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Torrington parents of children with autism to hold fundraiser at Bad Dog Brewery

The Register Citizen - 3/23/2021

Mar. 21—TORRINGTON — Nothing pleases an artist more than having someone appreciate their work.

Soon, an art show featuring the works of local children will be coming to Bad Dog Brewers, organized by Torrington Area Families for Autism.

Christina Augliera, founder of TAFA, is hoping to help others in the community learn more about autism. The nonprofit focuses on generating awareness, acceptance and inclusion, with parent training, an autism support group that meets regularly, and events for those families affected by autism.

The art show, set for April, will celebrate Autism Awareness Month.

Augliera, a special education teacher, has an autistic son, Connor. She lives in Torrington with Connor and her other son, Caden, and her husband, Adam Piechowski, also a teacher.

The brewery event, Spectrum of Art Showcase, opens April 1 and will be available to see on weekends at Bad Dog Brewers on Migeon Avenue. Each child in TAFA created a piece for the exhibit, and they all posed for photos for the show, showing their brightly colored drawings and paintings.

TAFA started the art show idea by collecting art supplies from local businesses and other donors, and asked the children to make a piece for the April event. Members plan to hold a silent auction April 24-25, at which guests can bid on the work, with proceeds benefiting the group.

Connor, who was diagnosed with autism at two, is the "sweetest, most affectionate child," his mother said. She hopes the art show and auction will inspire conversations about autism, and the importance of accepting people with the disorder "in every construct," she said.

"That goes from school to meaningful employment to social opportunities," Augliera said. "I have a background in special education, and I've been working with (people with) special needs for a long time. My husband is also a teacher, and we've worked very hard to get kids out into the community."

She chose Bad Dog Brewers, which opened in January, to keep the event local.

"When I met the owner, Matt Tcak, it was a perfect fit," she said. "It was important for me to do something in our community, and this will also help Bad Dog."

Tcak was extremely receptive. "He said, 'whatever you want to do. ... We'll make T-shirts,'" she said. "He was really helpful."

Augliera's and Piechowski's journey with Connor's education was challenged three years ago, when he was placed in an autism school outside the Torrington district. He returned to Southwest School this year.

"It was a big period of transition for Connor," Augliera said. "But he's doing great. He spends time in a regular classroom, he has friends and spends time with them."

Augliera said she has fought for her son's rights to be in school after he was taken out of the district, saying there was "a lot of turnover" in the Torrington schools' administration.

"It was a battle to get Connor a good program," she said.

She is encouraged by the efforts of the district's new Director of Student Services Laura Klimaszewski. "Before she came in, there was 24 percent placement of students for special ed," she said. "Just this past year, they created a special ed supervisor position to assure there was oversight. Getting Laura in there ... has made a difference."

The members of TAFA share her hopes for autistic children to be given tools to live the rest of their lives.

"If you give them the tools to be independent, they'll have them when they get out-placed at age 21, to the time of their death when they're adults," she said. "Part of the reason I started TAFA is because I'm aware that if people before me didn't fight for my son, he'd have no opportunities today."

TAFA meets on the fourth Thursday of the month on Zoom, and information can be found at tafainc.org or on the group's Facebook page. It also partners with Greater Torrington Special Education Parent Teacher Organization, and plans to meet for parent programs and discussion of special education and autism issues. Usually, TAFA holds events, but the pandemic slowed them down. "It's hard for the kids to wear masks, and social distancing is hard," Augliera said.

"But in November we did a family photo session, then the art event for the show; we've done walks on the Grossman Trail," she said. "It's thinking outside the box, for ways to keep them connected. We used to do movies or restaurant outings. It's so important for the community to know about our kids."

More than anything, the art show is another step forward for Augliera looking to the future for her son, and others like him.

"Learn about autism," she said, to those who don't understand it. "My son is different, but he's always amazing. One of the joys about autism is that they are genuine human beings. They're untouched by societal norms. I think they have a level of contentment that we'll never reach, being happy with who they are. They experience pure joy."

To learn more about TAFA, visit www.tafainc.org

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