Spark Sundays are special for children and their parents.
“To be in an environment with kids like him where I don’t have to hover over him and say oh he’s this, oh he’s that, sorry for that, it’s been wonderful to give him a little breathing room while playing,” said Cristina Easton.
They gather at We Rock the Spectrum gym. It’s a safe place for kids of all ages and abilities.
Kids like 3-year-old Ellis who’s on the autism spectrum.
It’s also an opportunity for their parents to network with other families.
“Ellis is notoriously famous for singing wheels on the bus, they go round and round, and it was comforting to hear another gentleman say his son did that for 2 years because it seems like he’s been singing it for a year straight,” said Marc Easton, Ellis’ father
Marc and Cristina Easton’s son was diagnosed at 20 months. It happened during the pandemic. Ellis wasn’t talking. As a former special education teacher, Cristina knew something wasn’t right.
“For me when I got the autism diagnosis, I was like this is great. I now understand,’ said Cristina.
The Easton’s also understand their journey as African American parents living with a child who has autism may be different. They’re part of a national study being conducted called SPARK for autism.
Kennedy Krieger is serving as a platform connecting local families to the study. The goal is to make the study as diverse as possible by reaching families of color.
“We got a grant to really engage African American communities to raise awareness about the study. To raise awareness about the benefits of being involved in the study which is finding out an answer for maybe why your child has autism,” said Eva Queen, an EDI Coordinator for Kennedy Krieger.
The Easton’s shared Ellis’ medical background and their DNA for the research.
“Sometimes it breaks my heart to think that people are sitting on the sidelines and not able to either, while can advocate for themselves or people attempt to advocate for them and just can’t be heard or can’t though,” said Marc.
“He’s tall and he’s going to be like his dad, a tall black man with a presence in a world where that is not always safe, and with his autism, the more the general community can understand what autism is and what it isn’t, the safer and the happier and the more belonging that our son will be,” said Cristina.
One day Ellis will be an adult like Randi Delone’s son. She’s the owner of We Rock the Spectrum. She opened her gym to give these special kids a space of their own.
“25 years ago there was very slim pickings of places you could go to get your child involved in to have a quality of life. We moved from LA to MD in search of those things so he has a quality of life. The autism we couldn’t change but he deserved a quality of life,” Delone said.
And that’s exactly what the Easton’s are hoping for, for Ellis.
The SPARK study is the largest autism research community. It’s simple and free to join.
If you’d like to learn more about the SPARK study, click here.