Advocating for Those with Disabilities
"Who better to name the Center for than Harvey Weisenberg? Harvey made it possible for me to be positive when things did not seem very positive. He fights fiercely, passionately and loyally for all individuals with special needs. He is our children's voice."
--Evelyn Ain, publisher of Spectrum magazine

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Assemblyman Weisenberg, shown on the floor of the Assembly, fought hard for the passage of Jonathan's Law. The law gives parents of children with mental disabilities access to reports of abuse or other incidents occurring in a mental hygiene facility. The Assemblyman is holding a photo of Jonathan Carey, a 13-year-old with autism who died tragically while in the care of an OMRDD-operated facility, and for whom the law was named.

My wife, Ellen, and I have a special child. At age 51, Ricky is nonverbal and as much of a child to us as he was decades ago. Having been a special education teacher enlightened me about many of the challenges facing children with special needs. But it was becoming Ricky's parent that changed my life. I discovered the blessings of being a parent of a special child. No matter how much Ellen and I put into our relationship with Ricky, we always get more back - just as we do with all those we've come to know through our work with organizations such as AHRC, United Cerebral Palsy, Angela's House and Family Residences and Essential Enterprises. I'm proud to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. What could be more important than helping children and adults with special needs have a positive quality of life and reach their full potential?

Twenty-five years ago autism was an extremely rare condition; now it is the leading disabling disease of children in the United States. That is why I crafted legislation directing the Commissioner of Health to establish a program for the early screening of toddlers for autism spectrum disorders. I also spearheaded the successful effort to prohibit the administration of immunizations or vaccines containing mercury -- a known neurotoxin that some scientists believe may cause autism.

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Assemblyman Weisenberg and Mary Margaret Quinn enjoyed a wonderful day together at a Surf Pals event, which gives children with developmental disabilities an opportunity to ride the waves with specially trained surfers. Several years ago, the Assemblyman was able to cut through the bureaucracy that was threatening to place Mary Margaret in a school situation for which she was not yet ready. With his help, she got the extra year of support she needed and was then able to start kindergarten prepared to thrive.

Many children with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum are able to attend public schools, but often require special education classes. In 2006, I introduced a bill, later signed into law, requiring anyone applying for a license as a special education teacher or school administrator to complete course work in the needs of children with autism. That same year, I wrote legislation allowing mental health facilities to conduct nationwide criminal history checks of employees.

Angela's House
After learning that Long Island lacked a facility to care for medically fragile children - those requiring around-the-clock care - I secured funding to build Angela's House in East Moriches. Angela Policastro was born with severe brain damage and spent her short life in a facility in Connecticut - the closest place to her parents' Nassau County home. When Angela died at 14 months, her parents vowed that no other family should have to endure the pain of placing a child so far from home. The beautiful seven-bed Angela's House opened in 2000. In 2005, Angela's House II was opened in Smithtown in Nassau County.

Surf Pals
Very special to me is the hugely successful Surf Pals program. Growing by leaps and bounds, Surf Pals enables children with autism and other developmental disabilities, accompanied by trained surfers, to experience the thrill and freedom of riding the waves. Seeing the joy on the faces of the children is an unforgettable experience.

Harvey Weisenberg Resource Centers
When several organizations got together to create a one-stop source of information, assistance, resources, training and guidance for New York families dealing with autism or other developmental disabling conditions, I was deeply honored to learn that they named them the Harvey Weisenberg Resource Centers. The Centers can be reached at 212-947-0775 (Manhattan) and 866-314-7959 (Long Island Center).

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"Angela's House." Assemblyman Weisenberg secured funding to build Angela's House, the first facility on Long Island to care for children requiring around-the-clock medical care. Each of the cozy bedrooms has a beautiful hand-painted mural. In the mural pictured, a lifeguard who bears a striking resemblance to Assemblyman Weisenberg stands on the dock keeping watch over the children. A second Angela's House has also opened on Long Island.
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Harvey and Ellen Weisenberg at the dedication of The Harvey Weisenberg Resource Centers, one in New York City, the other on Long Island. The Centers were created to give information, guidance and resources to families of children with autism or other developmental disabilities.

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In 2008, Harvey Weisenberg published The Beauty of Our Special Children: Putting a Face on Those with Disabilities & Those Who Care for Them.
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Working with the nonprofit group Let All the Children Play, Nassau County will use a $250,000 grant secured by the Assemblyman to create a playground in East Meadow that will be completely accessible to children with disabilities. Children with autism and other physical, sensory and developmental disabilities will be able to play side-by-side with their non-disabled peers. The Assemblyman is pictured with County officials and officers of Let All the Children Play.

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