By Sarah Ellen Rindsberg
Outsiders are often unacquainted with the world inhabited by special needs children. Tomes on the subject are few and far between. Eager to shed light on their rewarding lives, several local families graciously shared their perspective.
Debra Marino spoke of the way in which siblings explain their brothers’ and sisters’ differences to others. When her son, Dylan Bower wanders over to greet his sister Alana and her friends, Alana says, “This is my brother. He has autism. He can’t speak too well.”
For Dylan, being among typical kids–which he enjoys immensely– brings its own set of challenges. One day when he was at a pool, talking and splashing to his heart’s content, one of the other boys asked Marino: “What’s wrong with him?” “His brain works differently from yours,” she responded. The next question posed was: “Is it catching?”
Max Krooks’ energy is amazing. On vacations in La Quinta, California, his days include swimming, biking and shuffleboard. “I don’t get tired,” he related. Having cerebral palsy and being developmentally delayed diminishes neither his pace nor his desire to remain active. After a busy day, he craves muffin tops from Stew Leonard’s.
At home, Krooks is always on the go. Every week he smiles from the saddle when he participates in the Pegasus Therapeutic Riding program. Volunteers surround Cinnamon, his usual horse, as Krooks posts and trots around the ring. His proud mother, Robin Krooks, watches each session and revels in his success. “He’s an equestrian when he’s on a horse,” she said. In a magical dance, the riders follow the gait of the horses. This practice translates into dramatic improvements in posture and movement in their daily routines.
Another important facet of Max’s life involves–you guessed it–more sports. His long list of activities includes playing VIP soccer (AYSO’s program for kids with special needs) and competing in the Special Olympics as part of North East Westchester Special Recreation’s swim team. He often asks his mother whether she will be attending his activities. “He loves when people cheer him on,” his mother related.
Lee Block is an advocate for people with Asperger’s, like himself. He eagerly answered a reporter’s questions. “I can share my experiences and hope people will learn from them,” he said.
Attending a talk by John Elder Robison, the author of “Look Me in the Eye,” was a pivotal moment for Block. Robinson’s memoir focuses on his life with Asperger’s. “I felt very connected. That’s exactly how I felt. I understand his predicament,” Block said.
Block described his comfort level when he is with his Aspy friends. “Most boys my age like to play sports and talk about girls,” Block explained. “We stick to our own little world and that’s how I like it,” he continued.
His mother, Toddi Gutner, added further insight into this aspect of Block’s life. After deciding that public school was not a good fit for her son, she and her husband enrolled him at the Winston Preparatory School. Here, they found a compatible environment, one that eschews loud music, lockers and bells. Gutner explained the way in which this setting meets her son’s needs: “I’m not different there,” he told her. “That’s human nature,” Gutner mused. “Everybody needs their own people.”
Lori D’Adamo’s son Joseph, who is classified as multi-disabled due to the effects of a seizure disorder, benefits greatly from his participation in North East Special Recreation. He enjoys a slew of fun activities including bowling, field trips and dances at the American Legion Hall.
Joseph’s parents nurture his passion for Broadway musicals by taking him to the theatre once a month. His happiness radiates during the shows. When Lori looks at him sitting beside her, she sees him “beaming from ear to ear.”
At home, Joseph often bursts into song spontaneously, singing one of his favorite tunes. His mom is often treated to a rendition of “Luck be a Lady” from “Guys and Dolls.”
The inspiration for this article came from Sarah Ellen Rindsberg’s fond recollection of the baby’s voice in “Look Homeward, Angel.”