Category Archives: Profiles

Art Helps Philly Dad Connect with Autistic Son

As a father, Ron Schwoyer was frustrated with his inability to connect with his autistic son: “I would point out something beautiful, neat, funny, or whatever, and Kevin would often react in a contrary or negative way. Almost like he was closing himself off from the world.” He worried that Kevin, the oldest of three children, was “missing the good things in life.” But all this changed, thanks to a painting and a vision.

Ron, 45, of Richboro, Pennsylvania, described Kevin’s painting titled “Why Does My Head Feel This Way?” as “a Van Gogh-ish depiction of what he felt like. In a way, it was unsettling to me, with swirling dark colors … almost like an angry-looking storm cloud.” The painting was a revelation.

For Ron’s wife, Robin, the painting offered a way to connect. She related, “In 2005, I started having ‘flashes’ and visions of me riding around in a blue van covered with colorful puzzle pieces and doing art shows.” When she met Svetlana Gradess that summer, Robin shared her vision of doing art with Autism Spectrum children . Gradess, who loves children and artwork, felt called to help. HeARTS for Autism was born.

HeARTS for Autism , Ron said, differs from other programs for ASD children, because each event offers activities for the ASD person, the siblings, and the parents. The program has branched into other areas, such as dance, movement, and yoga .

Ron is essential to the program’s success. During the initial flurry of activity, Robin said, “Ron would joke that if you stood still in our house for more than a few seconds, you got painted and turned into an art display.” When they began the family programs, Robin was constantly busy with phone calls and emails. Ron helped with the kids as she tended to the needs of other families. His work as an engineer made it possible for her to volunteer.

Gradess added that Ron does everything from volunteering with the kids during monthly events to hauling needed supplies. She said, “He has a wonderful, peaceful, and grounding presence.”

In addition to his job and volunteer work, Ron plays in a Beatles cover band , Shabby Road. He said that he “Forrest Gump”-ed his way into the band, practicing on drums in the studio when they showed up to rehearse. They mentioned they were looking for a bassist and had a bass handy. So, he jammed with them and was asked to join.

Life is very busy for Ron, now that the kids have moved out of diapers and into recitals, concerts, and softball games. “It’s great to be part of this, watching them grow, watching them playing violin or cello with their school orchestra.”

He’s a different sort of father from his dad, who worked shift work : “I was ‘in sync’ with him only about once every three weeks. Thankfully, I am home every night. I am fortunate to be present and to help them with homework (sometimes I feel so smart ), helping them get through a difficult musical passage, going ice skating, or getting a big hug after a long day.”

Thanks to HeARTS for Autism , he’s finally managed to connect with their eldest son. Ron said, “Happily, Kevin in the last few years has matured into a curious, scholarly person. I had been concerned that he would never know who I was.”

Alyce Wilson is a Philadelphia-area mother who writes about people and events in Greater Philadelphia.

Originally published on June 10, 2011 on the Yahoo! Contributor Network

Philly Area Mom Fights for Adoptees’ Rights

Imagine not knowing who your mother is, what your genetic heritage is, or how you might be connected to history. Imagine having difficulty getting a passport or driver’s license. For adopted individuals, this is an unfortunate reality, since many states prevent them from accessing their original birth certificates. But if mother and activist Amanda Woolston, 26, can do anything about it, that will change.

Woolston, who lives in the greater Philadelphia area, is a stay-at-home mom, part-time student, and activist by night. She takes care of blogging, corresponding with other activists, letter writing, and other activities after her sons, 2 1/2 years and 4 weeks, go to sleep. The issue is personal to Woolston, who was adopted, but it was because of her children that she became an adoptee rights advocate.

Her birth state allowed access to her original birth certificate, but she was aware many do not. Soon after her first son was born, she decided the issue was too important to be silent about. She explained, “If I lack access to the document that connects me to my roots and ancestry, they’re missing out on part of their roots and ancestry, too.”

Woolston founded Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights Advocates with several friends and fellow advocates to promote change in this portion of adoption law in Pennsylvania. She is also the Pennsylvania state representative for the Adoptee Rights Coalition.

She said, “Most people may be aware that President Obama recently released his original birth certificate for public view and that there are about 12 states that are considering or who have considered requiring a candidate running for public office to show their original birth certificate. This is something most adopted people cannot do. While everyone can now see President Obama’s original birth certificate, there are six million people in the U.S., the adopted, who cannot even see their own.”

Woolston explained that “upon decree of adoption, an adoptee is given a new birth certificate with their adoptive parents’ names on it, and the original is sealed.” This often takes place even in the case of open adoptions, regardless of the birth mother’s wishes.

Through her activism, Woolston supports legislation and provides education. She also has participated in annual adoptee rights demonstrations at the National Convention of State Legislators.

In her work, Woolston has heard stories about the children of adoptees and how not having access to their heritage has impacted them. She said, “While my children and their children will have knowledge of their heritage through me (a good friend of mine traced us all the way back to the Revolutionary War and the Mayflower!), many other descendants of adoptees cannot say the same.”

As a mother and a woman, Woolston said she fights “alongside and for all of the mothers who have surrendered to adoption who want people to know that they do not want to be hidden in shame. I fight alongside the mothers, both those who have surrendered and those who have adopted, who believe strongly that their sons and daughters should be treated like everyone else.”

She says her activism has taught her to value justice and equality for everyone. Woolston hopes to pass those values along: “My hope is to raise my children to be strong individuals who will advocate for what’s right, no matter what cause is that is important to them.”

Alyce Wilson is a Philadelphia-area mother who writes about people and events in Greater Philadelphia.

Originally published in 2010 on the Yahoo! Contributor Network