Breaking Zaynas Silence
- In an effort to gain awareness and spirituality, the Syrian Youth Organizations of New Jersey have united under one name, ‘Breaking Zayna’s Silence’. Zayna is an adored 4 year old daughter to the parents of Chris and Carol Azar. Within Zayna’s first year of life, her parents realized Zayna was not developing as quickly as her older sister had. By the time she was 2 years old, Zayna was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now, leading a life of special needs schooling, various therapy sessions, all different types of medical testing, MRI’s and the use of nutritionists and specialists, Zayna continues to be a non-verbal child. Although they have been presented with a difficult challenge, Chris and Carol remain adamant about finding a cause and a cure for their daughter’s disorder. They believe so strongly that they decided to put together an Autism Awareness dinner, with the help of the youth members from our New Jersey parishes, to educate the people within our community about what Autism actually is.
On April 25, 2010, the Azar family and the Syrian Orthodox Youth Organizations of New Jersey proudly presented the First Ever Autism Awareness Dinner, comprising an attendance of 250 people.
With appetizers placed on each table and donated gift bags placed on each chair, the evening started off with a brief but gracious opening speech by Chris Azar, who then handed over the mic to the first speaker of the night, Dr. Judy Flax. Dr Flax is a senior research scientist at Rutgers University and Co-investigator for two research grants associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders. She spoke mainly about her research and the testing that she is currently conducting on Zayna. Dr. Flax also went into the explanation of Autism, the various symptoms that are found and the different levels in which a child can be diagnosed. Shortly after her speech concluded, dinner was served and on came the next speaker.
Michelle Lopes, a mother of five, whose 10 year old child was diagnosed with Autism at an early age, is currently the Family Services Liaison for Northern New Jersey, Autism Speaks. All through her speech, Mrs. Lopes spoke of her increasing involvement in the Autism Speaks organization. She has been a member of Autism Speaks for the past eight years and truly encourages all to become an active member as well. The main reason Mrs. Lopes became so involved with the Autism Speaks organization was due to the fact that so little money was being raised for Autism research and awareness. Her motivational speech inspired many in taking a role and making a difference.
The final speaker of the evening, Regina Cioffi, had a different story to tell. She was born to a Catholic mother and a Syrian Orthodox father. Mrs. Cioffi gave birth to a son who was diagnosed with Autism before his first birthday. Because of the condition her son was in, Mrs. Cioffi got involved with several medical and spiritual groups. She now co-facilitates a bio-medical support group for parents of children with Autism at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ and also co-facilitates a spiritual support group at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Roseland, NJ. Although similar to the other speakers, Mrs. Cioffi spoke primarily of the effects Autism has had on her life; from the experience of raising an Autistic child to the stares that were given to her and her child at church. Her speech was focused on illustrating the life of a parent who is coping with an Autistic child, which helped everyone understand what it may be like.
The three speakers of the evening were able to provide insight from all different point of views on the topic of Autism. They were able to build awareness and educate everyone about the subject. Once the speakers were done and dessert and coffee were placed on each table, a video was presented on a large projector screen called ‘Autism Every Day’. The video displayed an illustration of the different struggles, experiences and complexities that many mothers have to manage when raising an Autistic child. Shortly after the video, Chris Azar made his final comments on the whole subject and genuinely touched the hearts’ of everyone in the room.
Finally, at the very end of the evening, a last chance was announced to buy raffle tickets for the Tricky Tray Raffle, whose profits would go to the Autism Speaks foundation. As soon as the last tickets were purchased and played, the winners were announced and the evening had completed with a true success. With the combination of help from the youth and the families of Chris and Carol’s, they were able to raise a great deal of money that would benefit the research and awareness of Autism. Chris and Carol’s compassion for the disorder was clearly displayed throughout the entire evening. They believe that with prayer and the continuous support they receive, they will truly find a cause and a cure for their daughter’s disorder.
Source: Robby Edo, USA