For parents of children with autism, playgrounds, team sports and family attractions are sometimes not an option for the kids, who often do not play or communicate the same way as other children.
Sonia Garufi, mother of an 8-year-old son who has autism, is co-owner of Sophia’s Grotto in Roslindale and a founder of a group called “Determined Mothers of Autistic Kids,” or D’MAC for short.
Working with the West Roxbury YMCA, Garufi’s group was able to help institute a new program for families with autistic children offering specific hours for open gym and swimming time that opened in recent weeks.
Garufi said that the Y came to D’MAC to ask how the organization could include autistic children and their families in its programming. “The kids need to get exercise,” said Garufi. “They need to play. It can be very difficult to go to a playground.”
Marion Kelly, executive director of the West Roxbury YMCA, said that the Y wanted to “respond to the needs of the community. We brainstormed how we could get started.”
Kelly said the Y has worked with the Mozart School for years with some autistic children who attend school there, but she wants the program to grow.
"Our goal is to have an afterschool program in September [for autistic children],” said Kelly. “And eventually a summer camp.”
As far as Garufi knows, and she’s done her research, this is the only place in her neighborhood that offers such a program. She said it can be hard to find a place for autistic kids and their families to find a welcoming and safe place. Other parents may think their children are too noisy or that they splash too much in the pool, not understanding the issue.
“At the Y, you feel like a part of the family environment,” Garufi said. “You’re in the community.”
To help raise funds for new sensory equipment for the Y, tonight and tomorrow, which happens to be National Autism Awareness Day, Sophia’s Grotto is donating $5 of every purchase of a special “Blue Spectrum” cocktail that is sold.
The Y's "Keeping Active Program," as it is called, happens Saturdays, with an open gym from 9-11 a.m. and Sundays, with open swim from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Caregivers stay with the kids and no one has to be a member of the Y. A drop-in fee is $5.