Caring Santa

Every year at Christmas time, you may be fighting an internal struggle – should we go visit Santa or skip it? Sure, you’d love to have that moment with Santa—your child is excited about Christmas, that’s for sure—and getting a good picture with him would be a bonus. BUT, if that Santa visit is in a mall or another high-traffic location, chances are that it’s a big sensory storm for your child—the lights, the music, the crowds, the waiting—and it may be just too much for them.

The good news is that many places are now offering special times for children with autism to visit Santa in a more sensory-friendly environment. It was an offer like this that allowed Erin Deely and her husband to take their son, Brayden, to see Santa at their local mall in North Carolina. The Deelys thought their chance of having Brayden visit Santa and get that traditional holiday snapshot was not possible after their son was diagnosed at age 3. But thanks to the Caring Santa program, organized by Autism Speaks, Brayden got to hang out with Santa on his own terms. As Erin explained it, “He (Santa) got down on his stomach and just started playing with him. They didn’t even talk to each other, really, they just bonded and played, and Brayden started to be really excited and started looking at him and smiling.”
caring santa

Thanks to this Santa, Brayden and his family had the holiday experience they had always hoped for. And while the Caring Santa program is in malls in 120 cities, there are similar sensory-friendly Santa events happening in additional locations, so chances are there’s one near you.

Lynsey, Community Manager 

Keeping Up with Santino’s Dragons

santinosdragon.myshopify.com

santinosdragon.myshopify.com

We wanted to share a little update on one of our favorite featured kids from this past year. Back in May, we talked about Santino Stagliano, who was diagnosed with autism more than five years ago. With his parents’ encouragement, Santino was able to direct his love of drawing and dragons to create beautiful t-shirts that he is selling and donating half of the proceeds to the Center for Autism. Best of all, this process had given Santino a boost of self-esteem and a way to connect with people.

Now, fast-forward only a few months and Santino’s Dragons is expanding, doing amazing things. Santino, who is 10 years old, recently visited William Penn Charter school to share his story, his t-shirts and autism awareness with other kids his age. As his dad explains, Santino wasn’t even able to speak to anyone six months ago. And now, he’s talking in front of large groups of kids and fielding questions from students.  For example, while at Penn Charter, he was asked:

How do you make dragons? “It’s what you feel inside, and you just do it,” Santino said.

What special things can you do? “I can climb trees, I can swim fast, and one time I went on this ride that teenagers usually go on, and I wasn’t scared at all.”

Who inspires you? “I get inspired by this person,” he said, pointing to his mom.

Santino also started a program called “Find Your Dragon,” which is designed to help children with autism express themselves and make friends. And if that wasn’t enough, he also chooses one child every month and does something special for them.

What an amazing kid – he is truly an inspiration. I have a feeling this will be one of many updates we’ll be doing about all of the tremendous and impactful work he is doing.

Check out more on Santino’s Dragons Facebook page.

Lynsey, Community Manager

 

 

Wedding Story

loveandautism.com

loveandautism.com

Anita Lesko and Abraham Nielson will be getting married this weekend, and they have planned something significant to mark the occasion – they’re going to have the first all-autism wedding.

Both Anita and Abraham on the spectrum, and their entire wedding party and all the participants – such as the ring bearer, harpist, cake baker, groomsman, etc.) identify as autistic. They met initially through an autism support group, which was led by Anita, and after some time they went to dinner. As Antia describes,

“We got into these big conversations about our feelings, our emotions and our loneliness issues. That was the night that we fell in love with each other,” she says of that evening in May 2014.

The wedding will take place at San Diego’s Love & Autism: A Conference with a Heart, a conference organized by Dr. Jenny Palmiotto to bring awareness to the fact that every individual deserves to be loved.

Anita said, “People on the spectrum tend to not get invited to parties or weddings or anything. I figured our wedding could give folks on the spectrum an opportunity to get to attend a wedding and be part of something like that.”

Congratulations to Anita & Abraham! You can read more about their story here.

Lynsey, Community Manager 

Extending Some Understanding

birthday party inviteThe child birthday party invitation. It’s a little piece of paper in the mail – or an email to be opened – but it can be an immediate stress inducer. Stress was likely the feeling Tricia Rhynold would have when she opened invites from her son’s classmates. Tricia – mom to seven-year-old Timothy who has nonverbal autism – explains that they’ve received tons of invites over the years, which she appreciates, but she understandably wonders, “if the parents know what would happen if I brought Timothy?  The interruptions…the meltdowns…how I would hate to take the spotlight from the birthday child.” So, she would respectfully decline every invite.

But that all changed with one simple note. Tricia received a party invite with a note from a mom of a child (Carter) in Timothy’s class – and she made it very clear that she truly wanted Timothy to come to the birthday party writing:

Carter sat beside Timothy at school and he always talks about him :) I really hope he can come. We are renting a bounce castle that we can attach a small bounce slide at the bottom. We will also have water balloons and water guns. Maybe Timothy can come earlier in the day if it would be too much with the whole class. Let me know so we can make it work.

There are a lot of amazing people in this world who are kind and understanding – we hope you’ve got some of them in your life. It’s hard to remember that kindness sometimes when you’re overwhelmed or maybe feeling a little stuck. In Tricia’s case, it took someone else – a complete stranger – to extend an offer with Timothy’s needs in mind that would make all the difference. As Tricia said on her blog, The Book of Timothy, “I don’t know this Mom or even this child personally. I want to. Desperately….The Mom is everything I strive to be.” Agree.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Field Day Fun

Another amazing example of how peer support can make all the difference! Check out this video of Preston Lillis, a 5th grader in Grandville, Michigan, who has Asperger’s, get cheered on by his classmates during their annual Field Day. As shared here,  Preston’s parents said Field Day usually made him anxious, so much so that last year Preston was so stressed it caused a migraine and he had to miss the event. So this year his teachers and classmates came up with a plan to let Preston win and make it a fun experience for him.

And it looks like it worked! It’s the little things and times of thoughtfulness that can really make a lasting impact.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Mom’s Thank You to JetBlue

nottheformerthings.com

nottheformerthings.com (Shawna and her son)

Traveling with your children on a plane can be an extremely stress-inducing thing—for both you and your child. There are many sensory “unfriendly” barriers your child will have to hurdle – loud noises, weird smells, wearing a seatbelt, crowding, etc., etc. – and then for you, you’re trying to anticipate it all. It can be tough. Plus, on top of that, you hope that people and the airline will show compassion and care as you try to navigate through all of the obstacles.

If you’ve looked online lately, you may have seen some unfavorable attention being placed on United Airlines after a mom claims she and her family were removed from one of their flights in response to an exchange with crew about a special food request for her daughter who has autism (read more). And I think sometimes it’s easier to share, thanks to the Internet, when you have a bad or negative experience. However, it’s important to remember that many people who have special needs or require certain accommodations travel every day and often have wonderful experiences. And it’s nice to call those out too.

So this all leads me to a mom named Shawna who wrote a “thank you” note to JetBlue and shared in on her blog. In it, she describes how she and her son, who has high-functioning autism, travel often and she knows how complicated it can be. Her son has a particularly tough time in the boarding area with its loud announcements and large crowds. It was the first time she was flying JetBlue and not only was it easy to note her son’s special needs when booking the ticket online, the great service continued throughout their trip – JetBlue boarded Shawna and her son before the announcements began, gave them seats away from the bathrooms (so they wouldn’t have to deal with the potential smells), and were friendly from start to finish. (You can read the full note on her blog).

Kudos to JetBlue for going the extra mile and having practices in place that can make traveling a bit smoother – it really does make the difference.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Santino’s Dragon Drawings

Satino Dragon Drawings / Facebook

Satino Dragon Drawings / Facebook

Art can be a powerful outlet, a great means of expressing yourself. This is certainly the case for Santino Stagliano, a 10-year-old boy from South Philly. Santino, who was diagnosed with autism 5 years ago, is called “The Dragon Master” by his little brother – in honor of Santino’s love of these fire-breathing creatures. And when Santino has a bad day, his parents buy him a plain white t-shirt so he can draw a picture of a dragon with markers – always a way to cheer him up.

On one particularly bad day last month – after getting teased by kids at the park – his parents bought him some shirts to draw on, and then Santino’s mom, Lisa, posted pictures of his creations on Facebook. The next day he had requests from a handful of people for shirts – then it turned into 50 requests, then 100, and continuing. Santino is selling them for $5 – he’s already sold 150 and has about 500 more on order.

Best of all, Santino – who chose to donate half the money he raises to the Center for Autism – has found a new sense of self-esteem with his shirt sales. As described by his dad, “There’s a little boy who wouldn’t look at you, he didn’t want to be touched…Now he’s hugging people, high-fiving and taking pictures.”  Amazing!

Check out Santino’s story in full– and visit his Santino’s Dragons Facebook page.

Lynsey, Community Manager

 

Community Saves Birthday Celebration

Posted on John Buratti's Facebook page

Posted on John Buratti’s Facebook page

This is one of those stories that starts out being heartbreaking, but the break gets healed in such an amazing way – it had to be shared!

Glenn Buratti – a 6-year-old in Florida ready to celebrate his birthday had invited over his classmates for a party. Glenn, who has autism, was so excited and – as detailed here – was counting down the minutes until his friends had arrived. But the party start time came and went, and not one guest had showed up.

Obviously terribly upset and frustrated, Glenn’s mom, Ashlee, decided to blow off some steam and posted on a local community Facebook page about what happened, saying “I know this might be something silly to rant about, but my heart is breaking for my son. We invited his whole class (16 kids) over for his 6th birthday party today. Not one kid came.” She wasn’t expecting anything in response…but she got an amazing one!

Within minutes, her community started responding with messages of support – and many were even asking to come over to give Glenn a second chance at the birthday party he wanted. And that afternoon, 15 kids and 25 parents showed up at their house to celebrate! Plus, a few days later, when Glenn came home from school, he was greeted by the local fire department and sheriff’s office – with tons of gifts in tow.

We may at times be faced with great sadness, but it’s stories like this that remind us true kindness and sense of community exists.

Lynsey, Community Manager