Lev Gonick knows it takes an entire community to raise a child. “When we arrived in Cleveland we had a chance to meet some amazing, amazing folks,” he says. “We are so incredibly lucky. Of all the places we have lived, the Cleveland community is the one that has reached out, that has provided, that has laid down tracks where no one would ever, ever imagine going.”
Gonick, Milestones 2016 Benefit Honoree, husband to Barb and father to daughters Sari and Mya, recently shared about how Milestones has impacted and helped his family. Every milestone in his daughter’s life affords his family an opportunity to celebrate with the community. Every challenge they face is made easier by the collective shoulder of the community.
How did you first hear about Milestones Autism Resources?
“My wife Barb met regularly with other moms to check in about their children with autism and to share what was working for them. Ilana Hoffer Skoff and Mia Buchwald Gelles (co-founders of Milestones) were invited to this informal group. The idea of creating a local organization such as Milestones Autism Resources grew out of these get-togethers.”
In what kinds of ways has Milestones helped your family?
“Before there was a Milestones, I had nobody to collaborate with. Nobody to brainstorm with. Nobody to obtain any education. Everything was done alone. Milestones helped me to navigate the complicated village that [my daughter] Sari has. Milestones has also helped to design a model for supporting the residential and social-emotional needs of young adults on the spectrum. Sari, along with three other young adults, lives in Beechmont Towers in a semi-autonomous arrangement with community support services first outlined by Milestones and in partnership with families and various service providers.
We have felt that we have been able to help other families and give back through regular referrals to Milestones.”
Do you attend the annual conference? Why would you recommend the conference for other families?
“The Milestones conference is an excellent hub to find resources. What the organization has done is to shine a light that the condition impacts all walks of life — all races, class, religions. It has really helped inform and educate the community at large. Our daughters have attended and worked at the conference as volunteers, as has my 87-year-old mother-in-law. Barb has also attended from time to time.”
Why is it important for families of individuals with ASD to feel a part of a community?
“The diagnosis is almost always a shock. Followed by denial, anger and several other emotional rollercoasters. Having a trusted resource in the community as you navigate the new, life-altering reality is hugely valuable. Over time, and over your child’s lifespan, we as parents and our family at large, have found the community in Cleveland to be a source of strength and support. Every milestone in our daughter’s life affords us an opportunity to celebrate with the community. Every challenge we face is made easier by the collective shoulder of the community support here.”
In terms of therapy, resources, etc. — what has made the biggest difference for your child?
“Speech pathology, integrative physical therapies and workforce training have been the central difference makers for our daughter.”
Tell us your child’s most recent “milestone.”
“Sari’s semi-independent living arrangement at Beechmont is a major milestone.”
What was your most recent “milestone” as a parent?
“Recognition at the annual Milestones benefit last year. I shared remarks about how it takes a village to raise a child (taking inspiration from the African proverb). And for the families that were recognized that night, we all know it takes a village to raise a child. And the village is very much both your immediate family and extended to the community that our kids are blessed to be a part of. Milestones has played a huge part in the village that takes to raise our community’s children and we are very, very proud of that.”
What advice would you offer to parents of children with ASD?
“As hard as it is, try not to become overwhelmed with the gigantic picture. I remember well-meaning people saying to us, ‘Oh my goodness, will Sari ever be able to live on her own?’ When you say that to a parent of a 6-year-old it’s the last thing he or she is thinking about. I’m just wondering how my daughter will get through kindergarten. You can’t give someone a magic calming pill. Also, some people are worried in general, regardless of the child having special challenges. But you have to keep pushing the bar. That is really important. Don’t think, ‘She can’t do that.’ For all the reasons why you could imagine that it couldn’t happen, those are the things to look forward to.”
[Photo: New Image Photography]