While many high school seniors were swamped with college applications this past fall, Byram Hills Senior Reese Tateo was no exception but she was also busy organizing the first-ever Armonk for Autism 5K race in downtown Armonk. Tateo organized the event along with her parents, Elena and Danny Tateo. Spurred by their love for Reese’s younger brother, Morgan, who has autism, the Tateos hoped to raise autism awareness in the community and raise money for the Byram Hills Special Education Department.
Support from Family and Friends
Despite it being a rainy day, about 130 people came to show their support on October 27, 2019 and the Tateos raised over $11,000. Although some registrants stayed home due to the weather, it was still a healthy turnout for their inaugural event.
“In the end, I think the rain added to it because everyone who came was there because they really wanted to support us and not because they were going out for a nice run in great weather,” reflects mom Elena Tateo.
The entire event was full of touching moments. Friends and family pitched in wherever they could, whether unloading bananas or giving out t-shirts. The Tateos met other families with autistic children and people outside of Armonk who have children with autism thanked them via email or donated five dollars to show support. They were delighted to see so many members of the community including Morgan’s classmates, his teacher, his Occupational Therapist, the Byram Hills Director of Special Services Jill Boynton, the Byram Hills Athletic Director Rob Castagna, and the high school football team.
Local businesses such as Hickory & Tweed, Mt. Kisco Seafood, Tazza, and Breezemont Day Camp also offered their support by sponsoring the race. Additional sponsors were featured on their website at armonkforautism.org. Also, a multitude of volunteers donors, plus the town made the race possible.
One of the most memorable moments came at the very end. It was raining hard, water was dripping through the tent, people were clearing out, and Elena was announcing the winners, trying to read their names off a wet paper. Suddenly, they heard there was still a runner out on the road. It was a teenage girl with autism running with her father and brother. The Tateos corralled everyone back to the finish line and everyone enthusiastically obliged. “Everyone was cheering for her in the pouring rain,” recalls Reese. “It was amazing. I just viewed that as a symbol of what we were there for. We got everyone to come back and cheer and she was so happy.”
An Idea Blossoms into Tangible Results
Reese’s idea to organize a run came to her after watching her father, an avid runner, participate in many races over the years.
“I noticed how many people would run for a cause so I thought it would be great to do it for autism,” Reese says. Danny Tateo has run to support other causes in the past in addition to wearing a shirt at some races with a picture of Morgan that says “I run for my son.”
To tackle the logistics of planning a race, the Tateos sought advice from the organizers of the annual Stayin’ Alive 5K which supports the First Responders of Northern Westchester, and the organizers of Jamie’s 5k Run for Love, in memory of Jamie Love and benefitting the Friends of the North Castle Library.
Reese and her dad chose the course. “We drove with a GPS watch and went on so many different courses planning 3.1 miles,” says Reese.
After consulting with Superintendent Jen Lamia, HC Crittenden Principal Kim Lapple, and Director of Special Services Jill Boynton, the Tateos donated the money towards a kitchenette for the special needs students at the middle school and a greenhouse at the high school. The Tateos were excited to provide something tangible that can help foster independence for Morgan and others like him. The kitchenette is useful in teaching daily life skills and the greenhouse allows the students to learn agricultural skills, job skills, and marketing by growing plants and selling them.
Living with Autism
April is World Autism Month and several communities are having wear blue campaigns or are lighting up town monuments blue to raise awareness of autism. The CDC defines autism as a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. The CDC found in 2018 that approximately 1 in 59 children in the US is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Living with a brother with autism has given Reese a special perspective. Morgan was diagnosed at a very young age so Reese never really knew a brother without autism. “I just grew up with autism. People ask me if it’s weird but I know no differently,” explains Reese. “I would watch him a lot while my parents were at work and couldn’t go to many after-school activities because I had to come home and look after him. That was different than a lot of people’s lives but he’s my brother and I love him.”
“She’s the best big sister you can ask for,” says Elena. “Morgan is smart and has a funny sense of humor. His biggest challenges are language and communication. We were excited about doing the race in our community because Morgan has become more integrated in the middle school than he was in the lower schools and we’ve noticed his peers be so accepting of him, which is amazing. He does track at school and even participated in the 1.5 mile loop at the race.”
Reese passionately reminds us, “if you see a kid that’s not socially outgoing or looks uncomfortable, reach out and be nice to them and don’t look down on them for not knowing how to act or speak.”
“It’s important for parents to always strongly advocate for their children and it’s an ongoing life-long process,” says Elena. “Parents need to network, educate themselves about what their children need, and think about planning for the future early on. We also have to remember to be inclusive, be kind, and recognize that everyone counts. I love Temple Grandin’s quote about being “different, not less.” I think that is how our society should consider all people, with or without a disability.”
Reese and her dad have already started planning for next year’s race. “We have to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves,” says Danny.