FANWOOD, NJ — To help support her brother, Ethan, and other people with autism, Mallory Banks organized a Rockin’ for Autism festival, held at LaGrande Park in Fanwood on April 16. The event began with an opening announcement from Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, followed by a performance by GoodWorks, a rock and soul band dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations, led by Scotch Plains resident Paul Lavenhar.
“I’m very thankful for the support from all my family and friends,” said Banks. “The event is a lot of fun.”
Banks’s neighbor, Rachel Ting, was spotted with an attractive, glittery tattoo of a puzzle piece on her hand. Proudly displaying the symbol, she was just one of the many people Banks knows that came out to support her at this event. Henna tattoos were offered as well, but this one had special meaning behind it.
“This puzzle piece symbolizes autism,” said Ting.
Not only are people puzzled by the condition, but people with autism tend to keep to themselves. Some even have difficulty with language and communication, in addition to being very shy and socially awkward. However it’s not all that uncommon, as one in 45 children in New Jersey are autistic.
“My son Ethan doesn’t know he’s autistic,” said Mallory’s mother, Gina Banks. “He just prefers to keep to himself. He likes to play on his iPad, and he enjoys playing sports.”
One of the beneficial ways autistic children can develop language skills is with the help of music therapy. Jennifer Pacht-Goodman, better known as her business persona Jammin’ Jenn, was one of the featured guests who provided a short interactive demonstration of her work. She helps children with autism express themselves through musical connections.
“She’s amazing,” said Gina Banks. “Ethan really loved expressing himself through music and dance. He doesn’t get the opportunity to socialize through conversations. He’s very shy and lacks social skills.”
“I focus on peer awareness, eye contact and reducing self-directed behavior,” said Pacht-Goodman. “I had a four year old speak his first word with me in music class. He said the word ‘Apple.’ Singing and musical connection is so beneficial for these kids.”
The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Baseball Association launched their new season with announcements, followed by the ceremonial first pitch by Fanwood Mayor Mahr.
Vendors such as Children’s Specialized Hospital, Watchung Pediatrics, Tiny Tots Therapy, Autism NJ and Functional Performance Therapy were just a few to make an appearance. There were also more than 50 grand raffle prizes.
Mallory and the Rockin for Autism Committee plan to donate their proceeds to Autism NJ. The goal for the day was to raise $7,000. Autism NJ offers assistance to autistic individuals at all stages of life. They act as the voice for autistic individuals in state government and offer clinical expertise with parents and professionals. They strive to build community acceptance of those with this condition.
Autism has become more prevalent over the past few years due to changes in the diagnosis, greater awareness and improved record keeping. April is Autism Awareness Month, but it’s never too late to get involved by contacting Autism NJ.