Sailing with Autism
I do around a dozen “charity auction sails” a year, where I donate the trip for good causes, after expenses. While cruising along the York River in brisk winds with their friends Tara and Dave Farrell, Dave Mrowiec took the helm while his wife Sydney explained the work of the Peninsula School for Autism, one of the charity auction benefactors.
“We have 22 students with severe autism who range in age from 5 to 21. Public schools can only do so much with autistic children. We run year-round with one-on-one specialists for each child to teach them the fundamental skills and communications skills that they need to function in life. It’s amazing to see a child who comes to us with complete tunnel vision, with his head down. To see him now with his head up and saying, ‘Hi!’ cheerfully is quite something.
“Public schools recommend certain students whom they can’t reach. There’s an alternative school in Newport News called New Horizons where they can send them, but ours is more specialized. It’s based on the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins Children Center, reaching children with special brain problems. The state will transfer funds to help cover the costs, and the local schools participate as well, but they’re understandably reluctant to give up their average daily rate from the state. Our tuition runs $65,000, which is why we need fund-raisers. A breakfast we had this spring raised $140,000 in one hour.”
In the course of the sail, we learned that Sydney once handled the written correspondence for First Lady Laura Bush, in the East Wing of the White House and later the old Executive Office Building next door. Sydney seemed to enjoy the job and the prestige, and along with it the occasional walk to the West Wing. But she was positively animated about her autism school.
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