They call themselves “the Brady Bunch of Autism.”
And rightly so.
They live in the Valley, and when they married a few years ago Navah Paskowitz and Matt Asner blended a family of six kids — four of hers, two of his.
The three three youngest are on the autism spectrum.
They will be one of thousands of families walking as part of “Autism Speaks” this Saturday, April 2, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a term used to identify a varying group of disorders that take on many forms and levels of difficulties, from problems with social interaction to verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as repetitive behaviors.
Some people with autism can speak and function in any setting, and sometimes even excel. Others are not able to talk and/or may exhibit aggressive behaviors that require additional attention.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 American children are affected by ASD, making it one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders.
Juggling six different schools for daughter Avivah, 18, and sons Max, 16, Jacob, 16, Willy, 13, Wolf, 12 and Eddy, 7; the therapies for the youngest three; and all their activities, requires a complex scheduling system that leaves the parents winded.
But that’s nothing to Paskowitz, compared with raising her two autistic kids — Wolf and Eddy — on her own after she divorced.
Wolf was diagnosed with autism at age 5; Eddy at age 3. Therapy, almost daily for both of them, started soon after.
After awhile, the lack of speech on Eddy’s part, and both of them not being able to reach the normal milestone for kids of their age — as well as tantrums — had battered Paskowitz’s psyche.
“I became anxiety ridden,” Paskowitz said.
When she met Asner, son of the actor Ed Asner (“Lou Grant”), they both understood the challenges of having a child on the spectrum.
“We really understood some of the dynamics,” she said.
Challenges That Never Stop
Willy, Asner’s son, has severe autism and a cognitive disability that makes him act like a 5-year-old.
Still, “he’s very social, super sweet, touches too much,” Paskowitz said.
And touching too much — especially girls — can be a problem for a 13-year-old boy.
“We’re teaching him about personal space and hormones kicking in,” she said. “Every year brings new challenges. I’m holding my breath with Wolf. He’s very anxiety ridden, very introverted. He’s in his own world most of the time.”
Still, Wolf has been classified in the “genius level.” He taught himself to play classical piano watching YouTube videos. He also speaks four languages.
Eddy, the younger of the brood, has severe ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
“He can’t sit still,” Paskowitz said.
She said she tried all the natural remedies available, but it was still difficult in school.
That led her to put Eddy on medication last year, but Paskowitz stopped using it months later because of negative side effects.
To relieve the stress of dealing with all of this, the parents make it a point to take time for each other.
“We have a date night twice a week,” Paskowitz said.
Paskowitz and Asner are members of the Los Angeles Autism Walk Committee, and make it a point to take part in the annual Autism Speaks Walk every year.
Like them, hundreds of people are expected to take part in the 2016 event in Pasadena this Saturday, April 2. The goal is $1,955,000. So far, $1,032,562 has been raised, according to the Autism Speaks website.
Founded in 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright shortly after their grandson was diagnosed with autism, the organization has grown to become the largest autism advocacy group in the country. Nationwide, there are 60 scheduled Autism Speaks walks in 2016.
This year’s walk in Pasadena falls on World Autism Awareness Day. Participation in the walk is free.
The walks turn into an empowering event for families, volunteers and organizers. Many create teams and raise funds through friends and relatives, forming groups with singular names and costumes to stand out among the sea of walkers going around the Rose Bowl.
Blue is the signature hue to identify the autism spectrum disorder. People wear capes, hats, T-shirts and other attire in this color.
The money raised from the walks goes to fund research, advocacy initiatives, and provide family and adult services.
More than 300,000 people have taken part in Southern California. More than $10 million has been raised in the Los Angeles area alone, and has helped provide services to 32,000 families through Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and the Autism Treatment Network.
Paskowitz said the first time she attended the Walk, it was like “an epiphany” for her.
“At first I really felt it was my own misery and felt all alone. [But] when I went to the Walk it was eye opening. I thought, ‘all these people are going through the same emotions and the suffering and are hoping just like I am,’” she said.
Besides the camaraderie, she found knowledge and resources that had escaped her about ways to help.
“You have all of this information on one corridor. I was able to get all I needed in one place and learned about services I didn’t even know existed,” Paskowitz added.
That’s why she encourages everyone with family members on the autism spectrum to join her and others where they can share their struggles and successes, and learn from each other’s stories.
“It’s a wonderful day,” she said.
Registration, entertainment and stage programs for the Walk Now for Autism Speaks begins at 8 a.m. The Walk starts at 9 a.m. at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and continues on a rolling basis every ten minutes through 11 a.m. For more information, visit AutismSpeaksWalk.org/losangeles.