#Hope. Autism can be very isolating. Autistic children don't make friends like neurotypical children do. Their friends are in their heads. Thomas and Percy, Skarloey and James. Bashful, Happy, and Sneezy. For many autistic children, social interaction is really difficult. It is not something they naturally seek out. When Dusty was younger, he never had a playdate. He never got invited to a friend's birthday party. He never played on a Little League team. The guests at his 5th birthday party: two special ed teachers, his OT and his Speech Therapist. Not one child, other than his older brother. Dusty's 'friends' were basically adults.
That all changed when Jackie Ceonzo came into our lives. Jackie and her husband Joe have two children, Andrew and Joey. In 2003, after being unable to find a fulfilling afterschool program for Joey whose disabilities fall on the Autism spectrum, Jackie started snack*, Special Needs Activity Center for Kids. Snack's mission is to provide a haven for those with special needs and challenging behaviors to socialize and enjoy recreational activities like typical people do every day while learning practical skills in a nurturing, collaborative and fun environment.
For the past 8 years, snack* has been a safe haven for Dusty and all the Sweeney's. There are no judgements made here. No behaviors are too challenging. No fear of rejection. Dusty plays soccer.
He smiles. He laughs.
He hangs out at Teen Night. With his friends.
snack* serves over 150 children and their families fostering a sense of belonging and community that is so important on this journey where rejection and isolation can be felt all too often. As we look towards the adult years with Dusty, that sense of community gives us hope that Dusty will always have friends. That he will always have a place to laugh. That he will always have those, beyond his family, that love him. And that he will never be alone.
To learn more about snack*, please visit Dusty's Firstgiving page at http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/katie-sweeney-1/snack-2014-online-fundraising-campaign. Like any non-profit, snack* must fund raise to bridge the gap. The Sweeney Family is 85% of the way towards our goal this year; any consideration is greatly appreciated!