
  • A 12-ounce can of soda has 30-40 milligrams.
  • An 8-ounce cup of green or black tea has 30-50 milligrams.
  • An 8-ounce energy drink has 40-250 milligrams.