Special Feature — Hear From Other Local Autism Parents

 Special Feature — Hear From Other Local Autism Parents

By Kami-Leigh Agard

As April is Autism Acceptance Month, hear from other local caregivers of individuals on the autism spectrum. In this week’s installation, my next guest to share his story is Matthew Wolf, an absolutely amazing and dedicated dad of 13-year-old Michael.


My Son’s Journey

By Matt Wolf

My son, Michael, is considered moderate to severe on the autism spectrum. However, one might not suspect such considering all the things he can do.

Parents of children on the spectrum may receive assistance from the NYS Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). Once enrolled, parents can choose to either use a service provider such as YAI or enroll their child in Self-Direction, an OPWDD program that allows parents more control over the hiring of their children’s caretakers and choices for services. For us, Self-Direction has been a blessing. Through the program, I have enrolled Michael in classes that have helped him be more confident in himself and accomplish incredible things.

Via Self-Direction, Michael takes music classes at the NYU Nordoff-Robbins Center. This program lets students create music with their teachers. They take my son’s perseverating behaviors and turn them into song lyrics and rhythms, thus helping him communicate through music and feel heard and accepted.

Michael also takes surfing lessons with the NY Surf School in the Rockaways. Michael loves playing in the ocean and his two instructors, Simon and Philipe, have been perfect with him. He can often be heard screaming with happiness during a lesson. Often, I will hear a fellow surfer comment, “I wish I was having as much fun as that kid.”

He also takes karate lessons with local ZenTora Karate (formerly World Champions Karate Center). His instructor, Sensei Michael Salemi, has a special skill with those on the spectrum. In addition to teaching karate, Sensei Michael teaches Michael mindfulness, mental discipline, and self-control by incorporating breathing exercises into the lessons.

Michael also takes sailing classes with Sam Jackson of Sail Rockaway. Sam is an incredible teacher, as he not only teaches basic sailing, but also demonstrates calmness and patience whenever an unexpected sailing situation occurs (as they often do). These lessons are a blessing as we get to spend two hours together in Jamaica Bay learning how to sail and enjoying nature. Michael was so proud of himself last year when he steered the sailboat by himself under two bridges, something he loves to do.

Michael also takes dance classes. Founder of Unite Through Dance, Rachel Sabey, is an amazing teacher and really understands the mental and physical benefits of dancing. With her, Michael learns new ways to move his body, burns energy and learns to follow directions. In addition to dancing, she also teaches Michael calming techniques.

Via Self-Direction I have also enrolled Michael in group swimming classes at the YMCA. Also, every year, he attends a 10-day summer camp upstate NY with AHRC. All paid for by Self-Direction.

For sure, these classes have increased my son’s confidence. He is not afraid to try new things and I can take him to new places and do different things. For example, I can go surfing with him, as I did at Hana Bay in Maui, HI, and take him on sailing trips, as I recently did on a chartered sailboat from Newport to Block Island, RI. I also hope I have instilled through these classes a sense that enjoying something does not mean a person has to be naturally gifted at it. Rather, it is the journey and personal accomplishments along the way that truly count.

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