Adam Berebitsky, Milestones 2017 Benefit Honoree, is not a sidelines kind of person. Especially when it comes to causes he believes in. The Solon resident and father of two has been an active participant of Milestones board since 2011, serving in various roles ranging from Board Member to Vice Chair and currently as Chairman.
During his tenure, Berebitsky has seen the organization grow and increase awareness within the community, and beyond. “Looking back, we’ve come a long way and it’s very exciting where we are going,” he says.
Adam wants the community to know that Milestones provides a family atmosphere, one that is knowledgeable about the challenges families are going through. “You are not alone,” he says. “We have a small staff but a staff that really cares about you and your family member.”
Tell us about your involvement with Milestones.
I’ve known co-founder Ilana (Hoffer Skoff) for many years and was aware of the organization and what she and (co-founder) Mia were doing.
I’ve served as board president at Milestones for the past three years and was asked to continue on for a fourth year. Well, my main job is getting the awareness of what our organization provides to the community. First and foremost, this is very important. We have grown over my tenure and created diversity in the board. We have great people on the development committee and the finance committee who help the organization achieve its goals. We continue to improve on our digital platforms – driving people to our services via the website and social media outlets. This has increased the awareness of Milestones over the last few years.
Tell us about yourself. Are you from Northeast Ohio?
I’m originally from South Bend, Indiana. I moved to Cleveland in 1988 with my wife, Stacey, whom I met at Indiana University (she is originally from Beachwood). We have two children. Our daughter, Lindsey, is 24 and lives in Chicago and works as a guidance counselor. Our son, Corey, is 21 and is a senior at Indiana University, studying management information systems. I am currently National Restaurant Lead and Tax Partner at BDO Cleveland.
How have you personally been affected by your affiliation with Milestones? Do you have a personal connection to autism?
Though I don’t have a personal connection to autism, I do have co-workers, friends and acquaintances with children on the spectrum. I have seen the importance of them being connected to a resource like Milestones just when they feel they are not sure what to do next to help their child. What I love about Milestones and why I got involved is because it’s more of a grassroots organization. It’s still a small organization compared to many others out there. There’s that personal touch.
How do you think Milestones has impacted the community over the years?
We have improved awareness immensely. Many parents, especially those who are looking for resources for children on the spectrum have been able to find resources through our organization. Plus, we have an amazing staff. Our program director, Beth Thompson, is top notch for example. The leaders of the organization have personal experiences with their own children on the spectrum, they understand what parents are looking for.
Recently, our focus has been that bridge for children to teens to adulthood; we have a done a good job in helping these young adults get the resources and support they need. We are helping them to take that next step, to help them achieve and reach their potential through education and job skills training. That is where I don’t think any other organization in Northeast Ohio, and maybe even in the country, provides such service to the autism community. We are lucky to have that.
What is the most important thing you’d like a friend, relative or neighbor to know about Milestones?
Our staff has been working with people in the community who are facing situations similar to those you are dealing with. It is important that you share those issues and questions with others who have gone before you. We offer this sort of family atmosphere; we’re here for you. We’ll be responsive to your needs, and we will go to the Nth degree to find solutions to any questions, problems and needs that you have.
We’re able to do what we do because of you.
Each year, Milestones serves more than 2,400 parents and professionals throughout the region. We strive to support and enrich the local autism community through our annual conference, workshops, trainings, coaching services and referrals, as well as providing thousands of resources on our website, milestones.org. Since our founding in 2003, the mission is simple yet significant: to help individuals with autism reach their potential.
We believe there is a spectrum of possibility within every individual with ASD.
Your generous support has enabled us to become the preeminent autism resource in Northeast Ohio. Families with children on the spectrum come to us for information about an individual’s social, emotional, educational, recreational, therapeutic, vocational and housing needs from birth through adulthood. World-renowned author and speaker Temple Grandin kicked off our 15th Annual Autism Conference, which attracted over 1,500 attendees this year. We expanded our workshops to include such panels as “How ASD Impacts Children of Color and their Families,” “In Love and On the Spectrum” featuring couples where one partner is on the spectrum, and “Working with Individuals with ASD Who Identify as Transgender,” all highlighting the need for more awareness and understanding from social service, medical and other providers of care.
“The need for autism-related services and education is overwhelming,” says Milestones co-founder Mia Buchwald Gelles. “The autism population is growing and aging year after year. We are here to meet those needs. We are working to make a brighter future.”
Consider donating to our organization to help us continue to provide life-changing resources for local families impacted by autism.
Click here to learn about the many ways you can designate your gift.
Thank you for your support.
Milestones 2017 Benefit Honoree Rochelle Nyer has devoted three decades of her professional career and personal life serving families with children on the autism spectrum. She traces her involvement with Milestones Autism Resources back to its early years, when she attended the organization’s very first conference in 2003. Impressed with its impact on local families, Rochelle knew she wanted to participate and help make a difference.
“You can’t learn from a textbook as much as you can learn from people who live it every day,” Rochelle says. “That’s why I have such admiration for this organization. They have helped so many people who live it every day.”
Fifteen years after attending that first conference, Rochelle continues to make integral contributions to Milestones, serving on the board, being a part of the planning committee and serving as co-chair of the annual conference.
“Being a part of Milestones has made me so appreciative of what it does to help advocate for children and families,” she says. “I am more than humbled to be a part of and recognized by this great organization.”
Tell us about your involvement with Milestones.
I have been involved with Milestones since I went to the very first conference, 15 years ago. I was so impressed that it was one of the more organized conferences. I said to (co-founder) Ilana that I wanted to be more involved. I helped to distribute posters, I was on the conference planning committee. I remember those early days when we went to (co-founder) Mia’s house – and her kids were sitting on her lap in the living room!
It was an organization that started with very little and has grown exponentially over the years. In the beginning it was just Ilana and Mia, essentially “volunteering” countless hours and making Milestones what it is today – with an exceptional staff that impacts the community in a tremendous way.
Tell us about yourself. Do you have a personal connection to autism?
Though I don’t have a personal connection to autism, I have been working with families with children on the spectrum for close to 30 years. I’m a Speech-Language Pathologist at Akron Children’s Hospital and have been there for 28 years. I do assessments for children on the spectrum as well as school-age children with speech and language disorders.
I’m from Cleveland – born and bred. I’ve been married for almost 47 years to my husband Mark, also a native Clevelander, and we have two daughters, Shoshanna Nyer, who is a Rabbi and Director of Lifelong Learning at Suburban Temple Kol-Ami; and Deena Nyer Mendlowitz, who is a preschool teacher, playwright and has taught improv to children on the spectrum. She is also a mental health activist. We have two grandchildren – Emily, who is 8, and Rafi, who is 11.
Both of our daughters have been involved with Milestones; Shoshanna has also been a speaker. We’ve volunteered with Strike It Big, Milestones’ annual bowling fundraiser. Our grandchildren have been involved in peer groups. We are a Milestones family!
Thinking back, why did you agree to be on Milestones board?
I was so impressed by how the whole organization is run and I have always had a desire to work with families on the autism spectrum, so it was an honor to be asked to be on the board. I have learned so much from other professionals and parents, and it has been awesome to watch the organization grow so much. For example, our conference gets larger and larger every year, with our most recent one being the largest one yet. It attracts people all over the world!
How do you think Milestones impacted the community at that time? And today?
In the beginning Milestones was focused on younger children on the spectrum and early intervention. Today, we are looking to help get services for young adults who age out of school services. What happens when school-age children are now out in the world? We are addressing issues like housing, employment, independent living and how to cultivate a vibrant social life.
What do you enjoy about your work with Milestones?
I’ve made lifelong relationships and I enjoy learning from other professionals, as well as from families. Also, the board meetings are atypical in the fact that they begin and end on time! And at every meeting there is a story about a family or a personal perspective about autism. We have recently become more involved with Cleveland Public Schools; it’s good to find out what other communities are doing and to help serve families across the socio-economic spectrum, too – whether they are from urban areas, small towns or affluent suburbs.
How have you personally been affected by your affiliation with Milestones?
Personally, I’m watching a generation of my grandchildren being so much more compassionate and inclusive. Our daughter, Shoshanna, has started an inclusion program at her temple. There is one particular story that I love: there was a mother at the temple who was concerned because her daughter, who is on the spectrum, was often excluded from social events. My granddaughter, Emily, wanted to invite this little girl to her 7th birthday party. Her mother said to her, “You know, you really made the girl’s parents happy that you included her.” To which Emily replied, “Mom, just because she doesn’t talk like the other kids doesn’t mean someone should ignore her like she’s a rock.”
It’s wonderful how children have become empathetic. They become sensitized. I think families have fought so hard. I grew up during a time when there was no inclusion at all. I think it is so wonderful to see that we are raising a generation that is inclusive.
What is the most important thing you’d like a friend, relative, or neighbor to know about Milestones?
Milestones, although we don’t provide direct services, we can help connect you with resources and connect you with other parents. We look for the needs and we help meet them. We do it in the local community. It truly is a parent-professional collaboration. The staff is extremely devoted and committed to what goes on. The most important thing to realize is you’re not alone.
Q: What is mindfulness and why is it so important?
A: Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, and is used as a therapeutic technique. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, has defined mindfulness as “paying attention to our lives, moment by moment, on purpose, in a certain way, and without judgment.”
In other words, mindfulness is staying focused on being in the now, the moment you are currently in, and not perseverating over the past (it’s finished) or the anticipation of the future (it has not occurred yet). It is the process of practicing paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, sensations, environment/atmosphere around you and learning to be significantly present.
Research has shown many benefits to engaging in mindfulness practices that promote awareness. Some of these benefits include: focus, stress reduction, rumination/perseverative decrease, improved working memory, less emotionally reactive, increase cognitive flexibility, more satisfaction in relationships, etc. In addition to cognitive and emotional benefits, there are also many physiological and physical benefits as a result of mindfulness based practices that can include: decrease in tension, increase in endurance/energy levels, treating heart disease, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, pain decrease, balance, posture and strengthen immune, autonomic, nervous and endocrine systems.
Some symptoms that can be alleviated through mindfulness practices include mind wandering, rumination/perseveration, multitasking, distractibility, predisposition to emotionally react/lack of impulse control, unhappiness, feeling overwhelmed/stressed, self-focused, lack of time management and being unorganized. Mindfulness helps one to self-regulate. As a society, we have become accustomed to always thinking and keeping our minds busy, whereas we now need to learn to not think so much and learn to be present in our lives that we are currently living. Mindfulness is the perfect tool to help us achieve that goal, especially since practice is individualized.
There has been quite a bit of research that has demonstrated the negative effects of chronic stress. Stress impacts one’s mind, body, emotions and behavior. There is a significant role that perception has in stress levels; stress is associated with that which we aspire to and value. Being a caregiver, professional, and/or an individual on the autism spectrum, can directly impact levels of stress. Whether it be anxiety, burnout, depression, chronic stress, chronic fatigue, etc., these can negatively impact one’s physical and emotional health. One cannot do their best unless they are at their best, which is why mindfulness-based practices and self-care is so important.
More on this important topic to appear next month including how mindfulness specifically benefits children with autism.
-Stacy Blecher and Natalie Copleand
Stacy Blecher, MA, ATR, CMP, is an Art Therapist at Positive Education Program (PEP) Prentiss Autism Center. She received her Master of Art Therapy from Ursuline College and has been working with individuals diagnosed with autism for the past 13 years.
Natalie Copeland, ASISC, is a Behavior Support Specialist at Positive Education Program (PEP) Prentiss Autism Center. She is currently completing her Master of Science in Social Administration at Case Western Reserve University and has been working with individuals diagnosed with autism and their families for the past 12 years.
Stacy and Natalie jointly presented a workshop titled, “Train Your Brain: Keep Calm and Practice Mindfulness” at Milestones 15th Annual Conference this past June.
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Q: Just a few more weeks until school is back in session! What are your tips for helping parents to get their children ready?
A: You purchased new school clothes and got every item on the supply list. All set? Almost! Parents with children who have autism know that a few more preparations help the transition from summer to the classroom. Let’s review our back-to-school checklist for the child with autism:
Confirm the child’s placement
-What building, what room, what teacher?
-Have any of the arrangements changed over the summer? If so, you may have to do some footwork to make certain your child is receiving all necessary accommodations. Better done before school begins instead of everyone dealing with a surprise.
Visit the school and teacher before the first day
-Often, teachers are in their classrooms a week or two before school begins. Ask if you and your child can visit before the chaos of the first day.
-Visit even if the teacher is not available. Think of it as a visual support for your child.
-Take pictures of the school (playground, cafeteria, gym, classroom, etc.) and review them with your child daily before school begins.
Slowly transition when your child goes to bed and arises
-Two weeks prior to the first day of school, adjust your child’s bedtime and the time he/she gets up by 15-minute increments until you are on a school schedule.
-Yes, I know this is challenging for many children, and you may not experience full success. But try, it will help.
Plan to communicate
-Take this one seriously—parent/teacher communication can make or break a school year.
-Use the Parent/Teacher Communication Checklist and the Individualized Communication Plan to begin the conversation with your child’s teacher and to agree upon the best method of communication for both of you.
-The sooner the better. The best plan is to have a plan!
Now that you’ve got the details handled, you can enjoy the excitement of the new school year, the smells of freshly waxed school floors and sharpened pencils, and the opportunity to see your child grow.
Margaret Oliver is a special educator for Akron Public Schools, a guest lecturer for The University of Akron, and a published columnist and author. She advocates for special needs students, their parents, and their educators to promote the best possible experience for the child.