Miami, FL, June 10, 2019
By: Raquel Regalado| Community Newspapers | June 10, 2019
When Bela and Sebastian were 9 and 8 respectfully, surpassing potty training, running away (Sebas was a runner) and flushing everything in the house down the toilet to watch it ‘disappear’, I spent some time thinking long and hard about the next decade, the plan for them post 22 years of age (when they would age out of the school system) and my role as a parent/life-coach of children in the autism spectrum. The results were several daunting realizations and a post-it-note on the fridge that read “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Soon after, I enrolled Bela in UMNSU Surf Camp and hid behind a bush with my venti vanilla latte as the JAWS soundtrack played in my head while I worried that she would wander off and/or be eaten. Instead, she had a glorious week which lead to sailing camp, more swimming lessons and now as a teen, Special Olympics’ swimming competitions. When I learned about the culinary program at Easter Seals, I knew my little foodie would love it but there was much to do before she could attend. The first of which would include my allowing Bela to handle knives, prepare and cook food at home, no small feat for a child whose food I was still cutting up in little pieces for fear that she might hurt herself.
For those of you unfamiliar with the program, the Easterseals of South Florida Youth Development Culinary Arts after school and summer camp serves students ages 14 to 22 years who are neuro-divergent, some are in the Autism Spectrum while others have other developmental disabilities. Cooking was a life skill that Bela needed to learn and if she loved it then it could be a career that she could excel in as an autistic adult. Beyond my grappling with scary firsts there was also the logistical issue of getting her first from Bluelakes Elementary to Easterseals for their afterschool program, and then if accepted into the high school, getting there, which meant utilizing Miami-Dade County’s Special Transportation System (STS). Much like her first days at Surf Camp, her first few times on STS included me driving behind the STS vehicle, convinced that at any moment the driver would decide to run away to Mexico with my little girl in the backseat. That never happened, instead I met wonderful drivers whose patience that paralleled that of the finest car-pooling soccer mom.