‘Night of laughter’ will raise funds for autism academy

‘Night of laughter’ will raise funds for autism academy

As a toddler, Noah Shafron could recognize every letter of the alphabet. But he wasn’t making eye contact and didn’t respond to his name. Amy and Jason Shafron, his parents, knew this behavior was not the norm; their fears were confirmed when Noah was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“The doctor was hesitant to diagnose,” Shafron said in a recent interview, “because it’s like reporting a death – the death of every expectation you’ve had for your child.”

From that point on, the Shafrons struggled with autism’s stark reality: their son’s self-stimulating behaviors, the meaningless babbling, the spinning, the inability to sit still or to communicate with others, including them.

Amy Shafron was determined to help her son connect with the world around him. She read everything she could find about autism. She made up her mind that she and Jason were going to give Noah the best possible chance to live a productive life.

Her father, former president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Dan Silna, had taught her to be proactive. “Dad always said, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ We set a goal and we just kept inching forward.”

Amy Shafron and her son, Noah.

For the Shafrons, the “way” was the REED Academy in Garfield – a nonprofit, behavior analytic school established in 2004, offering individualized, full-day programs for those with autism spectrum disorders. It also provides parent training.

Noah began attending REED when he was 3 years old. “Noah worked so hard,” said Shafron. “It was with awe that we experienced the breakthrough moments.”

During the five years that Noah has attended the school, he has learned many things that children who don’t have autism learn without effort, she said. Through science-based teaching, he has learned self-help skills, how to play with toys, and how to make friends. He understands language and uses it appropriately. Noah has learned so much, in fact, that he now spends part of each day in a general education class in a regular public school. 

Shafron noted that to secure the highest-quality programming, REED’s public funding must be supplemented by fundraising dollars. “We need to raise $100 per day, per child to cover our operating costs,” Shafron said. The school’s upcoming benefit, “Comedy for a Cause,” offers an additional benefit. “We can all do with a night of laughter,” Shafron said.

The program, with Mike Birbiglia, who has appeared on Comedy Central and off-Broadway in “Sleepwalk with Me,” is set for Thursday, June 11, 7:30 p.m. at Bergen PAC in Englewood. Tickets range from $37 to $152.

“When life gives you lemons, it really must become about making lemonade,” said Shafron, named “Rising Star” at last month’s UJA-NNJ Women’s Division Luncheon. “Amy leads with energy and an enthusiasm that is infectious,” said Co-President Sarita Block. “And she knows just how to make us all laugh.”

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