Jewish adults celebrate the spookiest holiday of the year next week for good, not evil. Benefitting Marcus Autism Center, Monster Mash: Rock Star Bash is a night of adults-only fun at Wild Heaven Beer in Decatur. Last year, the event raised $30,000.
The founders of Monster Mash are Julie Bunkley, owner and creative director of Invision Events, and host Brittany Schwartzwald. With a different theme each year, the party originated in 2015 with Monster Mash: Wedding Bash. That year attracted colorful costumes including zombie brides and grooms, Brides of Frankenstein and ghoulish wedding guests.
Schwartzwald was inspired to create Monster Mash after her son, Mack, graduated from the Marcus Autism Center preschool program. It is a collaboration of Marcus Autism Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University, operating as a school and a place of research on preschool education.
“We used to do the walk for autism awareness and raise money for the walk, but you can’t control where funds go. We wanted to direct funds toward services for children, not just research,” she said.
At 18 months old, Mack’s speech seemed delayed. His preschool had a psychologist observe him in the classroom and he was identified as problematic. After completing the M-CHAT test, a screening for autism, Mack hit three red flags: he had poor eye contact, he appeared to be potentially deaf and he didn’t respond to his name. Mack could not function as a typical child would in class. Marcus Autism Center confirmed his diagnosis, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).
At age 2, Mack was non-verbal and did not respond to voice commands. He had a hard time being flexible in his schedule and play. Marcus Autism Center integrated therapies into a typical classroom setting and taught students classroom skills like how to walk in a line, wait for a turn and hang up their jackets.
When Mack graduated at age 4, the instructors at the Marcus center helped with his transition to a typical preschool. “At 4, Mack was verbal, but recently verbal. That summer he learned to read and swim. He was able to synthesize things he knew but couldn’t express, and it was a newfound freedom. His tantrums stopped. He was processing the world closer to a typical child, plus he could use verbal expression,” Schwartzwald said.
“Anyone who follows me on Facebook might not recognize the transformative experience. Mack was not typical when we entered Marcus, but today he is quite typical – even extraordinary. He doesn’t experience challenges anymore. He’s social like everyone else. To meet him today you would have no idea there was a time when he was socially challenged.”
Marcus was a nest, she said. “If you meet Mack now you’ll see a kid who likes chess, swim team, run club, birthday parties, books and video games. He’s curious and memorable. Meet a million kids and you’re not going to forget Mack.”
Why Halloween? “I like merrymaking. It’s fun to have fun and you have to know how,” she said.
For tickets to Monster Mash 2018, visit www.monstermashatl.com.
Trick-or-Treat for a Cure
Emily’s Trick-or-Treat for a Cure is back for the second annual Halloween celebration. On Saturday, Oct. 20 from 3 to 5 p.m. children and adults in costume will celebrate the life of Emily Moore, who died at age 35 after losing a battle with cancer. Proceeds benefit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. For tickets, visit www.emilyshalloweenparty.com.