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In Reaching Out to Brooklyn’s Autism Community, SUNY Downstate Taps Hamaspik

October 21, 2015

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Agency Promotes Related Services at Medical Center/School’s Annual Outreach Event

Autism parenting can be challenging. Ask any parent of a beautiful little boy or adorable little girl with autism, and they’ll tell you that they can use any and all support they can get.

That’s why SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn’s premier teaching hospital complex, has been hosting annual educational events for the borough’s autism community for years now.

To reach this vulnerable population, especially those among it who might be reticent to reach out for help, Downstate continues to reach out to a number of non-profit agencies respected in their respective target communities.

For reaching out to Brooklyn’s sizable Orthodox Jewish communities of Borough Park, Williamsburg, Flatbush and Crown Heights, then, that includes Hamaspik.

Mrs. Sheryl Suri Regensberg, LMSW, an Orthodox Jewish social worker with SUNY Downstate Department of Pediatrics’ Division of Child Development, has been working regularly with Hamaspik of Kings County, according to Mrs. Yehudis Heimfeld, Hamaspik Brooklyn’s capable Intake/Family Support Services (FSS) Coordinator. 

For Mrs. Regensburg, then, tapping Hamaspik to field a table at Downstate’s recent Autism Health Fair was only natural.

The Autism Health Fair, held Sunday, October 11 on the lovely (and lovely-weather-enhanced) outdoor grounds of SUNY Downstate Medical Center at 395 Lenox Road, saw close to 150 families from Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community, among hundreds of others of all backgrounds, turn out to peruse the offerings presented by some 20 booths.  Those booths represented a range of organizations whose missions include serving families affected by autism.

One of those presentations was Hamaspik of Kings County.

Expertly manning the Hamaspik display from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. were Mrs. Heimfeld and Medicaid Service Coordinator (MSC) Mrs. Julie Bergman of the agency’s centrally-located Borough Park services hub.

During those hours, fair-goers were attracted to Hamaspik’s colorful table, covered as it was with a number of informative brochures and catchy promotional items and backed by a tall vertical banner display reading, tellingly, “Here to serve you.”

“What services do you provide?” was the typical question asked by the dozens of interested inquirers and passersby, says Mrs. Heimfeld—a crowd, she notes, that also included a good number of SUNY minority students.

Those students of several races and ethnicities, representing the ever-diverse healthcare workforce of the future, not only gained first-hand familiarity with autism but also garnered a feel for the diversity of community organizations they’ll be working with in the future—including the service teams at Hamaspik.

As for family caregivers whose loved ones qualify for autism-related services through Hamaspik, Mrs. Bergman and Mrs. Heimfeld guided them over to the Front Door, all while patiently and proficiently explaining what the Front Door is, which services are available, and how to obtain them.  That streamlined intake system is used by the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), the Medicaid-funded state agency partnering with Hamaspik to provide vital supports and services to the community. 

Services offered by the OPWDD through Hamaspik that benefit children and young adults with autism include the effective Community Habilitation (Comm Hab) program, in which beneficiaries with autism (or other disabilities) are provided with personal aides assisting them in achieving their carefully defined community-acclimation goals. 

Other Hamaspik services benefiting young people with autism include At-home Respite, in which parents are given much-needed breaks while their children get watchful and diligent care and interaction from Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) personally selected by those young individuals or their families, and trained by Hamaspik.

Working-age individuals with higher-functioning autism—typically young adults who’ve completed school—fortunately qualify for Supported Employment (SEMP), another excellent state program provided by Hamaspik that helps them train for, secure and retain quality jobs.  The SEMP program, also under the auspices of the OPWDD, has quietly built an impressive record of providing people with disabilities the greatest indicator of disability mainstreaming: gainful jobs.

Another option offered by Hamaspik is the OPWDD’s Day Habilitation (Day Hab) program, which services individuals with lower-functioning autism (and other disabilities) who are not suited for the work environment.  Day Hab provides them with educational and therapeutic activities at the agencies’ daytime facilities, enabling them to maximize their lives to the extent possible.

Quite a few inquirers were invited to later call Hamaspik’s offices for further assistance with the Front Door application process, Mrs. Heimfeld adds, with several of them even already in the process of applying, have previously connected with Mrs. Heimfeld’s office via phone.

“I was happy to tell them the status of their applications,” Mrs. Heimfeld says.

Later that very week, a host of other community applicants attended an OPWDD-led Front Door introductory session hosted by Hamaspik of Kings County (see story, page ??).

While some of Hamaspik’s inquirers into autism-related services were referred to the Front Door, it turns out that some are already well through it.