Supermom Shanté Harris-Superville —Putting a FACE to Autism
When life becomes gets tough, Shanté Harris-Superville doesn’t back down — instead she meets it head on.
This self-described cancer survivor, registered nurse in training, respite care provider, wheelchair dance instructor, cooking instructor for adults with ASD, wife, and the proud mother of an eight-year-old boy named Dylan with autism wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ever since Dylan’s diagnosis seven years ago, Harris-Superville said she quickly discovered her family’s journey would require a great amount of support from friends, family, and other autism parents who “get it.” She also came to realize that, as prevalent as autism is, it was still a mystery to many. For several years, Harris-Superville has focused her time finding ways to reach out and serve the autism community. In 2013, she started the nonprofit organization F.A.C.E. (Facing Autism with Children Everywhere).
A little more than a year ago, Harris-Superville opened F.A.C.E.’s Place Respite Care Center, a center which serves children with medically fragile conditions, developmental delays, and physical challenges. The group provides parents and caregivers relief, a little break from the responsibilities of caring for individuals with physical and developmental differences. F.A.C.E.’s Place offers its clientele, who range in age from three to 12 years old, music therapy, dance, arts and crafts, and sensory play. The staff is required to hold an active CNA, LPN, or RN license as well as complete a specialized training program, tailored to the services that F.A.C.E.’s Place provides.
Based in the Washington, DC area, F.A.C.E. currently serves 20 families in the metropolitan area and has featured more than 150 children and adults in their special “What Autism Looks Like” calendars.
Meet Shanté Harris-Superville
What is your mission?
My mission is to continue to increase public awareness on the needs of children with autism and other developmental differences, serve the community by providing services to support children with special needs, and to put a “FACE” to autism by providing a glimpse into the lives of people facing it every day.
Why is it important to you to serve the autism community?
It’s important to me because no one, and I mean no one, can walk this journey alone. Although many families facing autism have a strong support system, there are many aspects of autism that many don’t understand, unless they are truly living it themselves. I wanted to help families connect, share, empower each other, and realize that they are not alone.
What types of projects/events do you hold to support families with children on the spectrum?
I’ve held a couple of fundraising events since F.A.C.E.’s inception. The “Race for F.A.C.E. 5K” was held in April of 2013 and in September of 2013 we partnered with Autism Speaks to hold a karaoke event called “Autism Speaks & Sings Too.” We have a few big events in store for this year, but people will have to visit the website to stay up to date.
What inspired you to open the respite care center known as F.A.C.E.’s Place?
The one common denominator that I found across the autism and special needs community was that caregivers are tired. They spend so much of their time and energy caring for their loved ones, that they rarely have moments to find relief for themselves. F.A.C.E.’s Place allows them to have a small break, once a month, to allow them to restore, rest, shop, visit friends…whatever their hearts’ desire.
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Did you feel like there was a need for this kind of support in the community?
There is a strong need for this kind of support. Many kids on the spectrum that visit F.A.C.E.’s Place are nonverbal or have very limited language, many aren’t toilet trained, are hearing impaired, or require alternative means of feeding. We offer a safe and understanding environment, allowing parents to walk away with no worries, knowing their children will be treated with the utmost compassion and care. It also allows the participants to engage in social interaction.
What has the reaction to F.A.C.E.’s Place been from the parents and the children? How does it make you feel?
We have received such positive feedback. We’ve been running the program for a little over a year and we continue to register new families every month. The kids truly enjoy their time at the center and the parents come back smiling, telling me about their day, and express how excited they are for their next break. I am truly honored to be able to serve these families and I wish I could do more to help.
We understand you put together a calendar, called “What Autism Looks Like.” Please tell us a little about the calendars.
I had the idea to develop this calendar because whenever I would discuss Dylan’s diagnosis with someone, the reaction I almost always got was, “He doesn’t look like he has autism.” I always used that opportunity to educate and let people know that autism is not a physical disability. It’s only upon interaction will you notice specific characteristics.
In 2013 we debuted the calendar, featuring 12 kids with ASD. In 2014 we had the honor of featuring 20 kids along with some phenomenal Redskins and Ravens cheerleaders. This year I decided to try something a little different. We created three calendars; one featuring all girls, one with all boys, and one with adults with ASD. The response has been overwhelming and it brings me joy to be able to showcase these beautiful and handsome individuals, not to mention, the pride the parents feel to have their children in the calendar.
The proceeds go towards F.A.C.E.’s Place and provides financial assistance to families who are interested in having their children participate in the program.
How does knowing you are making a difference in the autism community make you feel?
I am thrilled and overjoyed at the success of F.A.C.E. in such a short timeframe. Families, other organizations, and agencies are spreading the word. The more the word spreads, the more families that can be positively affected. I used to question why I had to have a child with autism…..I think I’ve found the answer.
This article was featured in Issue 32 – Striving for Independence