Alexandra Abend

Autism Family Night Creates “Stigma-Free” Environment for New Jersey Families

Alex Abend, of Warren, N.J, has a younger brother with autism and when she was 12 her family experienced a painful dinner at a local restaurant. Her brother had to be carried out of the restaurant, screaming and biting, by Alex's parents. Left alone, she and her (other) brother overhead a customer grumble about how their parents ought to control their children better. It left a deep impression upon Alex, who is now a junior in high school.

When she attended Mount Holyoke College's Take the Lead program last fall she transformed this memory into a statewide project that took place April 17 at 35 T.G.I. Friday’s restaurants throughout New Jersey.  She called the event Autism Family Night and her hope was to create a comfortable environment for families like hers. Alex spread the word about the event through autism groups and special needs schools.

Alex’s own family attended their local restaurant’s Autism Family Night, and she was overwhelmed by the gratitude that so many families showered upon her during the event. Leading up to the evening and following it, she received hundreds of emails from families regarding how much the evening meant and how they had experienced similar feelings to Alex’s.

The New York Times’ Metro section covered the event and Alex has also been interviewed by Time Magazine’s online edition. Her hometown paper ran an article about her project and a local TV station covered the evening as well. She hopes to make the event an annual one.

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