STAATSBURG – Sitting cross-legged on the green tile of a foam puzzle mat, 7-year-old Liu Muqi stares entranced by a book in Jayson Pistritto’s hands.
The assistant principal at the Anderson Center for Autism hands Liu the book. An illustration of a monarch butterfly sits above the text on the page.
“You know about butterflies, right?” Pistritto asks as he links his thumbs and flaps his hands, mimicking a butterfly in flight.
A smile of recognition crosses Liu’s face as she follows up with a pantomime of her own.
A group of staff and students with Beijing Golden Wings Arts Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children visited the Anderson Center for Autism Saturday with the goal of bridging the gap between two similar programs from opposite ends of the globe.
The meeting allowed both organizations to learn different methods and ways of serving children and adults with autism and other mental disabilities. And while there were differences in how the organizations worked, shared experiences like a pantomimed butterfly stood out.
And the Anderson Center has a history in working with organizations around the world, helping to develop similar programs.
The Anderson Center’s history is part of why Golden Wings chose to visit the Hudson Valley center, said Zhang Junru, vice president of the organization. Golden Wings was founded in 2010, a short time compared to the Anderson Center’s founding in 1924.
“We came here to set up a connection with the center and understand what medicines they use,” Zhang said via translator. “In China, we have more to learn about autism.”
But this exchange of information flowed both ways, according to Eliza Bozenski, director with the Anderson Foundation.
“We’ve planned a musical performance so that the students have the opportunity to share their art with us,” she said.
Students with Golden Wings enjoyed a day touring the Anderson Center, exploring the classrooms and learning about teaching methods employed at the center.
While unfamiliar features, like interactive whiteboards, excited and intrigued the six students, familiar methods like incentives for good behavior demonstrated similarities between the centers.
This was not the Anderson Center’s first experience in hosting an organization from another country. The center has worked with organizations from more than 19 countries, according to Dr. Sudi Kash, chief clinical officer.
“Sharing and helping is in our DNA for the Anderson Center for Autism,” she said. “People from Europe, Africa and Asia have come here to spend time and learn how we do things and have taken the concepts back to their own country.”
But for the Anderson Center, the meeting also served as validation in its work serving children and adults with autism.
“I think this shows that we are an organization with an impact that expands beyond the Hudson Valley, New York or event the U.S.,” Bozenski said.