SUNRISE, Fla. — The tragic death of a boy on the autism spectrum in Miami has prompted the immediate opening of a center for children with special needs in South Florida.
The Jewish Adoption and Family Care Options center are re-opening it's Children's Ability Center, which had been closed due to COVID-19.
The center offers respite services to families in caring for a child with developmental disabilities in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. After school activities, weekend activities, overnight ability, and other in-person resources are back.
What happened to 9-year-old Alejandro Ripley in Miami is weighing on the mind of many in the special needs community.
"After we heard about Alejandro's death, everything changed," said Sarah Franco, Executive Director of JAFCO.
Franco said because of safety concerns, the center like many others had to shut down its respite services which offer relief to parents.
"And so the families that were coming every Saturday, every Sunday for 8 hours and taking that break, they don't have that with us or any of the respite programs to my knowledge," said Franco.
On June 15, JAFCO is opening its summer camp with guidelines and at half capacity. The center was going to wait two weeks to see how summer camp goes before re-launching its respite services, but the case out of Miami where a mother is accused of killing her son on the spectrum changed that.
"The minute we heard about the tragedy we decided that we would open immediately," said Franco.
Development director for 211 and a mom to twins on the autism spectrum, Candi Spitz knows how valuable these services are for parents, especially during a pandemic.
"The first two months have been a challenge. So we have kids who are used to a typical routine, they are very scheduled whether it's school and camp and therapies and programs or kids like mine who are constantly on the go, so we travel every weekend and all of a sudden with no warning this came to a halt," said Spitz.
211's helpline is always available and also has a special needs line. Both Spitz and Franco said the best advice they can give to families with children who have developmental disabilities is, 'do not be ashamed to ask for help.'
"Sometimes we just need to talk. I've been on this road for a very long time, my teens are turning 13-years-old, I work in this field. I still get overwhelmed," said Spitz who tells parents to realize they are not perfect and it's okay to talk about it.