SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - “Where is Waldo?”, asked Gary Weitzen, as a page from the popular children’s look and find book was put on a large screen at Roosevelt Elementary School. The popular children’s look and find book, where you search for one little character in a sea of hundreds of people, was used to highlight how a child with autism feels and the visual stimuli that they are bombarded with on a daily basis.
This was just one of the demonstrations given to students at Roosevelt Elementary School’s Autism Awareness Assembly on April 27th, to better understand how children with autism view the world.
The Assembly was run by Gary Weitzen and Simone Tellini of POAC (parents of autistic children) as part of Autism Awareness Month. POAC is a nonprofit organization that provides training and education about autism for parents and educators, and hundreds of free events for the autism community.
Gary Weitzen, the executive director of POAC was impressed by the level of understanding the children at Roosevelt had regarding autism. “The poignant and insightful questions the children had showed me the world is headed in the right direction,” he said.
Jennifer Bentivegna, a parent of a child with autism, helped plan the assembly with first grade teacher, Nicole Lillis. “The assembly was about making our students more aware of children who have autism. The speakers explained what behaviors a child with autism might display and how you could be a friend to a child with autism and understand their challenges. The kids were very interested and eager to ask questions,” Lillis said.
After the assembly, Roosevelt students and staff gathered outside the school to participate in Bubbles for Autism. Every year, Ms. Lillis arranges for students and staff to form a big circle on the grass to blow bubbles to show their support for those affected by autism. “It is my privilege and honor to hold our bubbles for autism each year and having POAC come to Roosevelt School made it extra special this year!”