The University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD) opened its doors in 1993 in South Florida in our community. UM-NSU CARD is dedicated to optimizing the potential of people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), dual sensory impairment, sensory impairments with other disabling conditions, and related disabilities. We currently serve nearly 13,000 families in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties, all at no cost to them. We provide families and our community with resources specific to their needs including: Individualized Client and Family Support, Family and Professional Training, Public Education and Awareness and Community Outreach and Programmatic Consultation and Technical Assistance. UM-NSU CARD is one of seven state-funded, university-based outreach and support centers in Florida.
The overwhelming success of Tropical Nights over the past 18 years has allowed UM-NSU CARD to maintain its services during times of tremendous constituency growth. For this, we are extremely grateful to our supportive community and generous donors. Funds raised at Tropical Nights help support our valuable programs and services, all of which are provided at no direct cost to families. Some of these programs include: Support groups for all family members, employment boot camps, surf and summer camps, social skills activity groups for teens, family mobile clinic operations, community outreach events and so much more!
CARD was there for me soon after I diagnosed with autism, late in life. Since then, they provided supports and guidance, through their programs, like Jobseekers, Job Club and Social GAAIN. They helped me accept - even come to embrace - my diagnosis and meet other adults on the autism spectrum / autistics. They have been with me throughout this journey.
~Jairo, UM-NSU CARD Outstanding Self Advocate Winner
For me, the group was the discovery of an oasis of empathy where I felt understood whatever I shared. It has always been a time machine too where I can see my past and glimpse the future as per other’s experiences and knowledge. In summary, it is a wonderful unique tool for those parents navigating through the uncertainty of ASD.
~Juan Antonio, UM-NSU CARD Just for Dads Group
UM-NSU CARD has helped me and my family since I was a teenager. I am honored to have had the opportunity to volunteer and be recognized for my time and effort assisting at CARD events. I loved the opportunity to give back to this organization. Through the CARD Case Managers, groups, trainings, and events I have learned and grown to be the independent adult I am today. This organization helped me build my supportive community.
~Jose, UM-NSU CARD Outstanding Volunteer Winner
Coming to Mother's Group has helped me connect with other likeminded moms in the same situation as I. I feel fortunate to consider them and you my best friends, my sisters. Being able to contact you all via text, phone, or social media when I am second guessing myself has been lifesaving. I know that even if I move far away, I can count on all of you and you will be in my life for the rest of my days.
You have also been a great source of encouragement, relief, and support in anxious times, also a great resource in finding out about professionals, schools, etc. I love you and my fellow supermoms!
~Vilma, UM-NSU CARD Mother’s Group
As the older sibling, I established that I was born with the job to protect my younger brother. Even before his autism diagnosis, I always watched over him. I stood behind him when he learned to walk, taught him, and acted as his bodyguard. My brother has taught me how to be patient and that everyone can learn, you just need to put in the time to find out the specific method of learning. He has inspired me. I wake up every morning to a career that I absolutely love and put all my effort and passion into.
~Nathalie, UM-NSU CARD Staff and Sibling to an Adult with ASD
When we first began our journey with autism, I felt so lost and confused because I had no idea how to find my way to the therapists, school programs, and other programs/resources that would suit my son best. Not only did I find this guidance in the mother’s group with Sara, but even more valuable was the connection to other moms feeling the same feelings, dealing with the same issues, and being able to cry together or just share stories about our journeys. The friendships I formed in Sara’s support groups are beyond invaluable to me and I thank her, and UM-NSU CARD for that from the bottom of my heart. It is so important to have these kinds of connections! Thank you, Sara, and UM-NSU CARD for this and for ALL you do to support our families!
~Monica, UM-NSU CARD Mother’s Group
In the beginning, there I was at CARD 22 years ago. Soon after Dr. Alessandri formed what is known as the Dad’s group. When the Dad’s group formed, we were a group of 3, a small band of men with a fearless leader Dr. Alessandri explaining how we wound up in Holland, see book named “Welcome to Holland” By Emily Perl Kingsley. Here I am in a strange place with not knowing which direction was the right direction. There were many people telling me which way to go, but soon realized they were as lost as I, and they themselves just arrived in Holland. Deciphering all this information and trying to navigate Holland was time consuming and expensive. When the dad’s group formed headed by Dr Alessandri, it delivered to me the truth and clarity and the understanding it is never too late for the truth, and it’s never too late to get started. We are no longer a small group of dads but a Band of Brothers of many. 22 years ago I did not have what is available today, if you or someone you know are on that plane to Holland and when you land to find out where you are, I would hope that I or one of our Band of Brothers would be at the airport gate telling them there is a great group of dad’s “A Band of Brothers” and a place called the Dad’s Group at CARD where you can find the truth. We spread the word the best we can, but we need help.
~Mitchell, UM-NSU CARD Just for Dads Group
Mothers’ group is a place where I felt safe to vent without judgement where I felt I belonged. Sometimes is so hard to relate to family and friends who does not go through the same things we do as a family and you end up feeling casted out. However, UM-NSU CARD provided a safe space where I could finally share my worries and my hopes. As the saying goes it does take a village to raise a child, thank you for allowing me to find mine.
~Beatriz , UM-NSU CARD Mother’s Group
There is a French movie called "L'Auberge Espagnole" or "The Spanish Apartment" where college students from all over the world gather in Barcelona to study for a year and the author would describe it like this: "You will find there what everybody brings". I feel the same about the dad's group. We are all from different backgrounds and our kids are also all different and at different stages of their lives but we all share a common thing, we try to raise our kids to the best of our abilities for them to be the best they can be in the world they'll live in.
The Dad's group is a moment of exchange. Dads with older kids will tell you about their experiences and their "tips and tricks". Younger dads will come and share about their learning curve as well. It is about schools, about finance, about responsibilities, it is about family life, balance, crisis, exhaustion, joys, achievements, and milestones. It is about sharing with people that can understand and relate.
A French humorist once said: "It is a pleasure to be understood by people that understand things we don't understand". I am a dad of a kid in the spectrum and before going to the dad's group I did not even know the proper words to express myself. Apparently, you say, "in the spectrum" and "neurotypical" not "autistic" and "normal". I learnt about therapies like ABA, Speech, Occupational. I learnt about insurance, grants, and many other things. I also learnt that about 1 in 54 kids in the US is in the spectrum and that they desperately need resources and that the state budget has not increased in years. Worse, I see that people that have dedicated their life to the caring of these kids have to fight to keep these resources available.
One day, I went to the pediatrician with an 18-month-old baby and she told us to check on autism. We went to Cards at UM where it was confirmed. The moment that follows is usually two parents looking at each other saying: "Now what?" but by chance, we have also been given a list of resources that we can use. I saw the Dad's group, it sounded like something cool and I have been part of it ever since. After a few sessions, I realized that some dad's had it figured out and that others were lost, I noticed how good it was for us dads, to be able to share our stories and support each other in a very special environment. I am glad someone one day thought that doing this would be cool and useful and I am truly grateful. I hope this group will continue to grow, so many more dads now and in the future will be able to get the help they need.
Jean-Baptiste Ramet, father of Adrian, a 4-year-old non-verbal kid in the spectrum that is the joy of his family and an awesome older brother.
~JB, UM-NSU CARD Just for Dads Group
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