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New Autism Center Coming To Long Island

Nonprofit to open family center

Garden City will soon boast the first family-centric venue on Long Island to support children on the autism spectrum along with their families. Life’s WORC (Working Organization for Retarded Children), a non-profit organization that provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities to help them foster independent lives, is slated to open The Family Center for Autism in early spring 2014.

The 9,500-square foot, three-story building at 1517 Franklin Avenue, adjacent to Life’s headquarters, has been developed to provide a lifeline for the entire family. The center was developed based on feedback from more than 400 families with autism-spectrum children. The center will offer a full range of therapeutic, educational, social, recreational and vocational programming along with respite and activities for parents and siblings.   

According to Anna Trent, senior director of community services, families with autistic children face an uphill battle every day.

“There is an 85 percent divorce rate among these families,” said Trent. “Everyone in the family is affected.”

Autism is a developmental disorder that is on the rise, one in 88 children are diagnosed with autism, an increase from one in 100 just a few years ago. The disorder affects the neurological development of an estimated 1 million American children. Their families are often overwhelmed by the emotional, financial and social impacts. “My son has never been invited to a play date,” shared parent Rebeca Aghassi, whose son just started middle school. “He attended summer cooking classes at Life this past summer. That he has someplace to go is such a relief to me. He can make new friends, depend on the support of trained professionals and more importantly we’ve found that they have been able to capitalize on his strengths. I appreciate that this is not just another service but an activity he can enjoy just like other children who participate in extracurricular activities.”

Plans for the building include a kitchen, theatre, music area, gym/sports room, art studio, teen recreation center, computer zone and café. Life currently offers a host of classes and the new center will allow the organization to increase offerings. A menu of options will include classes such as cooking, art, and music as well as other services such as birthday party hosting or haircuts—typically difficult to find for children with autism. Teen options include teen rap session, movie and trivia nights.

Parents won’t be left out of the offerings. Parents will be able to drop their children off and take advantage of a yoga class, enjoy a cup of coffee at the cafe or attend a special “Night Out” event. The center will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Families can take advantage of membership pricing or pay for services on an as-needed basis. An anonymous donation of $1 million has pushed the project forward but fundraising to help defray costs and fund scholarships continues.

Ingrid Hughes, of Garden City, has a 17-year-old son who has attended classes at Life for more than six years. She expressed her gratitude for those services and is eagerly anticipating the center.

“As they get older there are fewer opportunities,” added Hughes. “I’m thrilled my son Karl will have a place to hang out and socialize.”

Tina Moreno, assistant director of family support operations, concurred that many of the older children fall into a black hole and parents are at a loss of how to proceed as their child ages.

The center will provide social and recreational opportunities for children and adults. Impending adulthood is a fear for many parents.

“The industry refers to it as an ‘autism tsunami.’” added Rosemary Barlone-Schaefer, director of autism services, BCBA. “The first surge of children diagnosed with autism are now reaching adulthood. The plan is to support families from diagnosis through adulthood which will include support for college and finding work. It will be a place to share challenges, make connections and decrease their isolation.”

For further information or to make a donation please visit www.familycenterforautism.org or contact Tina Moreno at 516-741-9000, extension 484.