Autism Parents Community

How Shirley Blaier-Stein started Autism Parents Community to help autism families connect and enjoy life together.

Dan, his friend Ian and I at one of our Zumba parties

Dan, his friend Ian and I at one of our Zumba parties

Autism Parents Community

Two years after I first met my autism mom friends, I decided to throw a very special party for our group: an autism-zumba-party. I came up with the idea in the middle of a zumba class. The dance studio I was attending was spacious, well lit and was dressed from floor to ceiling with beautiful lively colors. The owner, Mary Rose, was a wonderful zumba instructor and a very charming lady, who hosted fundraisers and supported the community in many ways. I knew they were having kids birthday parties there, but I did not know how she would react to my idea of having an autism-zumba- party. I did not think anyone had done that before. After pondering about it for a while, I finally approached her and asked.

Mary Rose looked at me with her deep blue eyes and I could barely breathe from the anticipation. My heart was beating fast.

“Sure,” she finally said. “What do you need?” I dried the tears of joy that were running down my cheeks and told her how I thought it should work: the volume of the music had to be lowered because most of our kids were sensitive to sound; the kids would need time to get used to the space before we started any activity; the dances should be as simple to follow as possible; and we should expect that some of them will not be able to join us and that would be fine.

Mary Rose wrote down everything I said and circled the date in her calendar. I emailed my friends and invited them to the party. I also emailed a mom who had a mailing list for autism parents in CT so it would reach the whole community.

On the morning of the party, I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. I was excited yet I was worried: What if people didn’t show up? What if the kids didn’t participate? What if they ran around screaming and banging their hands on the mirrors? What if someone got hurt? What if Dan could not enter the studio?

When we arrived at the party Dan happily went in. I sighed with relief. The music was playing in the background at a very low volume. Gali and Dan walked around and were checking their reflection in the big mirrors. They both seemed to like the place. I was glad we made it early enough. When the time for the party came I looked at Mary Rose nervously. She smiled at me. My friends began to arrive with their families. Within minutes the studio was filled with kids running happily and parents walking around smiling.

Dan found himself a new friend. He was an older boy who was running around and dancing and Dan simply joined him. Gali’s friend from school arrived and Gali joined her and her parents on another side of the room. I saw them spinning like princesses and checking how high their skirts would rise. Everything was so relaxed and under control.

Mary Rose made name-tags for the kids and when it was time to start I panicked for a minute. I looked at my friends and they all smiled at me, reassuringly.

Mary Rose turned the volume up just a little bit to get everyone’s attention and told us to stand in a big circle. She started introducing zumba moves to warm up. The moms started to imitate her and to my surprise some of the older kids did too. While some children chose to run around the studio, Dan stayed with me in the circle.

After the warm up they put the ‘hokey pokey’ on. To my surprise, Dan attempted to follow the moves of the dance. I did not even know he knew that one! That day was just full of surprises. Mary Rose and the other teachers were introducing more dances and Dan let me move his arms and danced with me. At some point I hugged him and held his hand in a tango position and we walked and danced like that around the studio. He enjoyed it so much that he wouldn’t let me go. He kept on dancing, with a big smile on his face the whole time. The other kids had a great time as well. Everyone got to participate when they wanted and do their own thing when they needed to. It was the best party ever. 

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After I put the videos from our parties on my website I was invited to participate in the morning show on TV. They wanted to create awareness for my organization. They said they had two seats so I could bring someone with me, preferably a child. I decided to bring Dan. Watch the video to see how we did.