By Marissa Maier
In the last few years, Kim Covell, founder of the Flying Point Foundation of Autism, has noticed an uptick in the number of local organizations focused on aiding children with autism and other special needs. From the Center for Therapeutic Riding of the East End (CTREE) at the Wölffer Estate Stables to a swim program operated by Meg Preiss at the East Hampton YMCA, a variety of programs are cropping up on the South Fork in an effort to enrich the lives of autistic children.
Three years ago, Covell started a Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) for Southampton families, hoping to help the parents of autistic and special needs children navigate the local education system (that group recently joined forces with a similar Sag Harbor-based organization to form the East End SEPTA). These offerings perhaps hint at a larger shift in the way autism is viewed locally and nationally.
“I think people in the typical community are starting to understand these people are part of our world,” remarked Covell, the mother of a son with autism.
According to the Autism Society of America, 1 to 1.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder and these types of disorders are the fastest growing developmental disabilities in the country with 10 to 17 percent annual growth. Considering these statistics, individuals with autism make up a large segment of the population that cannot be ignored. Author Rupert Isaacson, who is best known for “The Horse Boy,” a book depicting his journey with his autistic son, Rowan, through Mongolia, agrees with this point.
“We as a society are going to make some huge changes. These people are going to be in the workforce. Our society and workplace may look quite different,” noted Isaacson. “I meet more and more young adult autistics who are functioning quite well.”
On Wednesday, April 7, Rupert Isaacson will host a screening of the documentary film based on his book. The event will benefit CTREE and coincides with the National Autism Month of April. In commemoration of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, Covell organized a special performance by Brittany Maier, a 20-year-old musical savant who is blind, autistic and mentally disabled, but has the ability to compose music and play thousands of pieces from memory; but the performance has since been postponed. Both events will take place at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. The theatre added that the Maier performance will most likely be rescheduled for a date in the near future.
Isaacson said that though his son benefited from his interest in horseback riding, he is careful to note that finding a “cure” for autism is perhaps an illusory concept.
“It is a bit like me saying ‘Stop being American.’ We can transplant you to China and you would end up learning the language but you would always remain American. People who are autistic are who they are … and autistics offer a valuable world view,” said Isaacson. “We want to change certain behaviors but we don’t want to change who this person is. The question isn’t, ‘Is autism a problem to be fixed?’ It is a series of gifts and skills to be maximized.”
This summer, the Flying Point Foundation hopes to establish a week-long summer camp for children with a spectrum of autistic disorders. Covell plans to expand the program to include camp sessions that correspond with school vacations. In the meantime, Covell and a friend have been working on a website celebrating artistic expressions of the autistic experience through various medium, from paintings to poetry. The website, www.aweinautism.org, is scheduled to launch this Friday.
“The Horse Boy”
CTREE, the Center for Therapeutic Riding of the East End, and author/producer Rupert Isaacson will host a screening of the documentary “The Horse Boy,” based on Isaacson’s book of the same title, on Wednesday, April 7, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Bay Street Theatre on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Isaacson will attend the event.
Directed by Michel Orion Scott, “The Horse Boy” follows Isaacson and his family as they trek on horseback through outer Mongolia in an attempt to find healing for his son.
Attendees will have the opportunity to meet and speak with Isaacson, author of the New York Times bestseller. CTREE’s Program Director, Karen Bocksel, along with board members and staff will also be available to address any questions and discuss the therapeutic riding program.
Tickets cost $25 per person for the screening and $30 for dessert and a meeting with Isaacson ($50 for both venues). To purchase tickets, call CTREE at (631) 779-2835 or e-mail Karen@ctreeny.org.
“The Awe in Autism”
The Flying Point Foundation for Autism-sponsored performance by musical savant Brittany Maier has been postponed for a date “in the near future,” says Bay Street Theatre, where it will be held. The evening included the debut of a song especially written for the Foundation, which will be sung by “American Idol” season nine audition finalist Leah Laurenti of Medford.