Autism Awareness Month is the entire month of April, and the Sound of Life is committed to Autism awareness and relating to parents and families of those with Autism.
Autism can bring parents through almost every emotion including fear, doubt, confusion, and even happiness. And this same diagnosis that brings parents through emotional rollercoasters is bringing together a national community, including people from all walks of life, to raise funds for research and educate others about Autism.
Locally, many families have been touched by Autism. Community leaders and business owners are speaking up about their experiences. They are also reaching out to provide counseling, special programs, and fundraisers for Autism research and to support other local families.
Tom Michaels Zahradnik, CEO of the Sound of Life, recently sat down with Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro for a “Heart 2 Heart” about Molinaro’s journey in raising a daughter, Abigail Faith, who has been diagnosed on the highly functional side of the Autism spectrum. Abigail was diagnosed with Autism at the age of two. Abigail is now 9 years old and Molinaro reveals that it hasn’t been easy. Despite the lack of normalcy, Molinaro also encourages parents to not shelter their Autistic children too much, mentioning that he often takes Abigail to his public events, often involving cameras and crowds of people. Abigail happens to be fascinated with cameras and seeing herself on screen. To hear more about the Molinaro family’s story, listen here: Heart 2 Heart Podcast
Another local family touched by Autism is the Coppola family of Coppola’s Restaurants located in Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie. One of the family members was diagnosed with Autism around 15 years ago. In response to the diagnosis, the family has turned to activism using what they know and love: Italian cuisine. Their campaign is entitled, “Taste of Italy for Autism.” They are working with Autism Speaks. By purchasing Coppola’s Italian family sauces, twenty five cents per jar is donated to the research and advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Their goal is $1.2 million. The family sauces can be found in their restaurants, various grocery stores such as Shop Rite, Price Chopper, Stop & Shop, Nature’s Pantry and Mother Earth’s around the Hudson Valley, as well as other locations listed here: Taste of Italy for Autism
There are local educational resources as well. The Center for Spectrum Services of both Ellenville and Kingston, NY, which began in 1976 in a church basement, serves the area by providing educational programs for children as young as three years old. The center provides small group-style learning so that each student can succeed. Other than education for children, the center provides diagnostic and developmental evaluations, workshops, and counseling services. For more information about The Center for Spectrum Services, visit their website. The center is hosting a Zumba for Autism event, April 20th at MAC Park in Kingston, NY. You can register here: Zumba Registration.
There will also be a walk to benefit Autism held at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds… The Autism Society of the Hudson Valley is holding this walk on April 28th from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. You can get more information about this fun, family event here: Autism Walk
In dealing with Autism, it’s important for families to not feel like outsiders or that they’re in this all alone. Here at the Sound of Life, we want to highlight support systems by bringing awareness to the spectrum and encourage you, our listeners, to reach out to one another and show compassion for each other. There are causes and calls for activism, research, and funding nationally and locally, but sometimes the greatest act one person can make for another is to love by lending a hand or being a listening ear. Financial actions are great and needed, but without love as the core, those actions mean nothing. During this month of Autism awareness, let’s remember to love first, then do.
By Courtney Moore, Sound of Life Intern