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Authors Discuss Autism's Impact On Families At Craigville Retreat Center

by Johanne Kieffer

On August 12, 2013, a fundraising event called Autism & Authors was held at the Craigville Retreat Center, in Centerville, to benefit Cape Cod Village, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a campus style residential community for adults with autism.

WCAI's Mindy Todd, host of The Point on local NPR radio, moderated a panel discussion with three authors, Lisa Genova, Arthur Fleischmann and Susan Senator, all of whom have written books about autism and give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

One hundred community members gathered around cloth draped dining tables, each topped with a bouquet of fresh flowers. The rustic, historic setting of Craigville's tabernacle evoked an atmosphere of days of old, when life was simpler and neighborhoods were like family.

The people drawn to this event resembled an extended family and were all filled with compassion for the needs of those with autism, caring deeply about those who cannot care for themselves. These likeminded people spanned the spectrum of professionals, representing a cross section of our Cape Cod neighborhood.

The topic was autisms' impact on families. Throughout the discussion, which included personal experiences related from the authors, in addition to discussions about their books, the audience listened intently to their perspectives on autism and their suggestions on how we can all help to improve the lives of families touched by autism.

Questions were opened up to the guests and the conversation flowed. It was as natural as sitting at the kitchen table chatting over a cup of coffee. There was nodding of heads, expanding comments and even a few laughs.

When Mindy Todd posed a question about guilt, and how to balance time and attention to other family members as a parent of a child with autism, author Arthur Fleishmann candidly responded, "I'm Jewish". The room erupted in a roar of laughter. For without humor how would families impacted by autism navigate and survive any of this?

I couldn't help but feel this room was filled with people who not only care about, but truly BELIEVE in our cause. The vision for Cape Cod Village is to "foster quality of life and well being, while providing safety, security, and continuity of care for residents throughout their lives."

Autism affects 1 in 88 and 1 in 54 are boys. There is no cure. Most diagnosed with autism require lifelong assistance in daily activities. Over the next fifteen years, an estimated 500,000 young adults diagnosed with autism will transition out of our school systems nationwide into an unknown future. What will happen to them? Cape Cod Village is answering the call.

Cape Cod Village plans to build a community within a community that will house 16 residents and have a commons building.

This pocket community will not only provide the support needed for the unique needs of autistic adults, but will also share its commons building with the neighboring autism community members as a resource center, offering programs that support essential social and living skills.

Perhaps the most heartwarming moments of the event came during a closing performance from the Boston Higashi School jazz band, comprised of students and alumni who all have an autism diagnosis.

The musicians filed through the tabernacle, instruments in-hand, then assembled on the stage, each finding their place and quickly becoming focused on the conductor.

As he gave the hand motion to begin, a wave of jazz music flowed through the room. The audience clapped, becoming part of a jazzy Miles Davis tune.

A long, quiet pause hung in the air between announcing the title of the last song and the down beat of the next first note. Out of the silence a voice from one of the autistic boys in the brass section commanded, "Get up and dance!"

With that, the music began to play, people abandoned their chairs and jumped to their feet, swaying, clapping and snapping their fingers to the beat. It was magical! You could feel the sound of joy vibrating through the room. The crowd applauded with a thunderous standing ovation and smiles from ear to ear.

My friend, Nickey Burnell, leaned over towards me and said above the crowd, "This is what happens when autistic kids get what they need." I couldn't have said it better myself.

This was truly a demonstration of what is possible when the community opens its arms to discuss the needs of its autistic members. Cape Cod Village is offering the vision of what is possible. We hope you get involved and join our mission to build an innovative community for adults with autism.

For more information about Cape Cod Village and how you can help click HERE.

Cape Cod Village, Inc.

"Innovative Housing for Adults with Autism"

Authors Lisa Genova, Susan Senator and Andrew Fleischeman sign books at the Autism & Authors fundraising event

If you haven't read these books written by the guest panelists of the Autism & Authors event, I highly recommend them:

Arthur Fleischmann, MBA, Carly's Voice: Breaking Through Autism

Lisa Genova, PhD, Love Anthony; Still Alice; Left Neglected

Susan Senator, Making Peace with Autism; The Autism Mom's Survival Guide

Johanne Keiffer

Johanne Kieffer is the mother of a young adult with autism. She is dedicated to helping Cape Cod Village open its doors.

Johanne holds a BA in Communications and is a Licensed Massage Therapist and freelance writer living on Cape Cod.