2018 was an eventful year for Rockaway’s autism community. Together, we joined forces to build awareness and provide avenues for our community to really be sewn into Rockaway’s beautiful fabric. From events with the FDNY Foundation, the 100th Precinct, a Dance Out Under The Stars for Autism and a Rock Out for Autism at Caracas concession — the greater half of the year was amazing. Then we teamed up The Best Dressed Man in Rockaway aka Owen Loof and the Knights of Columbus to host a memorable holiday gathering. Though, I’m quite elated at what we have accomplished in the last year, greedily, I am looking forward to seeing what fruitful opportunities we can create for our loved ones with autism. From dreams of job/apprenticeship placement programs, more recreational activities, and more sharing of our realities as caregivers, I am bursting with wishes. However, there’s an old time Scottish saying that my granny used to repeatedly say to me as a child: "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” While we certainly aren’t beggars, I believe that our community, united, are horses ready to fly with the wind and gallop for what our loved ones with autism need to survive and soar.
So here’s Rockaway Beach Autism Families’ (RBAF) wish list for 2019:
1 - Local business owners, give our loved ones with autism a chance to prove their talents and desire to productively work. Many of our children are over 18, graduated from high school, in day programs, some even transportation trained, but at a stalemate when it comes to opportunities for work. Whether you own a boutique, bakery, gym, restaurant, deli, nonprofit, laundry mat— you would be amazed by their eye for detail and organization. It’s not going to happen overnight, but let’s make it happen.
2 - Try to understand what we as caregivers are trying to maintain — peace and normalcy. Not everyone, who sees a child throwing a tantrum or fixating on a particular sound or sight, is going to think, “Hmm, that person must be autistic.” However, instead of criticizing the parent, take time to delicately stop, look and listen. Our autistic folk are more sensitive than you think, which I believe makes them more intuitive to what’s going on around them. Also, if you see a parent in a public place shrieking desperately for their child, and running around frantically, instead of denouncing them as a bad parent, offer to help.
3 — Stop labeling. Just because a person has been diagnosed with autism, does not mean they are disabled, they are just different. Don’t be afraid to invite them into your home for a party, gathering or playdate. Autism is NOT contagious; (even though at times, I wish I could ‘catch’ my daughter’s common sense and shrewd sensibility. She does not talk, but trust me, she knows more about her surroundings and people, than me).
So folks, Happy New Year. Together, as a community, we can truly put Rockaway on the map as a renaissance, not just for new restaurants and homes, but as a place where we tap into an unknown, but precious resource, our autistic dwellers.
I would like to end with this: “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.