Education

Teen on autism spectrum discovers her artistic talents through music, art and teachers

Maridith Imbasala Castro, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, made this mixed media crest with her occupational therapist and art teacher at Crystal Academy. The artwork hangs in the office of City of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez. From left, Mary Palacio-Pike, founder of Crystal Academy; Jill Flores-Belardi, occupational therapist and art teacher; City of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez; and Maridith Imbasala Castro.
Maridith Imbasala Castro, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, made this mixed media crest with her occupational therapist and art teacher at Crystal Academy. The artwork hangs in the office of City of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez. From left, Mary Palacio-Pike, founder of Crystal Academy; Jill Flores-Belardi, occupational therapist and art teacher; City of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez; and Maridith Imbasala Castro.

Maridith Imbasala Castro is a teenager filled with talent.

Her mother said she sings, plays piano and ukulele, and has been onstage in a local production of “The Little Mermaid.” Her art has been shown in a Coral Gables yoga studio.

“Maridith is an extraordinary, full-of-energy-and-talent, 17-year-old,” said mom Judith Imbasala Castro.

One of her recent creations, made with help from Jill Flores-Belardi, Occupational Therapist and Art Teacher at Crystal Academy, hangs in the office of City of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez at his request. “Since she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it became my mission to find all available options, medical and social, to help Maridith improve her condition and become as much a mainstream member of society as possible.”

Painting and outings that open up a love for nature and the outdoors have always been an important part of her daughter’s upbringing. Maridith, whom her mom calls “Kiki,” attends Crystal Academy in Coral Gables as well as Whole Steps Creative Arts Center. Her mother teaches her photography and art, and takes her to Peace Love Art Yoga Studio to display her creations.

“I call her Kiki because when she was a baby one of the first things she said was ‘Kiki.’ I replied, ‘No, I’m Mommy. You’re Kiki.’ And that’s how she got it,” Castro said. “She was born 11-22-01, the only baby born on Thanksgiving Day at Mercy Hospital.”

Maridith has always had a love for music and art, Castro said. “Her artwork, as coded as she makes it, notebooks after notebooks with what seems like scribble, actually represent people and places she admires, and she can pinpoint and call out the name from thousands of drawings,” Castro said. “Her most beautiful production and contribution to the City of Miami was a large crest made with different forms of art, and requested by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez to display in his office. Surely an honor like this validates all the hours, tears and relentless efforts any parent can dream of.”

Castro said the opportunities and resources for those with ASD are out there to be accessed.

“Maridith was just in a one-week camp sponsored by Miami-Dade where kids on the spectrum were exposed to computer animation and music production. It was taught by a successful young lady on the spectrum as well,” Castro said.

“Paloma Dueñas is her music therapist who has closely worked with us. She has been working with Kiki over five years. She has integrated tuning forks. And she’s taught her piano and ukulele as well as voice.”

Judith Castro said she wants her child’s story to inspire others.

“I want to share the message of hope and spread it to our community and anyone dealing with any special developmental issues. We hope they know there are resources, and that all individuals facing challenges also have an opportunity in our society, and can actually surprise us all.”

Castro said Kiki is the inspiration behind a nonprofit she is starting that will facilitate exposure to the arts, music, photography, and dance for individuals on the autism spectrum.

“As parents we must keep searching for new opportunities to show the very special gifts our children have and their valuable contribution to our Community,” said Mary Palacio-Pike, founder of Crystal Academy.

Castro’s planned nonprofit will be “a happy place full of happy vibes,” she said. “That’s what I’m working to establish. We’re still some ways from it happening, but it’s sure looking promising.

“Maridith is such a hard worker and has such a beautiful soul. I know she can inspire others on the spectrum to at least try some of the activities we do,” Castro said. “I am most grateful for her work.”

Athletic equipment needed

For 16 years, the volunteers in Patriot Outreach have collected athletic supplies for the impoverished children in the Higuey and Punta Cana areas of the Dominican Republic.

The drive is now underway, and everyone who wants to help can donate gently used sports equipment, clothing and sneakers. Everything will be sorted, boxed, and shipped for distribution to young athletes who need it most.

Bllake Miller, an incoming senior at the University of Miami, has chaired the Patriot Outreach drive for the past seven years and coordinates the donation drive in Miami-Dade County. Miller is working on his business-economics degree.

“The recycled equipment and clothing give the Dominican Republic youth an opportunity to participate in athletics, just as boys and girls do here in South Florida,” Miller said. “Patriot Outreach members have been conducting the annual drive for 16 consecutive years, three times a year, and the organization has collected more than 150,000 pieces of sports equipment, uniforms, shoes and related gear.”

The drive is running through Aug. 15. Bring your donations to the front of the park office at Suniland Park, 12855 S. Dixie Hwy., from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, contact Miller at bmiller1024@gmail.com.

Astros host free Saturn watch

The Southern Cross Astros will arrange hi-tech telescopes for the public to view Saturn, Jupiter and its moons, and some favorite constellations, 8-10:30 p.m., July 19 at the Fruit & Spice Park, 24801 SW 187th Ave, Homestead.

Saturn encircled by its rings will be brightest and closest to Earth during July, at 740 million miles away. The park’s dark outback will make viewing the night sky a special experience. Look for the Big Dipper in the north, Jupiter near Scorpius in the south, and bright Vega, our second-most important star, in the constellation Lyra.

This is a free family event. Call 305-247-5727 for directions and planned activities. Or call 305-661-1375 for hotline information. Learn more about the Southern Cross Astros at www.scas.org.

If you have news for this column, please send it to CHRISTINAMMAYO@GMAIL.COM.

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