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 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.
TNH: What inspired you to be a child psychologist and how are you able to cope up with many activities at the same time?
NP: Understanding the so-called Human condition, and being able to help people help themselves, were critical factors in my educational and professional decisionmaking processes. Throughout my career I was fortunate to have some of the best psychologists as mentors.
Through my clinical training I worked with children, adolescents, and adults in some of the world’s best hospitals such as Bellevue/ NYU, St. Luke’s Roosevelt, Hackensack University Medical Center, etc. Learning and applying the latest therapeutic techniques is critical, particularly when it comes to issues of abuse and neglect (forensics). Seeing clients make significant progress with their life issues is inspirational; this is particularly true with children as they are more able to adjust and overcome their issues early on in life.
Bridging adult and child issues was easier to achieve subsequent to the completion of a post-graduate program in Infant-Parent Mental Health at the University of Massachusetts/Boston. I do work with children and adults, as well as with couples and families. Human needs and wants are not all that different. As to the element of time, we all have time; maximizing time is the issue.
TNH: Please tell us more about Magic Always Happens.
NP: It was formed in 2015 and it is solely composed of volunteer subject matter experts. We collaborate closely with luminary experts from some of the world’s most prestigious research institutions and universities.
In our few months of existence we managed to successfully complete a number of formal events in New York City, and overseas. Our goals and mission include taking increased action toward the elimination of the symptoms of autism, increasing research, education, and the application of best practices.
We envision a world where people on the autism spectrum will enjoy full services, receive appropriate therapy, and live an honorable life while enjoying an improved quality of life. Vocational, educational, and quality of life issues are germane to many adults with autism, and vital to their families.
The grave question most parents ask is “what will happen to my child once I am gone?” Our nonprofit organization offered a panel discussion at the House of Cyprus, that country’s embassy in Athens, last June.
The expert panel consisted of a local child psychiatrist, a local child psychologist, and me. Many parents and educators in attendance benefited from the presentation and discussion that ensued.
Our first International Symposium for Children, entitled “Autism: Actions Not Words” took place in New York City this past October. Parallel to the above, a team of marathoners successfully completed the 2016 Athens Classic Marathon wearing our colors, in support of “People & Autism” with an ultra-marathoner having recently completed the Dolihos-Olympia, 255 kilometers race sponsored by us.
TNH: What was the inspiration for the title of your latest children’s book, Strong as a Lion, Big as a Tree, and what message would you want children to get from reading your books?
NP: Three children’s books have been published by us so far, with all proceeds going toward our organization.
The first book, Magic Always Happens: My Daddy Loves me! aims at enhancing the father-son relationship through daily life (seemingly mundane) events. The second, Fluffadelia, aims to increase socialization, communication, friendship, and acceptance, and to enhance interpersonal skills.
Strong as a Lion, Big as a Tree encapsulates many day-to-day dreams and events, aspirations, behaviors, and memories of children while enhancing self-esteem, instilling values pertinent to healthy social engagement and play, love for nature, animals and friends, respect, kindness, and love.
The metaphor of the lion allows any child to identify with strength, and feel powerful and respected, while the metaphor of the tree reflects on a strong, healthy, and long family history that enables prosperity and shared meaning to take place.
All books are psychologically minded and developmentally based; they are essentially wonderful bed-time stories. These stories allow the child to rid of any internal anxiety or fears, and relax while identifying with real life or fictional characters of strength, bringing them to sleep while feeling loved, accepted, and cared for. All books are available internationally via Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and other vendors.
TNH: Please tell us about the first annual International Conference on Autism Treatment and Research, that you are organizing in Cyprus in November.
NP: This conference allows for luminary experts from all around the world to present their latest applied research and therapeutic models. At the same time, it allows local parents, professionals, and educators to benefit. This is the first time a conference of this type is being held anywhere.
With people and autism and their families as its central focus, the conference will welcome expert speakers from the fields of psychology, law, genetics, architecture, technology, health sciences, dance, speech, play, sensory and other therapies, pharmacology, immunology, education, computer technology/ robotics, and many other disciplines.
We are proud to say that a new robot to assist people with autism (created by a Greek-Cypriot, former NASA scientist and her team) will be showcased.
We are honored by the fact that our conference has been placed under the direct aegis of the Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, and it remains under the auspices of the Health Minister Dr. George Pamporides.
The Gala Dinner offered during the inaugural evening is under the aegis of First Lady Andri Anastasiades, and we remain especially thankful to the Church of Cyprus, particularly to His Eminence Archbishop Chrysostomos II, for the kind support.
TNH: What else are you currently working on?
: Our organization is in constant communication with local parents and experts, both in the United States and in Cyprus. We plan on offering multiple educational and best practices seminars, initiating international comparative research and publications, while at the same time focusing on the establishment of the Cyprus International Center for Autism Treatment and Research, an innovative institution offering diagnoses, therapy, education, treatment and support to people on the spectrum ages 3-21.
Furthermore, we are working toward the creation of assisted living environments, based on best practices that will fully support adults on the spectrum who are able to live and work in a semi-independent environment.
On the artistic side, we are just about ready to announce our first Annual International Photography Contest with (online) submissions, followed by an exhibit of the best 100 pictures in a New York City gallery.
During this formal event unique photographs will be auctioned off, and the almanac including all best pictures will be available to the public. All are invited to attend and we welcome sponsors and donors.
Taking this opportunity I wish to invite everyone to join our efforts and offer their unconditional support. We reach out to our Greek-American Diaspora, in particular. More information is available at magicalwayshappens.org.