Who We Are
In 2009, Coleen Buccieri of Sarasota confronted the facts of life faced by 1 in 150 American families who have a child with autism.*
She was the godmother of a close friend’s child with the diagnosis, and Buccieri saw first-hand how many normal childhood activities the boy was missing. Sports, movies, shopping at a mall, and pool parties were all but impossible for him.
Buccieri and her friend determined to enable this boy and other children with autism to benefit from experiences despite a tendency to be upset by noises, motions, bright lights and touch and who don’t perceive the words and actions of other people normally.
“My godson, Jordan, was my inspiration,” Buccieri says. “He was 9 years old when I started Face Autism and he is 20 now. He benefited so much from all these activities and has made numerous friendships from these events and programs.”
That inspiration led to the founding of the all-volunteer non-profit organization known as Face Autism Inc. Soon the group was organizing autism-appropriate outings that have included ballroom dancing, horseback riding, fitness classes, yoga classes, golf lessons, bowling, movies, trips to jump houses as well as social skills classes.
Their goals include letting the children enjoy themselves, but they know that these experiences also are therapeutic, helping the youngsters cope with a life with wider horizons.
“We started with the movies, where we would go to a theater and show an animated movie,” Buccieri says. “The families were the only ones in the theater at the time and they got the normal experience of ordering from the concession stand. They were not judged if a child made a noise or stood up and walked down the aisle.
“Next, we started with roller skating, where we would rent a rink for two hours and only the families with children with autism were in the building. There was no flashing ball, the music and lights were turned down, etc.
“We even had holiday events, which are so overwhelming for the kids. We did a Sensory Santa at a mall on a Sunday and used the mall’s Santa and its Santa set and let the kids come in before the mall opened. Then I partnered with a citrus grove out in the country and we did an October Festival for the families with kids with autism, and we did hay rides, train rides, pumpkin decorating, arts and crafts, games, and food, etc. We did an Easter egg hunt at an elementary school. We stuffed 1,500 eggs, we did face painting, arts and crafts, and an ice cream truck.”
Face Autism also knows the activities help heal the families that are so important to their children’s well being.
“When there is a family that has a child with autism and a neurotypical child, the family is usually split apart,” Buccieri says. “One parent stays home with the child with autism and the other parent takes the neurotypical child to their baseball game or dance lesson, football, etc., because the child with autism usually can’t handle these activities.
“With our events, we encourage the whole family to take part, because we believe in giving the parents a chance to do something together as a family and not always apart.”
Like the rest of the world, Face Autism shut down when the pandemic struck and then set about determining what it could do safely and how. The organization has done virtual versions of classes in ballroom dancing, yoga, and social skills. Face Autism also has continued activities that can be held outside with masks on, such as golf lessons, fitness classes and horseback riding.
Face Autism’s work has helped, and the parents who care for these special children 24 hours a day are grateful.