“It’s important that other parents also realize their relationship with each other is vital to loving and supporting their child’s success. I’m grateful that my husband and I now have the skills to stay on the same side to support each other and our son. I look forward to helping others have the same opportunities.”
Dan Marino Foundation
by Seth Eisenberg
When legendary NFL quarterback Dan Marino and his wife, Claire, discovered their son, Michael, had autism, they wanted to do everything possible to give him the best chance of fulfilling his potential. Beyond pursuing the best treatment and therapies available for their son, Claire and Dan Marino made a commitment to help other children with special needs. In 1992, less than a year after their son’s diagnosis, the couple established The Dan Marino Foundation to “open doors” towards independence for children with special needs, teenagers transitioning from foster care, and young adults with disabilities.
Eighteen years later, The Dan Marino Center in Weston, Florida provides care for thousands of South Florida children. The Center is operated by Miami Children’s Hospital (MCH), delivering a full array of services to children with special needs under one roof. Health professionals and others from around the world regularly visit the MCH Dan Marino Center to learn best practices in the diagnosis, treatment and support of children with autism and other special needs.
At 21, Michael Marino is a stunning example of the potential young people have to pursue ambitious dreams despite an early diagnosis of autism. The commitment of his parents, combined with comprehensive services delivered by the team of empathic professionals at The Dan Marino Center, provided the foundation that helped Michael thrive.
When Carol Nigro’s son, Matthew, was diagnosed with autism, she and her husband, Albert, immediately began doing everything possible to help him have the same opportunities that made the difference for Michael Marino and many others served through The Dan Marino Center. After eight years, Matthew recently completed comprehensive services at the Weston center and is thriving in his own right.
Carol began working with the MCH Dan Marino Center to help other parents navigate the significant physical and emotional challenges connected to providing a foundation for their children to succeed.
“Parents of children with special needs face unique challenges,” Carol said during a recent visit together at the MCH Dan Marino Center. She talked about the difference her participation in the PAIRS Essentials relationship and marriage education class led by Lauren DelGandio at the Sheinberg YMCA in Weston made for her, her husband, and their now 12-year-old son.
“Helping them [parents of children with special needs] strengthen their marriages is vital for the couples and their children,” she said. “Many couples find it difficult talking about what an autism diagnosis means for their child and their own lives. Sometimes that means grieving dreams that have to be surrendered to make room for new ones.”
Carol spoke about the conversations that became safe for her and her husband to have together as a result of their experience in the nine-hour PAIRS program, conversations they’d put off for many of the years they’d been doing everything possible to meet Matthew’s needs.
“Every child has gifts to share,” Carol said. “PAIRS helped us have conversations about our son that we’d put off for years. We became closer and better able to work together for Matthew.”
As a result of her experience, Carol is today working to bring PAIRS classes to other parents of children with special needs.
“It’s important that other parents also realize their relationship with each other is vital to loving and supporting their child’s success. I’m grateful that my husband and I now have the skills to stay on the same side to support each other and our son. I look forward to helping others have the same opportunities,” she said.
Seth Eisenberg is President of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.
Walk About Autism, January 29, 2011
The Marino Family’s Fight Against Autism
Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide