Community center's disabilities exposition showcases varied struggles, unique talents

Event helps promote awareness, resources

October 22, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

What started out as a therapeutic exercise resulted in a book deal for Emily Hecht of Owings Mills -- and she's just 11 years old.

The young author, who wrote a book about autism with clinical psychologist Eve B. Band, was one of many presenters at a disabilities exposition yesterday at Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Jewish Community Center in Baltimore.

The exposition, which could become an annual event, was held to spotlight the talents of people with mental, emotional and physical disabilities, and to unite a diverse community through education and outreach, organizers said.

"We wanted to promote awareness of people with disabilities, but we also wanted to pool resources to better serve the community at large," said Rachel Blankchtein, special-needs coordinator for the community center at 5750 Park Heights Ave.

In the center's auditorium, a number of groups -- including Brain Injury Association of Maryland, League for People with Disabilities and Maryland Center for Independent Living -- set up booths and distributed pamphlets to adults, many of whom brought their children.

Rose Ann Fischer of Sykesville attended with her 13-year-old son, Michael, who is autistic.

The mother and son attended the session led by Emily and Band. Fischer wanted to buy their book, Through a Sister's Eyes: A Young Girl's View of Her Brother's Autism.

Michael's 17-year-old sister, Cathy, has a hard time dealing with her brother and his autism, Fischer said. "She still asks me, `Why does Michael act like this?' and `Why can't we be a normal family?'" she said.

Fischer said few books explain autism to children.

That's one of the reasons Band encouraged Emily, whose brother Daniel is autistic, to tell her story.

The book was written by Band, who has a practice in Owings Mills, and represents an expanded version of a series of personal essays by Emily, a sixth-grader at Krieger Schecter Day School in Baltimore.

In the book, Emily describes what it is like living with an autistic sibling, how he talks to himself, how he becomes obsessed with events such as a power outage, and how he makes the whole family laugh.

Another attraction at the exposition was a wheelchair basketball game between a team put together by Del. Robert A. Zirkin, a Democrat from Owings Mills, and the Maryland Ravens, a wheelchair basketball team.

Before the game, David Michelsohn, 10, of Baltimore whipped around the basketball court in a wheelchair he borrowed from the Ravens. He said he enjoyed the speed the wheelchair afforded him but said he wouldn't want to have to use one all the time.

"It feels cool to use it now," he said. "But if I had to do it every day, it would be hard."

In another room, artist Tommy Roberts, 41, who has muscular dystrophy, made pastel sketches of participants. Sitting in his wheelchair, hunched over a sketch of a father and his infant daughter, Roberts expressed the message behind the exposition.

"I came here today to show people that you can still participate in life, and that you can have artistic outlets and be a professional, even if you have a disability," he said.

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