Heroes: 10 Moms Who Are Changing the Face of AutismInstead of choosing the path of despair when their children were diagnosed with autism, these inspiring moms took action.
SOOTHING WITH SURFING
Danielle Paskowitz loves seeing the expressions of family members onshore as they watch their child with autism get on a surfboard. She understands their feelings of excitement and relief, because she's been there. When her son Isaiah was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3, he was overly sensitive to much of his environment — a bird chirping or the smell of a certain food often resulted in "sensory overload." In Isaiah's case, that meant he'd first become very quiet and anxious, and then his behavior would spiral out of control; he'd injure himself or lash out at whoever was closest.
At the time, Danielle and her husband, Izzy, a professional surfer, were running a surf camp and discovered that taking Isaiah into the water on a surfboard and paddling around with him had a calming effect on their son. "In the water, he was in a tranquil place," says Danielle, of San Juan Capistrano, CA. Plus, these sessions seemed to trigger more language from their son. The couple knew this "therapy" was worth sharing.
In 1999, they began Surfers Healing, which hosts free daylong surf camps for children with autism on both U.S. coasts and in Mexico. This past summer, 3,500 kids rode the waves with professional surfers, who volunteered their time. "The kids feel accomplished and the families get a day to relax in an accepting environment," says Danielle. And she receives the joy of reading thank-you notes from parents who constantly write, "It was the best day of our lives."
For more information on Surfers Healing events, go to surfershealing.org.
Jenny McCarthy's son, Evan, was a curious and active 2-year-old. Then a mysterious string of seizures left him virtually unresponsive — he no longer smiled or even made eye contact. Jenny took her son to a neurologist and finally received a diagnosis: Evan had autism. "For the first year after that, I was in my own little space, trying to figure out our next steps," says Jenny. "Then I came across Generation Rescue [an organization devoted to researching autism causes and treatments], which said autism was reversible. I was like, What? Why had no one told me that?"
Jenny tried experimental treatments, such as diet modification, and gradually Evan began to respond. She also became a board member of Generation Rescue, a spokeswoman for the organization Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), and a cofounder of Teach2Talk, a company that provides educational resources for children with autism and those who are speech-delayed.
Jenny's passionate views about the disorder have opened her up to criticism, especially as she's spoken out about childhood vaccinations, which some believe may play a role in the autism epidemic. "I believe in vaccines, 100 percent — but the vaccination schedule needs to be changed," she says. Jenny and her then boyfriend, actor Jim Carrey, spread that message when they led a Green Our Vaccines march on Washington in June of 2008. And she's determined to keep the spotlight on autism, with the publication of her book, the best-selling Mother Warriors. "What parents need," she says, "is to hear a message of hope."
Learn more about Generation Rescue at generationrescue.org and about TACA at talkaboutcuringautism.org.
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