LAGRANGEVILLE, .N.Y. -- For Katelyn Bronzi, whose brother has autism, her only birthday wish was to have a family night out for dinner.
Because of her brother Stevie's autism, the family, which lives in Lagrangeville, had never been able to go to a restaurant before.
"He has impulsive behaviors so going out in public places can be disastrous for us," said Nicole Bronzi, Stevie's mother.
Bronzi, Stevie's mother, had read that Coppola's Restaurant in Hyde Park was part of the Autism Supportive Environment program, which is run by the Anderson Center for Autism where Stevie gets therapy.
Anderson’s ASE program is designed to enable individuals with autism and their families to do the things that many people are able to take for granted such as visiting local establishments, including grocery stores, banks, libraries, museums and more.
Bronzi contacted the restaurant and they accommodated her needs: preferential seating, away from doors, a larger room so Stevie would be able to walk around, and pre-ordered meals to reduce the wait time.
"When we go out, people often look at us like we're the worst people," Bronzi said. "But Coppola's was very happy to help us."
The family, which also includes two other sisters and Bronzi's husband, had a wonderful time.
"It wasn't like we were isolated," Bronzi said. "We had our section. If Stevie needed to get up and walk around, it was okay. It was a really great experience. I was very happy that there was somewhere local that was so compassionate. It was one of those nights you'll never forget."
Bronzi said she appreciated being able to go out to eat and not face looks from people. And most importantly, she said her daughter Katelyn had a wonderful birthday dinner.
"She couldn't stop smiling," Bronzi said. "She was very happy."
Walking into the restaurant was a surreal experience for Bronzi, who said she couldn't remember the last time the family ate out together.
"It might have been when he was a toddler," Bronzi said. "It was honestly strange. It meant so much to be able to have a night out. It's something we don't do. Just going into the grocery store to get a gallon of milk can be a challenge. You go into these nights expecting the worst."
Having a child with severe autism can be a heartbreaking experience, Bronzi said.
"We have siblings who have children and we watch them go on vacation and take all these trips as a family, that's something we can't do," Bronzi said. "There's a lot of acceptance and patience with knowing the person you love so much won't be able to do certain things. It can be every emotional.'
Bronzi said the family is hoping to go out to dinner again, said she hopes people will be less judgmental when they see someone that's different.
"You try not to care what people think, but unfortunately people can be mean," Bronzi said. "If you see someone who is different, maybe ask how you can help them."