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Jorge Santeiro Featured in Tampa Tribune

March 6, 2013

Jorge Santeiro, Jr., of our Tampa office, co-founded Lawyers Autism Awareness Foundation (LAAF) in 2011. Last December, LAAF held its second annual Sensory Friendly Santa Event. Many children on the Autism Spectrum suffer from Sensory Processing Disorders, which makes it difficult for them to enjoy a visit with Santa during the holidays. The event, once again, allowed children and their families to experience Santa, many for the first time, in an environment free from distractions that cause them anxiety.

Thanks to the support of the Tampa legal and business community, LAAF has raised thousands of dollars to fund events like Sensory Friendly Santa and need-based scholarships for kids in need of therapy.

Below is an excerpt of an article and photo published in the Tampa Tribune regarding the LAAF.

A photo op with Santa, as innocent as it sounds, can be an intimidating experience for any child, a child with autism, it can be downright miserable.

Endless lines. A fat bearded guy in a red suit booming out "Ho, ho, ho!" And all the ambient noise of a crowded mall going on in the background.

"When your child starts screaming or flapping his arms and everyone is staring at you, suddenly the Santa picture isn't so important anymore," says Tampa attorney Jorge Santeiro. "You take it for granted that your child can enjoy the holidays, but that isn't always the case."

So Santeiro and fellow lawyer Luis Viero, co-founders of the nonprofit Lawyers Autism Awareness Foundation (LAAF), came up with an alternative to put a little joy back into the hectic holidays: the Sensory Friendly Santa event.

Both men are parents of children who have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. And both understand that the condition, depending on the severity, can cause extreme reactions or odd behavior at inopportune times. It's common for children with autism to be ultra-sensitive to light, touch or sounds. Unfamiliar situations can cause severe anxiety or stress.

"We know what to expect. But unless you've lived with it, it can put some people off," says Sandy Santeiro, Jorge's wife. Their son, 14-year-old William, has Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder considered to be on the "high functioning" end of the spectrum. It affects his manual dexterity and requires an individual educational plan at Tampa Charter School.

"When you're around people who care and understand, it can make all the difference in the world," she says.

By MICHELLE BEARDEN | The Tampa Tribune | Published: December 02, 2012
Excerpt reprinted with permission of the Tampa Tribune

The full article can be viewed online at: http://www2.tbo.com/lifestyles/holidays/2012/dec/02/volunteers-give-sensory-friendly-santa-to-kids-wit-ar-578754/

For more information about LAAF or to learn how you can help, visit: http://thelaaf.org/

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