On the record with ... Dina Frigo

Dina Frigo of Huntley talks with her son, Anthony, 9, Friday inside their home in Huntley. Frigo started a new program with NISRA (Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association) that helps families with special needs children.
Dina Frigo of Huntley talks with her son, Anthony, 9, Friday inside their home in Huntley. Frigo started a new program with NISRA (Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association) that helps families with special needs children.

HUNTLEY – Dina Frigo’s passion for the developmentally disabled has led to the creation of a new program that she hopes will lead to a healthier lifestyle for families affected by autism.

Frigo approached officials from the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association in early December about an idea that would create a social outlet for autistic children, their caregivers and siblings.

Enthusiastic about the premise, NISRA and Frigo quickly developed the 3-in-1 program and will be hosting the first event from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Sage Therapeutic Recreation Center, 285 Memorial Drive, Crystal Lake.

The idea came to Frigo, after almost 10 years of caring for her son, Anthony, 11, who was diagnosed with autism at 21⁄2 years old.

The Huntley mother of three wanted to create an avenue that allowed for families with special needs children to be together, after she has spent years juggling therapy sessions, home and personal life.

The program, which is being supported by NISRA and Options and Advocacy, provides entertainment for the autistic children and their siblings, while parents can socialize during a yoga class.

Frigo is working with NISRA to make the program a monthly event that soon could include more fitness and wellness activities. The deadline to apply is Jan. 25. Registration is $25 a family.

Interested people can contact NISRA’s Maribeth Hutchinson at 815-459-0737.

Frigo sat down with reporter Stephen Di Benedetto to discuss her family’s experience with autism and the upcoming family program.

Di Benedetto: How has your family gone about coping with autism since Anthony was diagnosed?

Frigo: First all, finding out your child has autism is very devastating, very stressful on the marriage. The divorce rates in special-needs family is in the 90th percentile. I’m actually a single mom. It affected our family so much. I pretty much did everything I could. I got him early intervention before he turned 3, when he was diagnosed. He had developmental therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy in the home, and we just did everything very swiftly and as much as possible. ... It’s hands-on with Anthony. He’s got a whole schedule, and he follows that real well. Honestly, he does real well. I see that by what I implement for him, in his schooling, activities and life skills.

Di Benedetto: How have the experiences you’ve gone through with Anthony influence this program you’re developing?

Frigo: Everyone is affected by the autism – the caregiver, the siblings. I thought what a better way to bring forward something positive that we can all do together. Because with the autism or any type of special needs, you’re running back and forth.

You are taking them to therapy. You’re trying to get the other kids involved and meanwhile, in the interim, you are trying to take care of yourself and work and try to take care of a family. I feel it’s so instrumental to take care of yourself, as a caregiver, and what a better way to have everything all in one, where you can bring the siblings, and the special-needs kids are attended to.

Di Benedetto: Is the essential point of this program to get everyone in the same room together?

Frigo: Yes. The siblings can relate because they either have a brother or sister who has special needs. The caregivers definitely. You need some moral support. What a better way to exercise and talk about things and get some stress off of you? You don’t have to go to 10 different places to drop everyone off and pick one up. It’s a nice social outlet.

Di Benedetto: What do you hope families will take from this program?

Frigo: My primary goal is to get Anthony into a posture that would enable him to have a healthy, fruitful and enriched life, as well as the other families and other children who have special needs. I have a lot more in store for the future, some more programs to implement. This is near and dear to my heart.

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