Hundreds turn out for Staten Island autism resource fair

Hundreds turn out for Staten Island autism resource fair : In the first 20 minutes of the Stand Together Resource Fair for Autism Services Joanne Gerenser was approached by seven families of autistic people who were not receiving any services outside of school.

“In 20 minutes, seven lives will be changed,” Dr. Gerenser, executive director of the Eden II programs, said.

That was the goal of the event, organized by Borough President James Molinaro and held at the Michael J. Petrides Educational Complex — to help connect families with resources they are entitled to access.

“You’re never going to be standing alone,” Molinaro told the crowd at the event. “Don’t ever feel that there aren’t people here to help you.”

There were about 50 service providers and vendors at the event, and more than 800 people visited the fair over the course of four hours. Families could chat with experts about the Medicaid waiver they need to access services, or sit in on seminars about breakthroughs in education or technology.

Molinaro organized the fair with his Autism Committee, which brings together service providers ranging from private foundations to the Department of Education. The news that seven families had been helped just minutes into the fair, and a hand-crafted thank you poster from a woman who had written to him for help, had Molinaro beaming.

“My day is made,” he said. “My day is made.”

Molinaro said next step will be to continue raising awareness of the impact of autism on the Island. “Autism is not a disease that affects one person — it affects the whole family,” he said.

Siblings might not understand why one child gets more attention, Molinaro said, and parents must become caretakers 24/7. He wants to create a summer camp where parents can send their child for a few days and know they are safe, in order to give them a break.

It’s also vital to establish residential options here, Molinaro said, so parents can be know their children will be safe after they die. He cited examples of parents killing their autistic children and themselves out of despair about the future.

“We’re a civilized society — that should never happen,” he said. “We have a responsibility, if not legal, than moral. We have a moral responsibility to care for these citizens.”

Dana Tafuri of Eltingville visited the fair with her husband, John, and their four children — two of whom are on the Autism Spectrum. She said the fair was the best place to find out about new services and programs. It was important to her to bring the whole family.

“We want the children who are not on the spectrum to come out and see this is a cause,” Mrs. Tafuri said. “This is real. This is not just something you experience in your house everyday.

Hundreds attended the Stand Together Resource Fair for Autism Services at the Michael J. Petrides Educational Complex, Sunnyside.(Staten Island Advance/Hilton Flores)

Eleanor Rosen, of Eltingville, wanted to learn more about health insurance for autism and recreational programs for her son, Matthew, who is hoping to play golf this summer.

“They have a lot to offer here,” she said. “This is helpful for parents.”

One seminar from behavior analyst Laura Kenneally focused on how technology — especially the iPad — can allow autistic people to better communicate.

Barbara D’Amora of Annadale said the iPad has helped her son Nick, 14. People often confuse his difficulty in communicating for a difficulty in thinking, Ms. D’Amora said. But recently, Nick told his mom he wanted a dog. She asked why, and he typed into his iPad, “Because they demand very little of me.”

Mrs. D’Amora was floored. And Nick now has a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Jackie Tripodi, who works for Lifestyles for the Disabled and whose son has multiple disabilities, said the iPad is “priceless” tool for many disabled people, not just those with autism.

“It gives them an opportunity to be out in the community, to be productive members of society, to communicate,” Mrs. Tripodi said.

Molinaro’s office raffled off iPod Touch devices at the event — which can be used like iPads to help in communication.

There were lower-tech services on hand, too. Louis Raneri was offering information on a service he just started — Raneri Fitness, where he serves a personal trainer for those with special needs, who are often more sedentary than their typical peers.

“It’s so rewarding,” Raneri said.

Molinaro thanked the event’s sponsors, Northfield Bank, ShopRite, Costco, Dunkin Donuts, Richmond County Savings Bank and PC Richards, as well as the Advance and editor Brian Laline for highlighting the stories of Island families coping with autism in the newspaper and on its web site,, leading up to the forum.