Month: October 2012

Posted on


The Stuff Of High School Legends

Posted on


BRICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A high school student with autism becomes a hero on the football field. Sounds like a good movie doesn’t it? Well, it’s a true story.

Anthony Starego

The score was tied with just 21 seconds left on the clock Friday night. Out trotted Brick High School’s Anthony Starego, an 18-year-old kicker who’s used to facing adversity.

Starego was orphaned at the age of 3 and then grew up with a long list of developmental issues. So when he jogged out on the field to attempt a game-winning field goal against favored Toms River North, one couldn’t blame him if he didn’t feel overwhelmed by the moment.

What happened next was something usually reserved for Hollywood. He split the uprights and the place went crazy. But there was nothing ordinary about that kick. It was a lifetime in the making, CBS 2′s Otis Livingston reported Tuesday.

“As soon as the officials went like this, I was a blubbering idiot,” father Ray Starego said, demonstrating the hand movement for a successful field goal.

“I was just crying, but I wasn’t going to stop watching him because he was just jumping for joy. It really was unbelievable,” added Reylene Starego, Anthony’s mother.

If being the hero Friday night put Starego at the top of the mountain, his entire life has been an uphill battle getting there.

“When he came to us, he had been through 11 foster homes and he had had some difficulties. He had about six words to his vocabulary,” Reylene Starego said.

“He had kidney reflux; he had an asthmatic condition. Basically, it was a special needs adoption that we had gone through,” Ray Starego added.

Anthony Starego

Symptoms of autism include children performing repeated body movements. They often experience unusual distress when routines are changed, but those are the same traits that make Anthony a successful kicker.

“Fifty times a day, that’s all he does. Just three steps back, one over and he hits the ball. That’s what he knows and that’s what he did,” coach Kurt Weiboldt said.

Anthony Starego agreed. As far as he’s concerned, practice makes perfect.

“I do the same thing over and over again. It helps me a lot, and I’m having the best day of my life,” he said.

Children with autism also have trouble with social interactions, so making friends isn’t easy, but the football field is different. It’s a safehaven.

“[Anthony is] just the man. He’s always happy, always puts a smile on your face,” Brick High quarterback Brendan Darcy said.

Anthony said he doesn’t think of himself as being different than his teammates. He said he just has a job to do.

“I feel like I’m happy and calm and enjoying myself when I kick. [It’s] the time of my life,” he said.

The Green Dragons’ only two wins of the season have come since Anthony became the kicker. He’s perfect on kicks, including that game winner. Their next game is this Friday against Lacey High School.

Hanging 10 With Surfers For Autism At Vanderbilt Beach

Posted on Updated on




Sorry, the pictures won’t copy over.  Please click the title above, or the link at the bottom to view the article and pics in its native form.  Thanks. -Ed

There’s something about surfing.

The sport of beach boys and surfer girls has a way of bringing joy into the lives of kids with disabilities, and this was put on display Saturday morning at Vanderbilt Beach. About a thousand volunteers, surfers, kids and young adults with autism and related conditions, and spectators came out as part of Surfers for Autism’s inaugural Naples Beach Surf Festival.

“This all started when a pro surfer noticed how different his autistic son was in the water,” said Surfers for Autism founding member Jeff Adams. “The ocean is a great equalizer. And it’s not just while they’re here. The kids’ teachers and therapists say the kids are the calmest they’ve seen them” after trying surfing.

On Saturday, between two and four surfer volunteers shepherded each kid, helping them get accustomed to a paddleboard, steadying it, and putting a paddle into their hands. The young surfers did a combination of standing on the board for classic surfing, lying on the board to paddle it, and standing to paddle in the trendy paddle boarding that has become all the rage for local boarders.

Hannah Kandel of Naples, 20, who deals with autism every day, loved the chance to get out in the waves, and high-fived her helpers after taking her first turn on the board.

“This really is exciting for her, trying something new. She’s been looking forward to it all week,” said Mary Lee Kandel, Hannah’s mother. Hannah high-fived her helpers and family members as she came out of the water, and was ready to go back for more.

Nathan and Nancy Dearborn brought Andrew Warner to the beach for the event, and watched proudly as he rode the waves — or actually wavelets. This was the Naples beach, after all.

“Look at him, he’s doing great,” said Nathan. “Andrew’s not even able to speak, but they’ve got him standing up, forwards and sideways. He’s catching his own waves.” Nathan Dearborn has worked as a surfing instructor in Costa Rica, and said the waves at Vanderbilt Beach were perfect for the day’s purpose.

They would have been even more perfect without the unwanted guests who showed up. Thousands of dead fish from a red tide event drifted offshore, and periodically washed up on the beach. Event organizers picked up the small white fish off the sand several times, but more kept appearing.

Usually the floating fish were just here and there, but at times the currents pushed together a barrier of decomposing fish that had participants avoiding the area and making feeble jokes about sushi and fish fries. The beach was crowded with families, and the surfer volunteers who stood out with their bronzed bodies.

The Surf Festival is high-energy, with music pumping, sponsor tents, and kids and volunteers heading out into the water and then giving way to the next session. The event included a raffle, with prizes up to a cruiser bike and a high-end Ron Jon paddleboard signed by CJ Hobgood, donated by Quinn Boards surf shop. Organizers also singled out the Ritz-Carlton Naples, and Sun Bums suntan lotion as key sponsors.

Volunteer Kat Luchesi of Paddle Up Fitness worked with Alexandra Cruz, 18, who didn’t let Down’s syndrome stop her from having a great time. She positively glowed with delight on her colorful surfboard, and if she slipped into the water, was ready to climb right back on and try again. She came across the state from Hollywood with her family for the event.


Surfers for Autism is based in Boca Raton, and has gone from a local charity in 2007 to hosting Surf Festivals around the world. They began the year with a surf day in Australia, and will finish in Puerto Rico in mid-November.

First, though, the group has another Southwest Florida event planned, on Saturday, Nov. 3, in Fort Myers Beach. To learn more, bring your children, or volunteer, go

Sebastian Sabater, age 6, posed a little extra challenge to his handlers. He loves the water so much he can’t wait to get back in. To him, the surfboard worked great as a diving board, and as soon as volunteers Mauricio Guzman and Harmony Schultz got him standing up, he would plop right back into the Gulf. Like all the children, though, he looked to be having a great time.

Filipino Autistic Adults Finding Their Way In Society

Posted on

It’s every parent’s dream for his or her child to develop into an accomplished adult and be genuinely happy.
For most, it’s the thought of the child eventually doing well in a chosen career, settling down, and if luck would have it, perhaps blessing them with a grandchild or two.
Yet, these unwritten social standards usually do not apply to parents whose kids have been diagnosed with autism.A developmental disability that affects the cognitive, social, and psychological abilities of a person, autism is a condition that has no known cause and no known cure.
It is an impairment that affects the way a child processes information and acts upon stimuli in his or her environment. Good news is, with proper care, acceptance, love and nurturing, the child’s condition can improve greatly.
“Doon sa pinakamaliit na achievements, masayang-masaya na kami,” Marilen Zabala, a mother to 28-year-old son Emil, said, recounting how their family celebrated their son’s littlest achievements, like learning how to talk and starring in a musical play in the special school where he studied.
Similarly, Cathy Cham, mother to 21-year-old Vico, shared her joy upon discovering their son’s artistic gifts when he was eight years old.

AAAP President Dr. Lirio Covey, artist Vico Cham, Camphill Community Director Ronald Sanchez, and AAAP Secretary Christine Siruelo
“Since then, his passion for the arts evolved. Paper dolls in freehand drawing using pen and ink were his early beginnings in arts, then he developed his skills in computer graphics design and now he is into canvass paintings,” Cham said.
Emil had finished a certificate course in music and is now dabbling in culinary arts, while Vico is now finishing his computer graphics design course while having on-the-job-training in an advertising company.
Despite the disabilities, persons with autism have special gifts, and parents can only wish to leave this life knowing their children are happy. And since they cannot be around forever, they want to ensure that someone’s going to take care of them, long after they’re gone.
“Sana bago man lang kami mamatay, makita namin na masaya at kahit papaano ay may fulfillment sa buhay ang anak namin,” Zabala shared.
Evolving needs
According to Dr. Lirio Covey, a clinical psychologist from Columbia University and president of the Association for Adults with Autism, Philippines (AAAP), the fact that adults with this condition won’t live forever is the glaring inevitability that their organization is seeking to address.
“And also, the person with autism has changing needs over the years and the family won’t be able to fulfill those needs in the best way or in the way that’s beneficial to the person with autism,” Covey added.

Mikey Covey at his Armonk home in New York City with one of the house parents, Maria, and his niece Clarissa.
Dr. Covey’s son Mikey is 34 years old and a resident in a life-sharing group home called Armonk in New York City. Five other men with autism live in the same group home.
“When my son turned 18, I felt really bad for him because he felt he didn’t belong. Whenever we went to parties, he sits in a corner and plays a video game. That’s really isolating, that’s really lonely. Somehow, now in his group home, even though his abilities are limited, he understands there are other people like him and somehow they manage to do things together,” Dr. Covey said.
Since AAAP’s founding last year, Covey, together with parents like Cham, have been combining efforts to build a life-sharing home called “A Special Place” as an alternative home for adults with autism.
Covey envisions it as not just a safe haven for adults with autism, but also as a place where they can take on jobs, as well as find companionship and belongingness.
In the US and other First World countries, there are plenty of state-funded group homes. Here in the Philippines, there are none.
Work in progress
As of now, A Special Place is a work in progress. The AAAP is in need of funding to build six individual houses with farms, as well as educational and recreational areas.
“We are conceptualizing various business models that will enable us to raise money. It has to be self-sustaining. We also want to open up the homes to families who cannot afford to pay so that would mean fund-raising,” Covey said.
For Cham, A Special Place will be Vico’s second home, where he can get to share his life with a community that will care for and understand him.
“Eventually, as we grow old and gray, and incapable of taking care of ourselves, Vico will need a second home where he will belong. But for as long as we are healthy and capable of taking care of him, we would very much like to enjoy our life together,” she said.
An educational symposium
Cham, Covey, together with the member parents of AAAP, talked about A Special Place and other issues concerning adults with autism during a symposium entitled “Diagnostic Treatment and Policy Issues Affecting Adults with Autism” last October 13 at Ateneo Law School in Rockwell Center.
Around 35 people attended this first educational symposium organized by AAAP with the purpose of raising awareness of and addressing the needs of adults with autism.
Ateneo Legal Service Center Asst. Director Atty. Nina Sison-Arroyo talked about the Philippine laws on the rights of persons with disabilities.
Dr. Lourdes “Honey” Carandang, president of the Metropolitan Psychological Corporation, presented a comprehensive framework for understanding autism and families with autism.
She advised the parents, “Don’t feel guilty that you’re not always with the child. Filipino mothers are always guilty, especially if you’re a working mother,” Carandang said, to the laughter of the audience. She quickly added, “but as long as it is in a level that is comfortable, that is okay.”
Dr. Erlinda F. Camara from the University of the Philippines, on the other hand, shared studies conducted here and abroad tackling employment models for persons with autism. She also presented an evaluation of the Philippine workforce, where there is an increasing trend of part-timers, contractuals and freelancers.
The last speaker was Ronald Sanchez, the director of Camphill Community located in California, USA. He shared with the audience his experiences in Camphill, a group home where people with disabilities find a sense of community and society.
A place under the sun
To date, adults with autism are still feeling their way toward finding their place in society.
Emil dreams of managing his own wheat bread sandwich business, while his mother hopes that at least he’d get to apply his culinary skills in a restaurant.
With Vico’s artistic talents, Cham doesn’t stop hoping for a better future for her son.
Cham said, “As parents, we would like him to experience and enjoy life like everyone else. He may have some limitations, but he has gifts more than anyone else. We believe in him so much and with God’s intervention, he will eventually have a place in the sun.” –KG, GMA News

When Insecurity Sabotages Our Expectations

Posted on


We have a lot of expectations for our children.  I have marveled at the gains Mike has made over the last 3-4 years that included starting in 2 new schools, with a different teacher in each year.  His learning curve has really improved, really, without a regression, or a stumble.  I forgot that with all learning, especially those who learn in a particular manner: visual, motor, etc., there is often room for a slide back for even minor things.  It’s sort of like forgetting something miniscule in order to gain something greater; the trade-off for improvement, perhaps something I thought was fully ingrained, but really wasn’t.

Well that happened the other night.  I became overly upset (read: loud) over something commonplace; an ADL-related task.  In doing so I upset Mike, and his brothers too to some degree.   After a while, I realized why I was so upset.  It wasn’t because that task wasn’t done.  I was upset because I feared that the gains he made for the last few years may not have been really gained.  I feared that he would forget the simpler things.  As irrational as it sounds, I visualized his brain filling to capacity, but with every new understanding he gains now as a teen displaces something he learned as a toddler; akin to speaking in complex sentences but forgetting his ABC’s.  I was insecure about his ability to retain information; insecure about his potential in this world.

But I was wrong.  Mike didn’t forget how to do any of these things.  He didn’t displace any of his previous knowledge.  In fact he showed me empathy and understanding.  After I apologized for my ‘tantrum’ I explained to him these fears I had about him forgetting how to do things.  I don’t know if he fully understood my fears and anxieties, but I got a “don’t worry Dad”.  Thank goodness one of us remembered to be the grown-up.

I sat in his room with him for a few more minutes in silence as he started to go to sleep.  I thanked God for the wonderful family that I have been blessed with, and asked to learn everyday from this young man who reminds me about compassion and understanding.  About the need to reinforce ourselves while we make strides for the future.  We all need a reminder or a hand sometimes.  That night, Mike gave me both.  Thank you Mike.

By the way, after my mini-revelation, I tweeted this:


Doug Flutie Scores With “The Social Express” For Autism Classes

Posted on


he Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism Partners with The Social Express

The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism and The Social Express are partnering to donate computers and interactive social learning skills programs to schools with Autism classes.

The Social Express™, creators of new interactive social skills programs for special needs children, has partnered with The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism and donated copies of its program to schools who teach children with autism.

“We’re very proud to donate The Social Express learning program to The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism,” said Marc Zimmerman, CEO and Founder of The Language Express. “After using our program, teachers tell us that students are extremely receptive to its social skills lessons like ‘talking about what others like to talk about’ and ‘being part of the group’. Many ask to use the program everyday.“

Zimmerman added, “Educator feedback also tells us that The Social Express characters engage students so well, they’re able to begin learning tough social concepts. We’re excited to share the program with more schools!”

The importance of technology to enhance children’s learning in the classroom is widely accepted. For children with autism, laptop computers are especially helpful but are out of reach for many schools with autism specific classrooms.

The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism has long recognized this fact. In 2000 the Laurie Flutie Computer Initiative was created for the purpose of donating computers to underprivileged families of individuals living with autism as well as to schools with autism-specific classrooms.

Chris Chirco, Program Director at the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, stated that, “The Flutie Foundation is excited to partner with The Social Express. Computer technology has become a key component in the education of many individuals with autism spectrum disorders and The Social Express offers a very visually stimulating and engaging interface that is sure to appeal to children on the autism spectrum. Learning social skills can be critical for an individual with autism to succeed independently.”

Computers are given to schools with autism-specific classrooms that could not otherwise afford to purchase them. To date the foundation has distributed close to 500 computers to families and schools in New York and New England.

In its initial phase, The Social Express is a 16-lesson interactive video-modeling social skills learning program. Parents, professionals, and educators of special needs children like the high-quality, Hollywood-style animation that holds their attention without over stimulation and the scenes that reinforce the best choices for kids to make in social situations.

Children with autism, ADHD, Asperger’s, and other social-emotional deficits find the characters engaging and many ask to use it every day. Learn more about The Social Express by visiting the website: 

About The Language Express, Inc.:

The Language Express™, founded by parents of autistic twins in 2008, is a privately held company based in Encinitas, California. The company develops The Social Express™ and other interactive social skills software and learning management systems. The company’s mission is to help special needs children with social-emotional deficits to improve their lives. The company’s video modeling social skills learning programs help children with ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s, and related disorders to improve their interactions with others. Visit the company at 

About The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism:

The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, Inc. was established in 1998 by Doug Flutie and his wife, Laurie, in honor of their 20 year old son, Doug, Jr. who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. The Flutie Foundation’s mission is to support families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Foundation is committed to increasing awareness of the challenges of living with autism and helping families find resources to help address those challenges. We provide individuals with autism and their families an opportunity to improve their quality of life by funding educational, therapeutic, recreational and advocacy programs. For more information on The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, please contact Maria Baez at the Ebben Zall Group at (781) 449-3244, or visit

Becoming Fit Physically And Socially

Posted on


Experts say special sports and recreation programs help children and adults with autism socially as well as physically.

Andres Zamora dribbled a soccer ball left and then right between two cones. He approached an empty net, and with a Bom Bom Bum lollipop hanging from his mouth, kicked and scored — actions that a year ago would have required his dad’s close assistance.

“Last year, he wasn’t able to do what he’s doing now,” said Mario Zamora, who can now watch from the sideline as his son plays.

At age 7, Andres is honing his fútbol skills at Coral Estates Park in West Miami-Dade, where every Saturday for eight weeks up to three dozen kids and teenagers practice dribbling, passing and scoring. But there’s a larger goal for these kids, all of whom have been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Shoot for the Goal, a Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation soccer program, is also about socializing, focusing, exercising outdoors and following instructions, all of which can prove difficult for children with autism.

“This is fantastic,” said Carlos Tellez, whose 8-year-old daughter, Natalie, scampered on a miniature field tapping at a ball with her pink shoes.

When it came time to kick goals, she swung her leg hesitantly at the five balls lined up in front of the goal. On her second go-around, after waiting her turn in line with her mom, Natalie wound up and punted them a little harder into the net.

“They should have more of these,” said Tellez.

More children are being diagnosed with autism, a spectrum of neurological disorders that can affect the way a person communicates, interacts, behaves and learns in ways mild to severe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in 88 people is affected.

And with a growing demand for services such as sports and recreation, local government, businesses and philanthropic agencies are doing their best to keep up, but it’s a struggle.

Miami-Dade Parks, which has offered programs for the special needs community since the 1970s, recently began offering classes specifically for children with autism through its Disability Services Programs.

Shoot for the Goal, part of an autism sports program that began three years ago with just 20 kids, is now part of a seven-month-long series. This year, the program, which caters to groups of kids from 6 to 18, also includes basketball, baseball and swimming.

Arlene Bouza-Jou, who runs the program, expects large numbers this year. Last year, she had 40 kids enrolled during the entire program. Just for soccer, she already has 32.

The children and teenagers who attend range in severity of autism. Some are higher functioning, or may be on the cusp of the autism spectrum, and are able to play on their own. Others don’t speak, and may need help or constant coaxing to dribble down the field or continue kicking goals.

“I see kids that are coming who have never done any sports, don’t like to be outside, do not socialize or haven’t learned how to socialize, and they’re learning these skills,” Bouza-Jou said. “These are little things that a child with autism may never do if they’re not exposed to it or taught. In their own way, and if you let them have their pace to learn it, you see it right there.”

Bouza-Jou also runs the TOPSoccer Program at Coral Estates Park, which integrates young children with autism and “typical” kids.

Other organizations are also pitching in with autism-specific sports programs.

D Amor Foundation, a Kendall-based, philanthropic group founded this year by the parent of an autistic child, provides scholarships for soccer, taekwondo and horseback riding. There are also surfing sessions on South Beach held by the UM-NSU CARD, a joint autism outreach and support program through the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

And the Good Hope Equestrian Center, a not-for-profit organization that has a 20-acre ranch in Southwest Miami-Dade, offers individual and group horseback riding sessions for children and adults with autism. The organization participated in a 2008 study by the University of Miami that found evidence that horseback riding was beneficial to people with autism.

Michael Alessandri, executive director of CARD and a clinical professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Miami, said the need for services that are tailored to people with autism is clear. He said CARD has 7,000 clients from Key West to the Broward County line registered in its database, more than 1,100 of which are older than 21.

Alessandri said sports and recreational programs have a number of benefits for kids and adults on the autism spectrum. While there are obvious physical benefits of exercise that apply to anyone, activity becomes more important because people with autism often tend to avoid physical activity.

Alessandri said avoiding exercise can be due to complex sensory issues that might include an aversion to sweat, heat or sunlight, and difficulties with coordination and socializing. He also said anxiety plays a major role, as well as medications that cause patients to gain weight or become tired.

All these issues, require planning and trained personnel, and can make hosting successful sports programs difficult, Alessandri said. And as people with autism grow older, programs become fewer in number.

“We’re kind of in an impossible situation where we have so many kids with so many needs,” he said. “But we don’t have the resources.”

Alessandri said the more programs available, the better, as they bring kids and adults with autism into social situations.

“The one thing that’s a bit of a myth, is people have this idea that because people with autism tend not to be social they don’t desire friendships or social relationships,” Alessandri said. “Those who are higher functioning, they will tell you they’re lonely and sad and want to be included and want to feel special.”

Henry Haitz, who was at Coral Estates Park on a recent Saturday with his 15-year-old stepson Henry Porto, put it this way:

“These guys just have to work way harder to do this.”

Take Jimmy Billardon, a lanky 14-year-old Miami Beach Senior High student who circled the soccer field, kicking a ball with a size-13 shoe.

Billardon loves sports like swimming and enjoys structure, said his mother, Sally. But he doesn’t enjoy speaking so much.

So she found that playing soccer allowed him to be active and social and busy on Saturdays, without having to worry so much about carrying on a conversation.

“This has always helped him,” she said. “He likes sports because it builds his self-confidence. He can speak but he doesn’t like it, so he can do this without all that fancy communication.”

At the end of soccer practice for children 6 to 11, Natalie Tellez, Andres Zamora and another half dozen kids gathered together, put their hands in a pile and shouted “Goooooooo Team!”

Natalie looked up: “I did it!”