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Operation Holiday: ‘He’s my bud,’ says single father of son with autism

Life hasn’t been easy for Carl since his son, Rock, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disability that causes differences in the brain.

A single father, Carl, 42, has had primary custody of Rock, 10, almost since day one.

“My life is taking care of my guy,” said Carl, whose name and that of his son have been changed to protect their privacy.

It’s a full-time job.

When not advocating for his son’s education, health care and other services, Carl is kept busy planning activities for Rock, playing with the boy and watching to ensure he does not harm himself or others.

Because of his disability, Rock can be easily overwhelmed by outside stimuli and suffer sensory overload. He sometimes gets frustrated, throws temper tantrums and acts out aggressively. His behavior can be disruptive at school and in other public settings.

For these and other reasons, Carl is reluctant to let anyone else watch his son.

To care for Rock, the former professional musician gave up singing and touring with a rock band and took a day job in a local warehouse. But the boy’s morning meltdowns, frequent appointments and other needs often made Carl late for work and caused him to miss too many days, and the company had to let him go.

It’s been tough, he said, but it’s a blessing in disguise.

Carl used the added free time to find an outside therapist and a new school — one specifically for autistic children — for Rock. He also has more time to play with his son.

“He’s my bud,” Carl said. “Despite his special needs, I want him to have the kind of fun experiences I had as a boy.”

The father and son began swimming and bicycle riding together. They also enjoy making music together, recording their efforts on video and making their own slime from glue mixed with other products.

Rock especially likes hearing the bell tones he produces by striking the keys of a xylophone-like instrument with a wooden mallet and has become an expert at slime making.

The focused education, therapy, attention and play have paid off.

The boy, who was previously nonverbal and lost in his own world, gained self-control and has begun to talk and interact with others.

But the first full sentence he said, “I want a friend,” almost broke Carl’s heart.

For now, Carl must be both friend and father to his son.

Despite the loneliness Rock sometimes feels, Carl said, “He’s a pretty happy kid.”

Instead of the former meltdowns and tantrums when the pair goes out in public, Rock now skips around, claps his hands and laughs.

But Rock’s progress comes at a cost. The family struggles financially, and there is not much leftover for the holidays.

That’s where Operation Holiday can help.

A local health care provider referred Carl to the fund that provides food and gifts for the holiday season.

Operation Holiday

Operation Holiday was started in 1991 at The Mercury in Pottstown to help families going through tough times provide something for their children during the holidays. The mission of the program is to make sure there is food on the table and gifts under the tree when Christmas morning comes.

Now in its 32nd year, the program has served thousands of families throughout Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties, expanding its reach in recent years to include communities served by Reading Eagle, The Times Herald, The Reporter, and Daily Local News.

More than $122,000 in donations last year provided food and gifts for 379 children and cash donations to 13 food pantries in Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties.

This year, Operation Holiday has partnered with 22 agencies in the tri-county area. Agencies have referred 144 families with 375 children for gifts and food and an additional 34 families for food.  The program is also assisting the eight families in Pottstown who lost their homes in a devastating explosion in May.

There is no overhead with Operation Holiday and all funds stay local. Funds are collected and audited in a non-profit foundation account managed by staff of MediaNews Group who volunteer their time.

Gift cards to area grocery stores are provided to each family for food, so that they can purchase the fixings for a holiday dinner as well as staples for the pantry. Weis Markets is a partner with Operation Holiday and has assisted with food purchases and gift cards.

Gift cards for every child in the program 16 years of age or younger are purchased through Boscov’s and distributed in partnership with the referring agencies so that families can purchase gifts of their choice.

Operation Holiday does not accept families who have not been referred by an agency.

Operation Holiday is funded solely by reader contributions. All contributions are tax deductible.

How to donate

Online donations are being accepted in a secure portal in partnership with TriCounty Community Network. Visit and click on the link for Operation Holiday.

Contributions can be mailed with checks payable to Operation Holiday to PO Box 1181, Pottstown PA 19464; The Reporter, 307 Derstine Ave., Lansdale PA 19446; Operation Holiday, 1440 Lacrosse Ave., Reading, PA 19607.

The names of all contributors are published in the participating newspapers as donations are received.  Please note whether a contribution should be designated as anonymous or given in tribute or in memory of someone.

Source: Berkshire mont

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