About 80 people, most of them parents of children with autism, gathered at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights last week to speak to New York autism advocates about how to navigate the educational and medical systems as well as hear about services available to them and their children.
“It’s very good that we have this session tonight to discuss some of those issues,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), a guest at the forum May 23.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) sponsored the forum, but it was the brainchild of Pastor Stephen Taala, head of the Bible Baptist Church of Jackson Heights, which operates out of the Jewish Center at 37-06 77th Ave., who is the father of a 9-year-old with autism.
“It was very touching to see all the parents come and want to get more information,” Taala said.
The speakers, all of whom were parents of autistic children, spoke about their experiences dealing with their children, with the city schools system, potential treatments for their children and how meeting with other parents helped them.
“We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know where to go, but we had each other,” said Andrew Bauman, CEO of New York Families for Autistic Children, of the genesis of his group.
Bauman’s son was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old and is now 18 years old, and the group he represents helps parents of autistic children navigate the health-care system and the city schools system as well as having numerous support groups for family members.
Mary Coyle, whose autistic son is 20 years old, spoke about treating him through homotoxicology, a type of remedy that integrates mainstream and alternative treatments.
Youla Efthimiou, who has a 9-year-old autistic son named Thanos, said her life improved when she entered a support network — specifically, the Queens County Parents Autism Coalition — organized by Cheryl Ocampo.
“I never heard of autism before,” Efthimiou said. “My only reference with autism was the movie ‘Rain Man.’”
She said support groups can help parents, but can also help siblings of kids with autism who do not have mental disabilities themselves. The siblings can see other families who live like they do.
Sylvia Verga, who has used homotoxicology to treat her son after finding herself dissatisfied with trying to get her son help through traditional means, said one of the hardest parts was overcoming the feeling that she had been responsible for her autistic son’s illness.
“Every time my son overcomes an obstacle, I rejoice and my family rejoices,” Verga said.