Since writing this column and founding the Rockaway Beach “Artistic” Family Support Group just over a year ago, I am still amazed by how many people on the peninsula and Broad Channel (BC) are touched by the seemingly beguiling world of autism. Not only are they touched, but they get it, and have reached out to share personal anecdotes, resources and even willingly volunteer to give of their talents and expertise — not for any fanfare or accolade — but just to be true friends and confidants of our small community of autism warriors.
For years, I felt alone, ostracized, angry, depressed, and afraid, content to just hibernate and admittedly hide my daughter’s autism. I saw my beautiful baby girl, and was angry at the world. Angry at autism. Angry at societal pressures to be normal. However, what is normal? A damn button on a washer machine? I became a big X-Men movie buff, imagining that my daughter had these super powers (think Jean or Rogue), but because she was not so-called neurotypical, society just wanted to quarantine her in this fish bowl. Comments from friends and family would throw me into a tirade, wanting to lash out, “So what if my Soa has autism, what in the bloody hell do your children have? Perfection? My daughter is strong, beautiful, loving, resilient and a nonconformist.”
Well, fast forward to the present, a lot of my anger has thankfully waned, and my heart has grown so full with the supportive emails, conversations with folks I have met just casually walking down the street, who all simply stated that they get it and are willing to offer any support they can give to our community. From pediatricians, homoeopathists, lawyers, educators, neighborhood community police officers, local business proprietors and politicians, yoga instructors, musicians, artists and the everyman/everywoman on the street, I am so enamored with each and every one of you.
However, consider this a public service announcement. I desire for more families with loved ones on the autism spectrum to come to our group meetings and for the general public to get to know our community. Last summer, we hosted with Jammin’ Jon Kiebon, the Rock Out for Autism concert at the Rippers concession, and it was absolutely amazing. I was humbly shocked and honored, by the droves of people who came to support us, and left their business cards with reminders of resources they can offer to our community. However, note, our desire is not just to receive, but to give back.
Whether or not, you have a child, family member or friend on the autism spectrum, I encourage everyone to come to our group meetings. Why? Because it’s all about community advocacy and a desire to empower Rockaway to be a great place to live, grow and advance for all of our children and adult loved ones on the spectrum. Rockaway does not have to be a desert, we have a beautiful natural resource, our beautiful beach and bay community. Let’s come together and collaborate on, for example, a Walk/Run/Surf for Autism, a Paint Out event or a prom/date night for our loved ones with autism, (yes, as our loved ones mature like any teenager, they do have a desire to have a partner in their lives!).
As defined by Wikipedia, “a support group is a gathering of members who can come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community. The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others' experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks. A support group may also work to inform the public or engage in advocacy and conversational interaction.”
Locals — let’s make it happen for our community of autism warriors. The next Rockaway Beach “Artistic” Family support group is on Thursday, February 1, 7 p.m. at 421 Beach 141st Street (between Cronston and Newport avenues) in Neponsit. Feel free to come, share, learn, listen and of course nibble on some delicious goodies. No fee to attend, all that is desired is your presence! Hope to see you there… Thank you fellow autism warrior, Jane Garfield Frank!