Dr. Neophytos (Neo) Papaneophytou is a Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York (CUNY) and several other institutions, a renowned clinical psychologist who maintains a clinical practice in New York and in New Jersey and is the Founder and President of the nonprofit organization Magic Always Happens, which envisions a world with full services offered to all people on the autism spectrum. He recently spoke with The National Herald about his endeavors and his upcoming book presentation Autism 360 Degrees, at the St George Church in Piscataway, NJ.
The National Herald: What inspired you to be a child psychologist and how are you able to cope up with so many activities at the same time?
NP: Agape for our fellow human being is an integral part of our existence on this planet. Children are, by definition, a very vulnerable segment of our population. At the same time they can master tremendous levels of learning and exhibit internalized resilience. Plus, with children, there is always more hope! They can learn and process, adjust, adapt and adopt new lifestyles through healthy means of psychotherapy or other therapy. Most importantly, they have a whole lifetime to do this!
Certain developmental experiences we go through in life shape our destiny and choices, both on a personal and a professional level. Coming from a family with a long history of pro-social activity with the ‘religious element’ embedded in it, giving and helping our fellow humans, must have made a difference in my life and personal development. Mind you, ‘spirituality’ is what I find to be the key element in one’s personal path of development, not necessarily ‘religion’ per se.
As Erik Erikson discusses in what he calls the Generativity vs. Stagnation stage of cultural development, most socially educated humans do wish to leave something behind for the generations to come – once they reach a certain age. This, mind you, is a healthy element of human nature. Kohut would have described this behavior as an element of our “healthy narcissistic side.”
TNH: In 2015 you formed the non-profit organization for autism, Magic Always Happens, which is solely composed of volunteer experts from some of the world’s most prestigious research institutions and universities. What was the initial motivation for creating it?
NP: The motivation for creating our first non-profit organization, Magic Always Happens, Inc., in New Jersey was the same as with the motivation to create of our second non-profit organization, Magic Always Happens Cyprus, in Cyprus. Having completed my postdoctoral studies, and having followed up with my 2-year long (additional) specialization training at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, in Infant Parent Mental Health, I felt ready to embark on a fruitful journey with colleagues and friends that would bring positive change in our World. A journey that would enable all of the luminary experts I met at Harvard, and other universities and research institutions around the World, who truly wished to help us contribute in the field of autism, in particular. These experts include people who have devised the latest best practices in diverse scientific fields such as psychotherapy, occupational therapy, architecture, biochemistry, psychiatry, education, nutrition, physical education, molecular biology, etc.
TNH: On October 27 you will be presenting the book Autism 360 Degrees at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Piscataway under the auspices of the Consul General of the Republic of Cyprus in New York, Alexis Phedonos-Vadet. Can you give us more details about it?
NP: Our book Autism 360 Degrees constitutes the epitome of our research and overall work on best practices – to date! This book literally contains the works of many of the luminary experts we have with us (Think Tank) who practice, conduct research, publish, and guide all research and other centers around the world as to the way forward in their respective fields of expertise/therapies. What is truly unique in reference to this book is that, based on our thesis and worldview, a ‘360’ approach is established when looking at autism – when experiencing the world through an autistic person’s mind, and while applying the latest best practices available to us.
This book is a real breakthrough as scientists around the globe may now begin to understand that nutrition, architecture, sound-proofing, light-monitoring, and gardening, for example, are as important as other elements needed for treatment such as psychotherapy, occupational, speech or other therapies. We have managed to show the need, the effectiveness and the necessity of having all experts come from all fields of education, medicine, research, etc. together. The autistic person and their family remain in the center of our efforts. The creation of our (model) International Center for Excellence – as we have been proposing since 2013 to UMASS/Boston and to the Yale Child Study Center (both for NY and Cyprus) is in our crosshairs! All of our efforts are also geared toward this achievement.
The event taking place on October 27 in Piscataway, NJ is significant. It is the first presentation of this extremely important book following its publication. In a way, we had to present our first ‘Autism360’ book in New Jersey as this State is the ‘birthplace’ of our non-profit. It was also important to welcome colleagues, friends, and the public in a venue that is appropriate in the metaphorical sense as well. Caring, consideration and love toward our fellow human beings is emphasized in every religion, let alone the Greek Orthodox religion.
The fact that H.E. the Consul General of the Republic of Cyprus in New York took this event under his wing in the most formal fashion speaks volumes. In a way, this is a follow-up event to the first event we had organized at the Consulate in New York in 2015 (though at that time we had not been formed as a formal non-profit organization). During that event we had the great fortune of having the former minister of health, Dr. Philipos Patsalis, with us. He, as well as three luminary experts, addressed the attendees. At the time, we also had the honor of having the support of the late TB Brazelton, MD, Emeritus Harvard Professor of Pediatrics for our efforts. Berry, sadly, passed away at the age of 99 last year.
There had been many formal events that took place along the years. On this particular occasion we remain grateful and thankful to Consul General Phedonos-Vadet, for placing this event under his auspices. We are also thankful to AHEPA Monroe Chapter 75 for sponsoring and supporting this event. We anticipate people will honor us with their presence as they have the chance to meet with the editors, and some of the contributing authors; a brief reception will follow. This event welcomes all and there is free admission!
TNH: Please tell us about the 4th annual International Conference on Autism Treatment and Research that you are organizing in Cyprus in November.
NP: Our 4th Annual Cyprus International Conference on Autism (Education, Therapy) Treatment and Research will be taking place in Limassol (Venue: Curium Palace Hotel) November 16-17, 2019. Everyone may obtain further details including registration through the conference-specific website: www.Autism360CY.com
During our fourth international conference we will be hosting a few luminary experts who will present their work, research and applied best practices. Parents, people on the spectrum, therapists, doctors, teachers, nurses, colleagues, friends, and the general public will benefit from attending. Information is always presented in the most understandable way in order for anyone to be able to understand, process, contribute and convey – hopefully to generalize the transfer of knowledge earned.
We must emphasize the fact that these international authorities on autism who attend our conferences are traveling to join us without any honorarium offered. They are also interested to meet with families and autistic people in consultation, at no cost to the people on the spectrum! This has been an ongoing concern and a primary goal for our non-profit – to offer the opportunity to people to meet with the experts coming from around the world in consultation – at no cost to the family or the autistic individual. We hope to see many friends and participants take advantage of this kind offer on the part of our luminary experts!
TNH: What else are you currently working on?
NP: We are already working on our next publication and we expect that the year 2020 will render another book of extreme scientific substance. Many authors, researchers, doctors and other experts have already committed to this new publication. We invite others to join us of course, and as always, we remain open to any potential future collaboration. People may reach us via email at neo@MagicAlwaysHappens or cell +646-439-0714 (USA) and +99 739 847 (CY). Our two websites include a lot of information and they remain a great source to many: www.MagicAlwaysHappens.org & www.Autism360CY.com