East End Making Strides with World Autism Month Activities

Sean and Theresa DeMarco, owners of One for All in Southold
Sean and Theresa DeMarco, owners of One for All in Southold
Courtesy of the DeMarcos

As the world becomes more understanding of neurodiverse individuals, such as people on the autism spectrum, more and more resources and programming are becoming available to this community. In honor of World Autism Month, we’re taking a look at some of the organizations and businesses making the East End a more welcoming place for adults and children with autism.

One of the most active organizations supporting the autism community on the East End is Luv Michael, named after co-founder Michael Kessaris, a young adult with autism. He works with his parents and fellow co-founders Dr. Lisa Liberatore and Dr. Dimitri Kessaris to run an innovative organic granola production company that employs exclusively individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Funds raised help Luv Michael continue to support, train and employ the adult autism community. luvmichael.com

Luv Michael’s founders also run a sister organization US Autism Homes, which helps autistic youth transition out of their parents’ homes and into a more independent arrangement that still provides care specific to the individual. The organization has a network of homes and apartments, including in Southampton, that provide security, communal areas, outdoor gardens, technology support, access to faith-based resources and more. usautismhomes.org

Like Luv Michael, One For All is a business co-founded by an autistic young man with a mission to showcase the work of likeminded individuals. In the case of Sean DeMarco, who founded the One For All store with mother Theresa DeMarco, he wanted to create a shared creative space with a shared purpose, thus the Southold store sells artisan crafts, jewelry, art, pottery, bags and more created by exclusively by autistic and otherwise neurodiverse makers from around the country. oneforallgifts.com

Luv Michael Autism
Left to right: Michael Kessaris, teacher Sarah Kull, Elias Lazanas, Christian Ciardello with Luv MichaelCourtesy Luv Michael

While sensory sensitivity is by no means an autism-exclusive trait, and those on the spectrum may not experience it at all, everybody benefits when the community tries to be a little more inclusive. It’s a not exactly the right season to discuss Santa’s Christmas Tree Farm in Cutchogue, but it is worth noting that they made headlines for introducing the North Fork’s first “Sensitive Santa” sessions — dimming the lights and turning off the Christmas music at scheduled times in hopes of giving sensory-sensitive kids a stress-free meeting with the big man in red. santaschristmastreefarmli.com

On Saturday, April 30, The Watermill Center launches its own sensory-friendly tours in honor of Autism Awareness Month. This tour of the center’s art collection, library and garden intends to provide routine accommodations to neurodiverse individuals through natural lighting, minimal ambient sound, and tour materials made available prior to arrival so guests have time to better plan their visit. The first of these sensory-friendly tours takes place this Saturday, April 30 from 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. watermillcenter.org

On the same day, the Parrish Art Museum is hosting its grand Spring Fling fundraising event, which is raising money for their educational programming, such as Access Parrish, which provides learning experiences for youth and adults with autism, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s and their caretakers. Join in the fun on April 30, 7:30–11 p.m. and enjoy music and dancing courtesy of DJ Marc Bauman, a silent auction, Elegant Affairs catering and an open bar. parrishart.org

Parrish Art Museum, Photo: Barbara Lassen
Parrish Art Museum, Photo: Barbara Lassen

Children with sensory sensitivity can find solace and fun at the Children’s Museum of the East End‘s Sensory Friendly Mornings, which reduce visual and auditory stimuli in exhibits, quiet rooms and the less-crowded museum. The summer CMEE schedule will be announced soon and will also include a speaker series and more family activities. cmee.org

OLA of Eastern Long Island is working with NY Project Hope, a New York State Office of Mental Health program providing emotional support services and more, to host a hybrid series of bilingual (Spanish and English) All-Abled Youth Workshops at Hampton Bays Public Library and online. Organized by program team leader Laura Putzulu of OLA, the workshops invite teens of any physical ability and neurodiversity to come together and talk. The three tentative workshop dates all take place at 5 p.m.: Wednesday, May 18, Tuesday, June 7 and Monday, June 13. olaofeasternlongisland.org

This summer will also see the return of the Flying Point Foundation for Autism’s Camp Flying Point, an August retreat for campers with autism ages 6–21 at the Southampton Fresh Air Home. Trained staff will help facilitate an exciting and memorable summer camp experience with activities including swimming, art, yoga, music and noncompetitive sports. fpf4autism.org/camp-flying-point

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