“Music is what Benny’s always loved, but music classes were tough. He just didn’t fit. He struggled. He failed. And I thought what he loved most would be taken away. Then one day … Benny sang.
“Benny exhibited all the signs of autism from the time was a baby – he didn’t walk, speak and flapped his arms – but my husband and I were in denial. We hoped he was speech delayed. But then one day a psychologist told me to ‘stop denying what you know’. He was diagnosed with autism shortly after that.
“My heart was broken. I just wasn’t comfortable with the label of autism.
“Benny began early intervention, and he’s made great progress. He still has a lot of stims and is mostly non-verbal. He is in a self-contained Special Ed class with a 1:1 aide.
“He’s always loved music and we’d tried dance and music classes but the teachers just didn’t know what to do with him.
“About two years ago, we came to The Family Center for Autism. I fell in love with the Center right away. It’s a safe haven … they make you feel at home … and deal with whatever comes up.
“Benny loves it here, too. He takes music, piano and has just started trying baseball. He’s open to trying new things … and I don’t worry about the outcome. When I tell him he’s going to the Center, he gets ready right away.
“His face lights up when he gets to music class … and even tells me, ‘Ben sings songs.'”
When MarissaAnn visited the Center, she just knew she had to help – and “Then One Day” was born.
An inspiring and amazing tribute to families who are living with autism that she wrote and produced pro bono, this single is sure to touch your heart.
Download it now at www.itunes.com/marissaann and touch the lives of our families, too: Proceeds from your download fee go directly to the Center.
“He loves the music program at Center. They’re ‘CJ approved.’ I can walk away knowing he’s happy.”
“After CJ was born during my junior year of college, it was my mom who noticed that there was something ‘just not right’ with my son, who wasn’t verbal or meeting the usual developmental milestones.
“A child psychologist said that CJ might have autism. Quite frankly, I did not know exactly what autism was. As so many parents are, I was in denial and wrote it off as speech or language delay. My son began receiving early intervention at home. When he went to preschool, he continued receiving speech and occupational therapies. As he turned seven-years-old, I noticed more developmental delays—and his school social worker and psychologist advised me to take him to a neurologist.
“On April 21, 2010, CJ was diagnosed with autism. My heart sank and I was no longer in denial. I was given an informational pamphlet on autism, but I did not know about the resources in the community or what the next step for my son should be. This was a turning point for me. I researched as much as I could. I spoke to doctors, therapists, social workers, nurses, family and friends, in an effort to arm myself with as much information as possible to help my son.
“And that’s how I discovered Life’s WORC and the Family Center for Autism. Now, it’s the best part of his week. It’s where he expresses himself.
“CJ has no conversation, although he can communicate his wants and needs. He finds his voice in music.”
“Here, they’ve found a place to be themselves, friendships and acceptance … and I’ve found the peace of mind I’ve been searching for all along. It’s somewhere I know they’re safe and happy. The Center is opening up a whole new world for them.
“I knew something was wrong with the girls from the very beginning. As funny as it sounds, I actually hoped they were deaf. But at 36 months, they were diagnosed with PDDNOS (Pervasive Developmental Delays Not Otherwise Specified). This diagnosis stuck until they reached school age and were diagnosed with autism.
“With that diagnosis, I became a pioneer and my journey began. I believe you do the best you can with the tools you’re given. So I spent the ensuing years searching for, and creating when necessary, the right educational and social programs for my daughters. I pushed to get what was rightfully needed. I helped the school district set up the first self-contained Special Ed classroom.
“The girls have come a long way. Even though they have no expressive language, they are very active. Sophia is an honorary kick line member and Alexa is an artist and a varsity golfer. Still, they’ve struggled to find their place – and I’ve struggled worrying about them – until they came to Family Center for Autism.
“I was having surgery on my elbow and thought the Center could be a place where the girls could go for the two weeks it took me to get back on my feet. But then when we came here for the tour, there was a birthday party going on and the twins ran into a boy they knew from school. He ran over to them, hugged them and said, ‘my friends are here!’ It took my breath away.
Marine Park, Brooklyn
“You’re really part of a family here. I can’t say enough about this place.
“While Patrick had been exhibiting behaviors associated with autism since he was a toddler—babbling, repetitive play (he’d line up his toys in one row over and over again—we had hoped he’d grow out of it.
“But within a few weeks of enrolling him in nursery school, they suggested we have him evaluated. He was diagnosed at 4-years old with autism and ‘extreme ADHD’—and I was just devastated. I had a learning disorder as a kid so I knew what he’d be facing.
“Patrick began receiving services through our school district in Brooklyn, but we were constantly searching for information. We really didn’t know where to turn. Then I saw Geraldo on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ when he was playing for the Family Center for Autism and went online to check it out. I really liked their family-centered approach. We signed Patrick up – even though it’s in Garden City and we live in Brooklyn.
“He’s very comfortable here. He doesn’t even take his scarf in with him (which he uses like a security blanket). Patrick also is interacting much more with the other children and we’re hoping that will translate into school.
“And we feel comfortable having him here. Patrick has major meltdowns some times, but the Center’s staff really knows how to handle them. We can actually leave him here and go out and have some time to ourselves (without worrying that we’re going to get a phone call)!
“It’s this family-centered approach that makes the difference. The Center has become a true resource for us. We’ve learned so much—about OPWDD (the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities)—and have met other families who understand.
“It was just impossible for Christian to make social connections. Today, Christian is a totally different young man. He’s charming, confident and proud. He has friends now.
“Even though we knew ‘something’ was wrong when he was 15-months old, Christian wasn’t ‘officially’ diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder until two years ago, when he was about 14. Up until then, he was classified as having Pervasive Development Delays Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS).
“As soon as Christian was classified, we started early intervention – occupational therapy, physical therapy, special ed classes – and we’ve essentially never stopped searching for the support he needed. Like many parents in similar situations, we took Christian from one school to another, one program to another. In fact, I retired from my career as a consultant to dedicate myself full time to Christian.
“He is very high functioning and has found success along the way in different school settings and programs, but it was always impossible for him to make social connections … the neighborhood kids teased him and their parents kept them away.
“Life changed for Christian when he came to the Family Center for Autism about two years ago. This is a place where Christian can be himself … he used to call it his ‘me place’. He doesn’t have to be on guard every minute. He’s found activities he enjoys—and that he’s good at—such as yoga, acting and cooking.