Growth & Learning of the Autism Spectrum

 “Everyone is wired a little differently, and that is ok.”

Tara Anne Pleat and her son Drew
Tara and her son Drew

Community Driven

Tara Anne Pleat, a local attorney, has given so much of her heart and self in the Saratoga County Region, a place that she has called home for over 30 years.

Her firm, Wilcenski & Pleat PLLC, is a law firm which concentrates its practice in the areas of special needs estate planning, special needs trust administration, traditional trust and estate administration, long term care planning and elder law.  The firm helps clients navigate issues impacting individuals with disabilities of all ages and across the disability spectrum.

In addition to her practice, Tara serves on the Board of the Wesley Foundation, the Wesley Community as well as a Member of the Wildwood Planned Giving Committee. She is also a Member of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. In the recent past Tara served for 6 years on the Leadership Saratoga Advisory Board and on the Board of Directors of Wellspring (formerly known as DVRC). Most poignantly for our agency, Tara has been a Board Member at AIM Services since 2014.  Although she was always aware of AIM, as several of her clients received support from our agency, it wasn’t until she gave a presentation on Special Needs Planning at the Gideon Putnam in Saratoga Springs, that she met Chris Lyons, now Executive Director at AIM Services, and was asked to consider joining our Board of Directors.

Tara shares that her firm does its best to support agencies who serve the disability community, and it is important to her to be on a board that serves individuals with disabilities and their families. Her focus is also on her own professional growth in understanding the development and mechanics of human services agencies and how dependent upon Medicaid dollars they are. Tara also wants to help others understand the importance of private giving. She highlights the misunderstanding that many people have that Medicaid dollars are paying for everything. Her mission and message is that AIM and other agencies are doing everything they can to support the individuals they serve, and year after year they are asked to do more with less; to sustain a high level of care and service, private dollars are needed to supplement what the system provides.

A Personal Connection

Of all the reasons that brought Tara to her membership on AIM Services’ Board of Directors, it was the culture and people that drew her in. She believes in and deeply respects June MacClelland, Senior Director of AIM Services, and recognizes that each day June “Walks the Walk”. June has adopted two children with Down Syndrome, one of whom is also on the Autism Spectrum and lives in a group home in Gloversville. In the same vein, she acknowledges our Executive Director, Christopher Lyons, as a “Big Picture Thinker” concerned with what is best for AIM Consumers. She goes on to state that the leaders at AIM possess a genuine altruism; they are concerned with the well-being and independence of the people they serve.

Tara is one well equipped to gauge the success of an agency supporting people of diverse abilities. In 2007, at the age of 4, her son was diagnosed with Asperger’s and ADHD. This experience changed not only her mindset but her professional focus. She shifted from a traditional trusts and estates practice to one that encompassed working with individuals with disabilities and their families. While no two family’s experiences will be identical, there are shared concerns. Tara feels that understanding those concerns as a mother makes her a better lawyer. Tara talks admirably of her son. She shares how he is teaching himself how to adapt to his wiring and how hard he is working at his school work and at honing his technical skills of movie making and editing, something her family never envisioned he would do without constant redirection and support. This is part of the reason Tara supports agencies who promote community inclusion and development. According to Tara, as it is with AIM, we truly never know the depth of someone’s potential. What we must do is continue to expose people to opportunities to express and develop themselves; to discover their Power of Potential.

Transformation

When asked what Tara enjoys to do with her son Drew, now 15, she laughs as she shares how she has encouraged her son to enjoy hiking with her. Drew and his dad, Andy, also enjoy biking together. That said, if it were up to Drew, he would be reviewing movies or spending hours itemizing his Godzilla collection and discussing it with anyone who would listen. He is also very tech savvy and makes wonderful Stop Motion Movies. He also adores his younger sister, Sophia, who is 14. A transformative moment for Drew, Tara explains, was his attendance at last years’ G-Fest, an annual festival devoted to all things Godzilla, which takes place in Chicago. Upon arrival, Tara watched her son become an extrovert. Usually an introverted young man, she witnessed him quadruple his network of friends, finally in a place where so many others spoke his language. This event helped him realize that there a lot of people like him. The impact of G-Fest was truly transformational for Drew. In reflecting on the impact of G-Fest on Drew’s life, Tara exclaimed this will in our budget forever!

Drew with friends at G-Fest
Drew with friends at G-Fest

Drew speaks of G-Fest with excitement. It’s amazing! I like getting to meet new people. It’s like Comic Con, but better! Drew stays connected through Instagram with all the friends he has made from the festival. He talks about the costume contest at the end of the festival and that his favorite part is the Dealer Room where he gets to buy action figures. Drew also speaks of his Stop Motion Movies that he has been making since 2014.

For Drew’s full YouTube Channel, Click Here.

He spends hours on making these fun creations. When asked about school and the subjects he enjoys, his honest, yet hilarious, response is whichever one I am getting the best grades in. As a movie lover, he does like finishing a book in his English Class and being able to watch the movie afterward.

Drew’s transformative experience at G-Fest is what AIM Services hopes each day for the people we support. Often families are limited in their resources to expose their loved ones to experiences that may transform their lives. When families are unable, AIM steps in to ensure these valuable moments occur. Having lived it, Tara is a unique addition to our Board; she understands the mission of our agency. Tara is by our side, urging new and innovative ways for people to support AIM so that we can help others live through experience.

Tara and her son Drew at G-Fest
Tara and her son Drew at G-Fest

A Call for Awareness

Tara stresses the importance for Autism Awareness, especially in April, which is Autism Awareness Month. She points out the need of our community to have a general understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Everyone is wired a little differently; and that is ok. We need to help people understand that this is ok. The world would be a better place if people would stop and learn. We can’t visualize autism and so people are quick with judgements and commentary.

 

With this, Tara makes two inspiring references. She asks us to imagine a child having a difficult time in a grocery store. Many people will react negatively and pass judgement upon the parent. Yet, truthfully, you have no idea what is going on in their life. The parent might be doing exactly the right thing and everything they can.

Tara also references a recent news spotlight involving a mother and child being jeered out of a Broadway Show when the son, who has autism, vocally reacted to a physically intense scene that frightened him. An actor in the show was deeply affected by the disappointing and unacceptable crowd response, prompting a public letter from him. The full letter can be found here.

In this day and age, it truly is disheartening that our community members could be so negative and ostracizing. The general public need to do what schools are doing, says Tara. There is so much less bullying of children with disabilities in schools. Yet we go into the public sphere and there is such a void in understanding and distancing of ourselves and the people that are the fabric of our communities. Tara, it is certainly true that the world would be so much better if people would stop and learn. With you by our side, we will forge forward and help create the community inclusion and awareness that is in such demand. Thank you, Tara, for all you have done and continue to do for our community.

To learn more about getting involved with AIM, Click Here.

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