FREE Promotes Autism Awareness Month

Family Residences and Essential Enterprises (FREE), an organization that provides services to differently-abled adults and families across Long Island and New York City, held an art show at Patchogue-Medford Library on April 11th as one of their many community outreach programs during Autism Awareness Month.

According to Anita Dowd Neufeld, the Chief Administrative Officer at FREE, of the around 4,000 people they serve “many… have intellectual disability, many of those have autism, we also serve those with mental illness and traumatic brain injury as well.”

“What makes anybody different from anybody else? And so the way I look at it is that I’d rather look at what makes us all the same rather than what sets up apart.” -Ed Regensburg

Autism Awareness Month

All of the art displayed was created by differently abled adults under the supervision of the Director of Art, Ed Regensburg.

He works with all differently abled adults but asks, “What makes anybody different from anybody else?” and then said, “And so the way I look at it is that I’d rather look at what makes us all the same rather than what sets us apart.”

Autism is “a spectrum disorder,” said Neufeld. “Each person is different and has a different degree of disability there are usually social and communication challenges.”

A Different Way to Communicate

Those living on the higher end of the autism spectrum can often be nonverbal and lack ways to communicate.

People on the spectrum have “cognitive intellectual impairments so they can’t tell you how they feel using words,” said Regensburg. “What I find fascinating is they absolutely tell us how they feel but you first have to sort of remove the cork from the stopper to allow them to speak. And when you use art and all the colors and materials, the emotions do get released, they do get the expression. The stopper has been pulled and they’ve freed up. The words just bubble up as easily as anybody else.”

A Way to Cope

Alicia Munch is a participant in the art therapy program who uses it to cope with her emotions that build up during the day.

“Art therapy I think it definitely relaxes me because after a day at the ranch or a busy day at school I would come home and I would draw. So instead of throwing a fit or a tantrum I would draw and it would calm me,” said Munch.

Moving Forward

Neufeld hopes that moving forward people are more aware of the autism spectrum.

“Autism is out there. People are noticing it. The Autism Speaks blue puzzle pieces you are seeing displayed in many government buildings,” said Neufeld. “You are really seeing Awareness of the Light It Up Blue Campaign all over the state, which is a wonderful thing because it brings awareness to the campaign to work with people in the Autism spectrum.”