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“Be Their Guest” Disney Trip Perspectives from Several Autism Parents

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It’s one of those things that is a dream for every parent–a check mark that most of us feel like we need to have at some point–that Trip to Disney with your child. A few years ago, we almost reluctantly made our own trip with our then 11 year old son mostly because 1) we stopped thinking that somehow it was going to eventually get easier as he got older and 2) we were already planning to be in Florida for the wedding of a dear friend who asked that our son be there since she used to work with him.

So, we mustered our strength and did the trip with accommodations so that we could do that big check mark off our parent list.

One of the things we wished we had realized sooner rather than later was that we should have gone when our son was younger. That his anxiety at being around that many people was really pronounced as he was getting closer to puberty and that perhaps a few trips in youth might have really made this the magical journey we were always told it would be.

Alas, we still made the best of it but in this blog post, I wanted to invite two other perspectives so that if you too have been thinking of making that magical journey with your family you know what to do and can make the best of it.

Like us, one of these families was originally waiting for “the right time” to go and we discussed it and I’m glad they finally did go and had the time of their lives.


First Time To Disney: A Short and Sweet Tale of Making the Dream Come True

The Sneed Family 

Going to Disneyworld was a first for my entire family. Prior to the trip, my husband and I thought it would be extremely difficult to take our son Quacey. As with any kiddo on the Spectrum, change is impossible so we needed to be well organized.

For many reasons, we decided to opt out of taking an airplane and thought it would be best to make it an Ol’ Family Roadtrip from Lancaster to Orlando!


Once we arrived inside the park, we immediately headed over to Guest Relations. They were extremely helpful and familiar in servicing children with Autism. That made me so comfortable!

At that point, we were given a complimentary double stroller & Disability Pass that allowed Quacey (and family) to cut down on the wait times of rides as well as experience the “Magic” without the fear of the long lines, crowds, etc. If your child experiences sensory related issues like my son, the quiet zone would be a plus. We were able to wait in a much quieter area until we were ready to ride. With all these wonderful amenities, Disneyworld makes everyone feel EQUAL. With the support of The Tommy Foundation, Quacey could see Mickey at the age of 7. Because of our TTF family, my family and I got to enjoy this magical experience at Disney, together!

Thank you TTF for Everything! – The Sneed Family


A Longer Tale From A Disney Family Expert 

The Magee Family

We traveled to Disney for the first time in January 2011 to celebrate my birthday. Our son Liam was only 18 months at the time and had not been diagnosed yet with Autism. He was at the time and still is non-verbal.

Our trip to Florida was just to get away from the PA winter. We were trying to travel to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale and found that Orlando had more family friendly resorts. We never thought our first trip to Disney would turn us into Disney Fanatics.

The first thing to do when planning a Disney vacation is figuring out the best time of year to go. You can google “When is it the best time to go to Disney World” and you will find calendars that list every day of the year and the crowd sizes. This will help greatly, when you plan your trip. It is very hot and humid in the summer time starting in June, so be aware of that fact too. Since that original trip we have been to Disney six more time and just did a day trip to Disneyland while we were visiting our oldest son in California last month.

It has turned to our go-to family vacation. We have gone as a family of three all the way up to a family of six, which included our older children and Grandparents. We have always rented a car and stayed off the Disney property at an area timeshare or condo unit. There are tons of these properties that are only a few miles from the various Disney parks. We have rented via Southwest Airlines Vacation, Costco Travel and Air BnB. There are two reason why we do this: one is that it is much cheaper than staying on Disney property and the other is the large amount of living space that we love to have on vacation. These resorts have big pools, restaurants, and children activities just like at Disney Resorts.

We like having multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchen areas. We like Liam having his own bed/bedroom to sleep in so that he can go to sleep at a decent time. Then us parents can stay up late and not disturb him. Having a condo also allows for more space for Liam to play in, when we are not spending time at the Parks. We always pack his trains, balls, and other beloved toys, so he can play during down times. Liam is very particular about what he eats. Having a fully function kitchen allow us to have all of the foods that Liam likes to eat. It also saves money for eating all of your meals out. We always pack a lunch, drinks and snacks for Liam to take with us into the park.

It just makes it easier to know that he is content with all of his favorite foods. Disney allows you to bring drinks and foods into the parks. They check all bags, but we have never had any problems at all. We also pack frozen bottles of waters during hot months. I just hate paying $3.00 or $4.00 for a bottle of water, when you can by a case for a few dollars more. Snacks also help with waiting in lines for shows and to go on rides.

Disney offers a Disability Pass to help you get on rides faster. If you are familiar with the Disney Fast Pass system, it is like having an additional Fast Pass. You can pick one of these passes up at any Guest Services Desk at any Disney Park. It allows to either to enter the Fast Pass line and wait a few minutes or sometimes it allows you to go and get on at the end of the ride. It just depends on the ride. We always use it for the most popular rides, because sometimes the normal Fast Pass for those rides will be booked. This is the first thing that we do, when we arrive at the Parks. It only takes a few minutes. I just let them know that Liam has Autism and then they take his picture and set him up with the pass. You do not need any written documentation about your child’s condition. The pass lasts for the length of your stay. When you use this disability pass the child must be on the ride with you. It also allows up to six people to go on the ride including the person with the disability pass.

There is a Disney World App that you can add to your phone. We use that a lot to look at wait times for rides, shows, and character meet and greets. It also helps to keep track of your Fast Pass times. It is a great tool to use.

On a side note, both Dutch Wonderland and Hershey Park have disability passes. Just ask about getting them as soon as you enter the park. It also never hurts to tell a Cast Member, another name for a Disney employee, that your child has Autism and the special pass. They will sometimes let you get right on a ride or do a meet and great and not wait in a big line. It seems like it is up to the personality of a Cast Member.

When we were at Disney at Christmas time in 2015, the Cast Member could tell I was having some issues with Liam as we were waiting in line to get our picture taken with Santa Claus. She let us walk right in front of everyone in line and we were the next family to get our picture taken. She explained to Santa our situation and Santa spent so much time with Liam, even though Liam doesn’t talk. It was a great experience and I will always remember what that Cast Member did for us. We probably have 20 pictures of Liam with Santa. Just “talking” to him, Liam touching his beard, and just hanging with him. It was truly a magical experience.

I was concerned about taking Liam to the Parks on our first visit, because in my mind you never know when he may have a bad moment or day. The way we deal with this is working around his schedule. If we know we have had a couple of busy days in a row, then I make sure that we have a pool day to break it up. If we know that we are going to stay late in the Park for a parade or fireworks, then we will get to the Park later in the day and enjoy the pool in the morning. Planning out your day in advance is a lifesaver.

If we know Liam needs a break and needs to just relax, then we stop and don’t push him. This may be sometime on the IPad or we usually buy an ice cream snack and that always puts him in a great mood. I think you have to let your child be your guide.

Liam is full of energy, we are usually the ones that get tired before him ☺. As I have said earlier, our older children and Grandparents have all traveled with us to Disney World. When Liam’s older siblings, who are now 22 and 19, have traveled with us, we always make sure everyone got on the rides that they really loved. So if that meant splitting up in order to do so, then we would do that. I don’t like roller-coaster or scary rides, so I would go on the smaller rides with Liam and my husband would do the more adventurous rides with our older children.

If your children are older and can be on their own, then we would let them go and give them a time to meet back with us. You can always keep in constant contact on your cell phones. When we have just Liam with us, then it is all about him and the rides and shows that he loves to do. We have done some of the various restaurants that Disney has to offer. We only go to places that we think Liam will eat from the children’s menu, since he can be picky about his food.

We love the Winnie the Pooh Breakfast Character Meal at the Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom. Liam really loves the Pooh characters. So we try to make sure we visit them, since he actually recognizes them. When Liam saw Pooh and Tigger on our last trip, we actually waited in line for about 40 minutes at a normal meet and greet. We were there during the Thanksgiving time period so the Parks are much more crowded. Liam hung on with his snacks and playing some games with us as we waited in line. When it was his time to go up, I always like the photographer and the characters know that Liam has Autism and it may take him a little bit of time for him to look at the camera and warm up. Pooh and Tigger were so great with him and spent a nice amount of time with him. He was jumping up and down just like Tigger with a huge small on his face. I swear it was the best pictures we ever had of him and we didn’t have to even work hard to get them. Liam was simply in heaven.



If your child loves any particular Disney character, then those would be the ones that I would make sure I visit. These lines can be long, so don’t waste your time if your child may not be into certain characters.

From when we started to take Liam to Disney at 18 months to now, he definitely recognizes the Parks as soon as we arrive. He just starts jumping up and down and wants to run right in. Liam will be 8 in May and is quite tall for his age, so he can get on most rides now.

During our last two trips, we have taken him on more “non-kid rides” and he has done great on them. His adventurous side opens up so many more opportunities for us to go on more rides. We have discovered that he loves 3D rides and shows and wearing the special glasses. Liam loves the fireworks shows, but the noise still bothers him. So now we bring headphones for him to help with the loud noises.

As I said, let your child be the guide for your Disney Vacation. Disney World has turned into a true blessing for our family. It has become very familiar for Liam and we know he recognizes the Parks as soon as we enter. It is our home away from home.

Even though he cannot talk, I know Liam would say “I Love Disney”!!!!



Aren’t You the lady that came here dressed as…

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“Lighten up, just enjoy life, smile more, laugh more, and don’t get so worked up about things.” – Kenneth Branagh

Okay so that last bit is hard, I’ll admit. I get worked up quite a bit because well that’s my temperament and life in general especially when you have loved ones you care for with more challenging needs.

That being said, I definitely full on embrace the idea of lightening up, enjoying life, and smiling and laughing more.

So funny story that totally put my life into perspective and just how I’ve “coped” with being surrounded by constant stress.

I go to my local supermarket one day, just buying a bunch of stuff for yet another event I have with kiddos and their families for The Tommy Foundation, and all of a sudden I notice that my cashier can’t stop staring at me.

Me: “Is something wrong?”

Cashier 1: “Um, sorry I was just… um, aren’t you the lady that came in here once dressed as Hermoine from Harry Potter?”

Before I can answer…

Bagger: “No, no, she came in here dressed as Katniss”

Cashier 2 (next aisle over): “No, she was a minion!”

Me: “Okay, I’m going to save you all some time—they were ALL me.”

Confusion and stifled laughter…

Me: “I work with kids and adults that honestly can use a little joy in their life, so I feel that the more free and ridiculous I allow myself to be, the more freedom I give people to let go and not take things so seriously and maybe even embrace some childlike part of themselves.”


My words could very well have gone over the heads of the 3 “kids” helping me that day with my groceries. The oldest couldn’t have been over 20 and the concept of an older woman dressing up all the time and GASP! Not caring enough about what other’s thought of her probably left them reeling.

So why do I dress up?

Good question. In looking back at the 11 years since I’ve founded the non-profit I spend so much blood, sweat and tears on, I can recall times when I was more “professional” and blended in just a wee bit more to the community that has now been my home for over 20 years. It IS Amish country after all, I could do a better job blending in, I suppose.

Well first off, I like it. Yes, I’ll be honest, there is still a huge part of me that wants to play pretend and have fun and truly feels alive when I read books and watch films and then can somehow bring them to life. I wanted to be an actress in a former life, so there’s that too.

Two, it genuinely puts a smile on the faces of kids I work with to see me not only excited to see them and welcoming, but also being completely up to making an utter fool of myself for their amusement.

Three, it’s okay to take something that upsets you or that confuses you or that isn’t always happy and make the best of it.

There are days I don’t want to work.

There are days I don’t want to be “on”.

There are days I just want to stay in, cry and heck maybe even drink wine.

There are plenty of statistics and stories and even support pages and groups and social media updates that would condone me doing any of the things I already listed.

Studies Show…

One research study in The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders noted that moms of kids with autism have PTSD that is so high that it is similar to that of soldiers in active combat!

Excerpt from the New York Times on the study, states that:

“Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison followed a group of mothers and their autistic children (adolescents and adults) for eight days. They were interviewed at the end of each day, and saliva samples were taken every four days.”

Among the findings:

  • The levels of chronic stress experienced by the mothers were similar to those of combat soldiers. The greater the child’s behavior problems, the worse the mothers’ stress.
  • Mothers of those with autism reportedly spend at least two hours more each day caring for those children than a comparative group of mothers whose children were not autistic.
  • The mothers of the autistic children were interrupted at work an average of once every four days. For the other mothers, the frequency was fewer than one interruption every 10 days.
  • The autism mothers were three times as likely to report a stressful event on any given day, and twice as likely to be tired.

There is probably at least a study a day that comes out with some reason why 1) we are to blame in some way for why our loved one has autism or 2) we should totally be miserable.

What’s the point lady?

The point I am trying to make is that life is too short to waste finding reasons to stay miserable.

I get it! I’ve read the studies.

I get it! I’ve been to the meetings and conferences and so on… our lives are crazy and some days we don’t want to adult. It’s hard.


You don’t have to dress up and act silly but find whatever version of your passion it is you have inside you—whatever part of self-expression you’ve lost throughout your years and bring it back into your work, your life and your children.

 Don’t Let Anyone Dull Your Sparkle!


Unexpected Uses of Snapchat with the “Differently Abled” – or anyone you want to actually connect with.

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How many times growing up did you hate it when an adult told you the phrase “these kids these days?” If you are like me you HATED it!
Well a few decades and my own child, quite a few nieces and nephews, cousins and friends’ kids later, and I find myself expressing or thinking the exact same thing.

Our kids have literally no attention span—or so it seems. If we are honest about it, neither do we, but that’s a story for another day, I think.

Technology has been an amazing advancement but at the same time it has made it so difficult for our kids to focus or stay on task.

That’s not my tale though for today!

Surprisingly, I’ve found an incredibly useful function of one social media technology tool in particular—Snapchat.

For those that know me, I am the mom of an older child with learning differences and I co-founded and am President of a non-profit for Autism, The Tommy Foundation, for individuals with Autism and Related Conditions.

Well in my world, ability to stay focused is usually an issue for sure and many times there are so many distractions in the environment that can set off our loved ones.

We can feel bombarded by noises, smells, sounds, visual input and so forth that can make seemingly simple or even fun activities—like say bowling- a real chore.


In the last year or so of my daily life and my work with kids, I’ve found that a little snapchat sprinkled in to the lives of the kids—and even their parents—really goes A LONG WAY.

1. Work Story

When I see a child approaching anxiety or frustration mode, rather than assume the worst, I take a deep breath and offer up my phone and some filters so that the child can refocus on something else for a bit.

The results are incredible. 9 times out of 10, if you catch it before it turns into a meltdown, the child or individual will completely forget why they were starting to get upset and will want to take picture after picture.

How is this useful?

Well, when you are in a public place where you need to take turns, all of a sudden you now have a tool that allows your child to actually relax and wait without resorting to having to yell at them or be physically restrictive with them—which can cause some embarrassment that might make an experience that was supposed to be fun, much less so.



2. Personal Story

Over the weekend, my husband and I worked with a dear friend on a new communication system for our son. Our friend, Julie, has known our son and worked on and off with him with a variety of therapies throughout the years.

This time though we were learning something that allows us to have our son find a new way to open up with us and let us understand more about what he’s actually taken in all these years.

The specifics of that are something for another day, but for now, I will say that the process of learning how to “letterboard” – using alphabet boards to point and communicate with us is something that can be rewarding and super frustrating for everyone involved.

It will take years and a lot of commitment for him to become “fluent” but it’s a task we are more than willing to take on and which requires a lot of us and our boy.


In the meantime though, the moments of frustration and stress can really be killers to the mood needed to move on and really push through to help him be successful in communicating and for us to be successful as his voice.

Again, Enter Snapchat – a non-food based motivation that won’t make you create bad eating habits (common complaint among parents and caretakers of other motivators used) that can help someone stay focused and on task or which can be offered as a reward.

Our goal each day is to make it through two, 20-25 minute, session on a lesson we do. Well today that 20-25 minutes took over an hour and half because of his body not wanting to cooperate and his frustration.

At the end though we were still buds and he was happy with me, cause we did some snap-chatting and it helped us push through and end the lesson on a great note.

A few silly videos and pics later and my boy forgot all about his frustration. He rocked his lesson in the end and we spent just as much time having fun as we did practicing something that made him work harder than he ever has before.

So stinking proud of my kid. He’s truly a rockstar!





3. Make it About Bonding

I live in the world of the “differently abled”.

It’s something I was thrust into as a mom and then choose voluntarily as a co-founder of a non-profit that deals with the issue.

I am full in, I was drafted and I accepted fully.

Now, it doesn’t ALWAYS have to be hard. You are allowed to have fun. You are allowed to make things playful and enjoyable and silly.

So many of our social media tools can be isolating—despite their intent to bring us together. One of the values I’ve found with any child really, but especially with ones that are more visual thinkers, is to have a tool that allows you to use filters and sounds to help you express ourselves, to see ourselves in a different light, and share a moment with a loved one.

Some of my favorite bonding moments lately have involved this tool.

I’m not at all embarrassed to use it as a tool to help me bond with these kids that I love and I want to connect with.

For me, it’s all about connecting with them at a human level and modeling love, joy and togetherness.

What about you?
What tools do you use to connect and create joy with your loved ones?

Sound off in the comments and to update a “classic” from when my kiddo was a Disney-channel-holic in the past from “Kim Possible” : “email, snap me, if you want to reach me, if you want to facebook me it’s okay. Whenever you need me baby, email, snap me if you want to reach me.”
My Snap and Instagram Name is: Miss Sugey

Join Us To Rediscover The “Forgotten”

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“Bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame…and compel them to come in so that my house will be full.” ~ Luke 14.

The quote above is one that the organization Joni and Friends of Eastern Pennsylvania wants to help our community observe while interacting with their new exhibit entitled “Finding The Forgotten”. This exhibit offers the viewer a glimpse into the world of different kinds of disabilities–including Autism–through a 30 minute multi-sensory experience.

I had the opportunity to experience this exhibit before its grand-opening to the public and was so impressed and touched by what I experienced that I instantly set up a time so that families and community members we serve can join me in experiencing it together. The opportunity to get this glimpse into the world of various disabilities via stories from individuals themselves and their families and guided meditation will benefit anyone that wants to get a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world of the differently abled and their families and reflect on ways that we can work together and to form a deeper connection with one another.

If you are interested in attending our Tommy Foundation day together at the exhibit, which is Saturday, Oct. 15th from 10am-1pm, please sign up via this link:

Finding The Forgotten Sign-Up

We are allowed to have a maximum of 30 people going through the exhibit at a time and it takes approximately 30 minutes to go through the exhibit. At this point I am collecting the names of those interested in attending first and we can assign specific times later if we have a lot of interest.

You can see more about the exhibit at

Magic Display and Superhero Appearance At February’s Support Meeting

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On Monday, February 16th, 2015, The Tommy Foundation hosted Dave and Angela Kot, creators of Face Value Comics and founders of Autism at Face Value, a non-profit that uses facial feature recognition to reinforce emotional expression. The organizations mission states: “We believe all children have the right to feel safe, wanted, and successful in their homes, schools, and communities. Understanding their own and others’ emotions boosts confidences needed for improved social behaviors. FVC reinforces these beliefs by telling a social story using a comic book for children.”

Dave Kot, who is on the Autism Spectrum himself, was there to perform for a magic show for our families who were in attendance at our monthly support group. The kids were in awe and many were chosen to participate as assistants in some of the magic tricks. After the show, the Zephyr, the world’s first autistic comic hero, was in attendance to pose for pictures with the kids.

Dave gave families a bit more insight into their comic books as well and had copies of both the first and second issue. In the comics, children see characters’ faces drawn on the page to learn about a universal emotion. Speech bubbles give language and vocabulary to match the expressed feelings. Captions and the story help place the emotion in context. Then, we weave an interesting science fiction story appropriate for middle-school aged children and their families. This work literally changes the FACE of Autism. We believe heroes do the right thing because of who they are, not because they have any unique powers. We believe people’s ABILITIES, not (dis)abilities, make them heroes!

To order comics direct, Email: or wherever comics are sold. Digital copies can be found here.

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Infinitely Awesome Sponsors Three Years In A Row To Get Special Recognition

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“We Rise By Lifting Others” ~ Robert Ingresol

New Story (Salisbury Behavioral Health), PerformCare and Murry Communities will be recognized at this year’s Edge of Autism Walk & Festival, to be held at Buchanan Park on April 25th, 2015, for their outstanding contributions to the community over the last three years having donated at the “Infinitely Awesome” level or above during that time. It takes a lot to build programs and to have the capitol to make those programs run and flourish so it is extremely humbling to have three groups that so believe in the work you do that they support your efforts at the top levels for three years or more in a row.

New Story  Since New Story’s inception in 1997, their team of highly-skilled educators and therapists has been working with children and their families to provide personalized education and support to help them overcome challenges and achieve success. Each staff member and student has the opportunity to create individual new stories. Collectively, they create a much larger “New Story.” With many schools and service programs throughout Pennsylvania, they are continuing to expand offerings and locations to meet the growing needs of children and their families.

PerformCare-LogoPerformCare was founded in 1994 by a group of leading behavioral health organizations, including providers and related associations. They are a full-service managed behavioral health care organization that supports members and providers and offer specialized behavioral health and human services programs in both the public and private sectors. Originally known as the Community Behavioral HealthCare Network of Pennsylvania (CBHNP), PerformCare became a member of the AmeriHealth Caritas family of companies in 2008. Together with AmeriHealth Caritas, they are proud to be leaders in Medicaid managed care and behavioral health care. Today, they remain committed to a “mission-driven philosophy of care – providing quality, reliable, and cost-effective behavioral health management services to members across the Commonwealth.”

Murry Living WorkingspacesFinally, Murry Communities is one that on paper looks like there is less of an immediate connection to the ‘autism cause’ as their would be for the other two leaders herein presented given that Murry Communities largely deals with comprehensive real estate property management services. However, the real reason for the collaboration of this wonderful organization with the community comes in the form of a giving and generous spirit behind the scenes, Susan Murry, who as a mother herself who at times has had a difficult road understands the needs of our families and just wants to help anyway that she can.

We are so excited to share these wonderful groups and individuals with you and can’t wait to have them say a few words and receive the recognition they so rightly deserve at our ‘family reunion’ (The Edge of Autism Walk & Festival) this April.

Don’t forget that to register for the Walk, create a team or donate to a team that already exists you can visit

3 TTF Kiddos Showing Some MTX Heart

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“Sportsmanship is when you walk off the floor and no one can tell if you won or lost, you carry yourself with pride either way.” This is the quote that first greets you when you visit the website for MTX Cheerleading. MTX stands for Manheim Township Competition and for the last few years this wonderful group has had a cheer squad made entirely of special needs individuals. Their mission reads: “Our mission is to give girls the opportunity to cheer at a competitive level while building their self esteem, honesty and integrity. We also encourage girls to work toward a goal of reaching their full potential as an individual and team; not only in cheerleading, but in all aspects of their lives.”

Interestingly enough The Tommy Foundation is proud to have 3 of its kiddos involved with this group and not all of them are girls. One is the very first boy on the squad, Cameron. Cameron’s mom, Val said that her inspiration to get Cameron involved with this group first came to her from observing his interests and motivations and thinking that perhaps this would be a good way to get him to be a part of a team! “My son Cameron has high functioning autism. He is 8 years old. He loves to dance and recite movie and TV show characters. When we would go football games Cam would get worked up but really focus on the cheerleaders. So when I heard about this special-needs, cheer-squad called MTX I was like hmmm wonder if Cam would like this. Well he loves it. There has been so many challenges we have overcome or its gotten easier for him because of this. He feels like part of a team and loves his couches too.”

Like the wonderful, precocious little dude he is, when asked what he likes about cheering Cam simply says “I like being ‘THE MAN’ when I cheer.”

Two of our other kiddos involved in the program, who have been involved for the last few years are Jennifer and Madison. Jennifer likes MTX Cheerleading because of the opportunities it has given her socially to make friends. She states that, “I love cheerleading. I make great friends and I like the music and dancing.” Her younger sister Madison likes the feeling of accomplishment she gets from the program. “I love being a part of a wonderful team because they all get to be special and do their own little parts which combine together to make up the team!”

MTX Heart has been a wonderful addition to programs and services provided in our local community to give our children a sense of pride, accomplishment and inclusion. For more information you can visit their website at:

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Fulton Theatre Sensory Friendly Program – The Nutcracker

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Sensory Friendly symbol is now used for identifying a sensory friendly production.

Sensory Friendly symbol is now used for identifying a sensory friendly production.

Many families in Lancaster got a chance to enjoy a sensory friendly production of the holiday favorite “The Nutcracker” on Saturday, January 3rd, 2015. For many of them, this experience was the first time their loved one was able to attend a theater performance. Many of the children there had autism and/or other conditions where sights, sounds, and other sensory stimuli might otherwise prohibit the individual from attending a theater performance ordinarily.

The Tommy Foundation President, Sugey Cruz-Everts, recently accepted a post on the Fulton Theatre’s Advisory Committee for at least the next 2 years. With this new role she hopes to be able to highlight the needs of individuals in the community that have sensory challenges and help them enjoy more of these kinds of productions with the eventual hope that they will develop a love of theater and the performing arts. TTF is excited to offer their support to the Fulton and the Committee’s founder, Jennifer Ridgeway, in this manner and looks forward to future productions.

Families that participated in this event received a social story about attending the theater; were able to request specific seating that made their experience better; could come an hour before the performance and feel some of the props, get to meet some of the actors, do crafts and activities that were supplied by Schreiber Pediatrics Rehabilitation Center and much more.  Children also received ‘fidgets’ (small toys that they could use in case they had anxiety to shake or play with) and were able to use the sensory room that was set up at the Fulton at any time that it might be necessary if they were overwhelmed.

For more information about future productions please contact the Fulton or contact us.

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Autism Community Focus – First of 2015

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Happy New Year! One of our goals in 2015 is to bring our community more stories about families within our community and things that are important to them.  Our first story of the new year is a deeply personal one for us because it involves two girls that we have seen grow up over the last 6 years—Abbie and Allie.  Off the bat, one of the things to note is that while autism is thought to typically affect boys 4X as much as girls, both of the girls are on the autism spectrum and at varying degrees.  Their mom, Kim Shank, is our Director of Autism Support Services and an Occupational therapist by profession working with kiddos in Early Intervention (Birth to 3).  Both mom and dad are committed to helping out our community in meaningful ways and are often seen taking time out of their super busy schedules to give back and make sure that they can reach as many families and individuals as possible. 

About 2 1/2 years ago now, one of the biggest leaps of faith for the couple came when they opened their hearts and home to strangers—college students—to come play with their daughters and start to form some kind of a bond with them.  At the time, The Tommy Foundation, had always had a presence at Franklin and Marshall College via internship and community programs, but we chose to further that by creating an actual college club on the campus called Students for Autism, where students can choose to either raise awareness about the condition or be more engaged by working in varying ways directly with individuals and their families in the community.

One of the buddies assigned to the Shank family was Julia, an international student who is interested in becoming a doctor.  Julia knew—at the time—almost nothing about autism other than what she’d read about in books or seen on tv or movies.  Kim recently reflected on her first encounter with Julia: The first time Julia came to our home, it was like watching magic happen. Our oldest daughter, Abbie, generally takes awhile to warm up to people. She does not enjoy tickles and lots of stimulation like many other kids do. Julia came to visit, and her gentle and calm presence allowed Abbie to get comfortable with her, it was almost like Abbie picked Julia to be her buddy. She took her by the hand and led her to curl up and play on the iPad. They just had such a connection! We are so thankful for her and her beautiful spirit. It is obvious that she genuinely cares about Abbie and Allie, and tries to use herself to help them both feel comfortable and calm. She has helped us at home, as well as to enjoy various Tommy Foundation activities.

Originally, since both girls are on the spectrum, the idea was that each girl had their own ‘buddy’ that worked with them and could also provide a friendly face or help to a child that needed the extra boost at our events.  Interestingly enough these girls that often find warming up to new people a little challenging actually fell in love with their own and the other’s buddy so they all work like a team now.  Julia has certainly become part of the family and loves to be with both girls. Kim added that

“Our youngest daughter, Alaina, is full of energy, and loves interaction and direction. She loves affection and stimulation. So we really have very opposite ends of the spectrum under our roof. Julia adjusts her affect to meet the needs of both our girls.” 

As an observer and supervisor for the interaction, I (Sugey) have had the joy of seeing this wonderful relationship grow over the last 2 years. It totally warms my heart to see that bond get stronger and stronger with each new visit and event we do with the family.  Julia reflected on her experience and had this to share: 

“Working with Abby and Allie has been incredibly rewarding and fun. Seeing as they warmed up to me and opened up over time was amazing. Every time I see them I get to see their improvements and growth, the new games they play, new ways they interact with each other and what their unbelievable imagination will come up with this time! I also learn a lot about the girls thanks to Kim and Dan; their input and advise is incredibly helpful. They are simply amazing, and I am so thankful they let me into the girls’ life!”

For more information about Students for Autism at F&M College or if you are interested in our buddy program or ways to get your civic groups more involved with the community please contact us.