Santa breakfast embraces families struggling with autism
Eagle-Tribune - 12/10/2018
Dec. 09--LAWRENCE -- After many stressful years of dining at restaurants, often times resulting in leaving early and his son feeling upset, Lenard Zohn was inspired to establish an organization that would provide non-judgmental environments for autistic children and their families.
Zohn, whose 13-year-old son Adin has autism, founded Autism Eats, an organization that provides autism-friendly environments for family dining, socializing and connecting with others who share similar challenges.
The national organization has held 100 events, with their 100th being a Santa breakfast at Salvatore's in Lawrence Sunday morning. The milestone event brought together more than 150 people who traveled from across the Merrimack Valley and beyond to be there. All of them shared one affinity: a connection to autism, whether it be their own diagnosis or a loved one's.
"Food brings people together," said Zohn. "Here, there is no reason to explain any behaviors. They can enjoy themselves and who they are."
The morning was filled with good food, gifts and pictures with Santa. For one family that traveled from Boston for the event, it was not just an opportunity to get out of the house on a cold, winter day and enjoy a warm, delectable breakfast. It was also a chance to be among other families all of whom share a common bond.
Tomeka Taylor and Tony Ramsey's son David, 17, has autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD. Diagnosed at three years old, the family is not unfamiliar with the judgment and brutality that can engulf a child living with those diagnoses.
"At school and restaurants there is so much judgment, but he doesn't care," said Tomeka. "We do everything we can to help him function and live normally."
The couple had immense appreciation for the breakfast and similar events they have attended, where they said they felt so much love and togetherness being surrounded by families that have undergone similar challenges and have shared understandings. In the festive room of more than 100 people at a given time, decorated with holiday balloons and decorations, it was never shy of laughter and contentment.
"Everyone here is going through or has gone through the same thing, there is no judgment," said Tomeka.
Their son David was equally as elated to be in attendance and in the presence of Santa, whom he couldn't wait to meet. As he enjoyed pizza and the company of his family and new friends, a smile never faded from his face.
"He has his own way of living life," said Tony. "He's a superhero in our lives."
The Sunday event was the second breakfast with Santa hosted by Autism Eats in Massachusetts. Zohn hoped the event would create a relaxed environment where new friendships would be formed, adding that he thought that's exactly what happened on Sunday .
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