Thursday, September 4, 2014

Congratulations to our newly named Employees of the Month!
                             August 2014:       
          George Dixon:     Woodbury  ATS                       

 Danielle Thomas: Cherry Hill Group Home



                                          

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Concert

By Irisa Leverette, Contributing Blogger. We are happy to introduce our new guest blogger and “Warrior Mom” Irisa Leverette! Irisa resides in NJ and has an 8 year old son Darius. At 3 years old, Darius was diagnosed with Autism. In the monthly blog series, Irisa will be sharing what life is like as she and her husband raise Darius.

This past May, I followed Laurie Berkner, People Magazine’s queen of children’s music, on Twitter. Laurie sings and plays guitar in the Laurie Berkner Band. When Darius was 2 years old and receiving early intervention, his speech therapist would play videos from “We are…The Laurie Berkner Band” DVD. Even though he was nonverbal, he knew some of the words to the songs. His favorite tune was “We are the Dinosaurs.” Ever since then, Darius and I have been swimming with goldfish and dancing with pigs on our heads. Sometimes, I think I have more fun than Darius.

Shortly after following Laurie, she tweeted that the band was performing at iPlayAmerica in Freehold, New Jersey on June 1st. After reading the tweet, I was excited. I could not believe she was playing near us.  Suddenly, reality struck me like a bolt of lightning. What was I thinking? I can not take Darius to a music concert. I can not take him out of his daily routine and comfort zone. I want him to enjoy his childhood, but I am forced to cut out activities like sporting events, amusement parks and plays. Autism has a way of isolating you from the real world.

The next day, I wrestled with whether or not I should take him to the concert. Kids buzzing like bumblebees and stomping like dinosaurs might send Darius on a sensory rollercoaster ride. Then again, keeping him trapped in his own world is not going to help him adjust to the real world. I discussed it with my husband and we decided that the three of us will attend the event.  Immediately, I went online to buy the tickets.  I did not want anything to change my mind. On the website, I was able to select the seats that I wanted. Therefore, I picked seats that were close to the exit. If Darius became overwhelmed and needed a break, we could quietly leave the auditorium without disturbing the other families.
Afterwards, I tweeted, “Purchased tickets to see @LaurieBerkner at @iPlay_America June 1st. I can’t wait to see the little guy’s face when she comes on stage.”
Laurie Berkner replied by tweeting, “Yay!! Can’t wait to see you there!” 

To my surprise, she sent me a direct message saying that she loves meeting her special needs fans. She offered me the opportunity to bring Darius backstage to meet her and the band. If I wanted to be on the list, I had to email Katie, her assistant. Of course, I wanted to bring the little guy backstage. I did not waste any time sending the email. A couple of days before the concert, I received an email notifying me that we were on the list for a meet and greet after the show.

When we arrived at the concert, there were signs with Laurie Berkner’s name leading to auditorium. I asked Darius to read one of the signs. In his raspy voice (he sounds like Miles Davis) he said, “Laurie Berkner.”  We walked inside a large room with chairs arranged like a theater. We quickly found our seats. The first thing that I noticed was the stage. It was decorated with clouds, moons, stars and a banner that read “The Laurie Berkner Band.” The instruments were already in place. While we waited for the show to start, music played at a low volume. As soon as Laurie came on stage, Darius eyes lit up and the biggest smile appeared on his face. He was so giddy that a little girl in front of us stared at him. A woman explained to her that he was very happy to see Laurie Berkner.

Laurie and the band were excellent at interacting with their fans. We were entertained with some old favorites and a few new lullabies. Kids were singing, dancing and playing in the rows. Moms and dads bopped to the music while holding small children in their laps. It was definitely a family friendly atmosphere.

After the show, Shannon, one of Laurie’s assistant, escorted us backstage. By then, the line was wrapped around the room. She took us to the front of the line. I was relieved. If we had to wait in the back of the line, Darius would have been kicking and screaming on the floor. When Laurie came out she said, “Hi Darius!” Darius was grinning from ear to ear. Laurie sat him on her lap for a photo. Next, she autographed a postcard for him. She hugged me, shook my husband’s hand and thanked us for our support. We should have been thanking her. Her kindness meant the world to us.

For little over an hour, this concert brought some sunshine in our world. We finally had an opportunity to do something normal as a family.  Darius was happy for the entire show. I think it helped that he did not have to stay in his seat and could move around freely. All and all, the concert was a memorable experience. In the future, I plan to experiment with taking him out more. I still have my worries; however, I know that the more steps we take outside our front door, the bigger his world will become.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Durand Academy and Community Services, Inc.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Durand Academy & Community Services Employee of the Month - June 2014

Congratulations to our newly named Employees for the Month of June!

June 2014
Yunus Reed - Woodbury ATS Program
Shawn Jackson  - Tidewater Group Home

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Thief in the Night

By Irisa Leverette, Contributing Blogger. We are happy to introduce our new guest blogger and “Warrior Mom” Irisa Leverette! Irisa resides in NJ and has an 8 year old son Darius. At 3 years old, Darius was diagnosed with Autism. In the monthly blog series, Irisa will be sharing what life is like as she and her husband raise Darius.

When my son was 18 months old, a thief entered my home. To this day, I am still not sure the exact time of entry or how this intruder got in. If I had to guess, it had to be at night, while we were sleeping. This was a planned attack. The thief knew exactly what he wanted and had mapped out my house to find it. He was not looking for money, gold, silver or electronics. He had spotted his target many times when I was outside of the house. So the thief had a clear picture of his target. At that time, I didn’t know that there was a sly, clever and selfish thief around me.

Now you may find this strange but it wasn’t obvious to me that I was robbed and that my life would change forever. The first sign that I noticed was my son’s behavior. He was very quiet, speechless as if a cat had his tongue. He was no longer singing his favorite song "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." When I called his name, “Darius” or said, “Darius give me toy,” he had a very puzzling look on his face. I thought he was pretending not to hear me. I discussed his actions with my husband. He agreed that something was different about our little boy. What was wrong with Darius? Yesterday, he was this bright toddler and now he seemed to be trapped in a different world. How could a child no longer recognize his name? This was not child’s play. We have been robbed! Who was this thief? Why did he target our little boy? What happened to the little boy who was the star of his class at the Little Gym? Where was the little boy who started walking at 10 months? How did the little boy who loved Blue Clues forget the songs from the show?

The Thief in the Night was Autism aka The Big ‘’A”. Autism! Autism! Autism! If I said it three times, maybe it would go away. I saw my hopes, my dreams, my baseball star, and my lead in the school’s play floating down the drain.

I have been on a roller coaster ride since then. Now, My son is 8 and Autism is our life 24/7. I wouldn’t change my son for the world. Autism is a part of him. Today, we have different Hopes and Dreams for our Star.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Durand Academy and Community Services, Inc.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Durand Academy & Community Services Employee of the Month - May 2014

May 2014:  Jeremy Gono, Mt. Laurel ATS Program

Monday, May 5, 2014

Expect the Unexpected

By Irisa Leverette, Contributing Blogger. We are happy to introduce our new guest blogger and “Warrior Mom” Irisa Leverette! Irisa resides in NJ and has an 8 year old son Darius. At 3 years old, Darius was diagnosed with Autism. In the monthly blog series, Irisa will be sharing what life is like as she and her husband raise Darius.

A couple of weeks ago, I took Darius to get his hearing tested. His pediatrician recommended that I take him to an audiologist since he failed the hearing screening at school. When I called to make the appointment, I informed the office that he is Autistic, mostly non-verbal and has a difficult time understanding directions. I wanted the doctor to be prepared for his visit.

The morning of his appointment, Darius and I arrived to the building at 8am. He was not familiar with this place, so he dragged his feet up the path leading to the entrance. Once inside, he appeared nervous and confused. As soon as I signed in, the receptionist gave me a bunch of forms to fill out. So that Darius would not take off running, I held his hand tight as I wrote. Whenever, we go to the doctor or dentist, he tries to run away from me. When I was done with the paperwork, I located a small table in the corner away from the other patients. While we waited for our turn, Darius listened to music on his toy piano. He never leaves home without it. It calms him when he is feeling overwhelmed or stressed.

Fortunately, we did not wait too long before the doctor called us. As soon as he heard his name, he pulled me towards the door. He did not know what to expect; therefore, he wanted to leave. I quickly took his hand and led him right behind the doctor. We followed her into a small padded and insulated room. It reminded me of a space shuttle.

Before she began the testing, she asked if Darius responds to loud noises. I mentioned that he can not tolerate loud sounds like vacuum cleaners and fire alarms. He responds by covering his ears to block out these sounds. Then, she noted that she was going to insert a small probe in each ear to test for hearing loss. She inserted the probe into his right ear, he immediately snatched it out. I had a feeling this was going to happen. Darius does not like his ears to be touched, especially by a stranger. He trusts me and I still have a hard time getting him to let me clean his ears. I decided to wrap by arms around him to help keep him still. Again, she inserted the tip; he squirmed like a worm. Seeing that he was uncomfortable with objects in his ears, the doctor decided to try a different test.

For this test, the doctor explained that she was going to play a sound and when Darius heard it, hopefully, he would turn his head to find it. The doctor seated us in a chair facing a tinted window. Then she went into an adjacent room from ours to administer the test. Next, a drumming sound came roaring out of a speaker located to our left. Without delay, Darius turned his head in that direction. All of a sudden, my pants felt wet. I looked down to see why. To my surprise, Darius had peed! I called out to the doctor and told her what he had done. At that instant, she stopped the test and rushed into the room. By then, Darius had taken off all his clothes. He was standing in the middle of the room in his birthday suit. We looked at each other and laughed.

Until now, he has not had an accident since being potty trained at four. I think Darius was taken by surprise. For one thing, he wasn’t expecting to hear a loud boom being transmitted through a speaker. Also, he didn’t know why he was there and what the doctor was going to do. He was in an unknown place feeling scared and anxious; he just wanted to be at home or school, his two favorite places. The doctor stood outside the door while I dressed him. I put his shirt and pants back on, but his underwear was too wet to wear. Afterwards, the doctor escorted us to the front desk and I rescheduled the test for another day.

Although, the doctor was not able to complete the test, the visit was not a total waste. After all, I learned a valuable lesson from this. At first, I felt embarrassed. Then, I realized with Autism you have to expect the unexpected. Darius has been to the doctor dozens of times; he never had a problem. I expected the same result this time. The unexpected occurred and we exited the building wearing wet clothes along with a doggy bag with underwear inside.

On the next visit, I will be prepared for an episode of incontinence. I am bringing along a change of clothing for him. Also, we are sitting in separate chairs. I plan to stay dry this time. I can not foresee the future but this time I will not fail to expect the unexpected.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Durand Academy and Community Services, Inc.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Durand Academy & Community Services Employees of the Month - March & April 2014

Congratulations to our newly named Employees of the Month!

March 2014: Eric Hall -  Hawk Lane Group Home

March 2014: Tanya Carmickel - Mt. Laurel ATS Program



April 2014: Monique Hawkins- Fox Chase Group Home

April 2014: Kim Troy - Woodbury ATS Program