Help Raise Money for Autism

As a teenager I worked at a pizza place. It was my first job outside of shoveling driveways and walking dogs. I was so excited to have a new stream of revenue that I hardly noticed how hot, sweaty and doughy my nights were. My boss Marty was great though, he was always supportive of our curiosity in the kitchen and helped work around our band schedules when we needed to play a show. A really stand up gentleman.

Marty was also a very smart man. In the down time in the afternoon he would talk with us about philosophy and politics and pepperoni. He taught us how to make the perfect sauce, how to care for newly rising dough and we knew this wasn't just a job for him, he really loved what he did. That rubbed off on us and we took our jobs very seriously too. There's a definite science to it. But it's also a labor of love. He was the personification of that fact.

He used to bring his son into work with him, so he could hang out and color or play cards at the shop. The two of them were very close. They had their own language, a bond that none of us could really grasp. At first I was a little uncomfortable around him, I didn't understand the way he acted or communicated. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. His son, he told all of us on our first day of work, was Autistic. At the time, I had no idea what that meant.

Several years later after returning from college I got a job working for a local newspaper. I mostly did small articles about events around town, new restaurants opening you know, journalism. One day I was assigned an article about a place out in the middle of the farmland of Ohio that was holding a craft fair. I knew nothing about Bittersweet Farms and wasn't expecting much when I went in to talk with the coordinator of the fair. I wasn't a huge fan of what I like to call "basket art" and assumed this would be another one of my patented fluff pieces. What is it they say about assuming? It turns out I was that.

What Bittersweet Farms does is takes adults with Autism and houses them on a working farm to teach them about farming and caring for animals and art. Modeling behavior and social interactions and helping those individuals lead productive and enriching lives. I took a tour of their facility and at the end asked what I could do to help out. I was so overwhelmed with emotion, and hope and a newly discovered passion that I quit my job at the paper and started working at the farm.

Working with those guys gave me a feeling I never had before. I felt like I was actually doing something. When I moved to Massachusetts I was fortunate enough to work with one of the leading agencies for developmental disabilities, The May Institute. While there I worked at both the Day Program and in the Residential Program. Most of the individuals in the program are diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. I bought books about Autism, watched documentaries, talked with parents and educators, anything to understand this disorder and learn how I could help.

I have such respect for those who have dedicated their lives to understanding what it means to be diagnosed with Autism. And maybe more so, the families of these individuals. It's not something most people are cut out for. It's rough work. As many great days there are, there are just as many hard and harrowing days.

I think back to all that Marty did for his son at the pizza shop. Providing him with as much visual stimulants as he could, all the coloring books and playing cards. When he would massage his hands to relieve some of the tension and anxiety his son was feeling. Letting his son make decisions instead of assuming and choosing for him. All the things I thought were just their little things were some of the techniques developed for helping adults with Autism. There's a definite science to it. But it's also a labor of love.

It may seem like a small gesture, but this fundraising project to help buy new bicycles for The May Institute is one that is really close to my heart. A project that will result in real success for these individuals. These bikes will allow these guys to enhance their motor and sensory integration skills through the physical experience of balancing, pedaling, steering, and planning movement on a bike. Building these skills are essential to an adult with autism as it decreases repetitive behavior such as finger flicking and whole body rocking so that they may live a happier and more fulfilling life.

I really hope you take the time to add your support to the project. To see the project just click here.