It was founded eight years ago by Eliza Factor, whose oldest son has multiple disabilities, but her two daughters do not. Factor wanted to have a space outside their home where her family could have fun, dance, sing, jump and play.
Caitlin Cassaro, the organization’s executive director, initially joined as a member. She said she was also looking for a space where her son, who is autistic, could be himself.
“Somewhere I can bring my son where I won’t get kicked out, where people won’t stare at us,” she said. “Where he can run into the wall, break something, run down the street with all of us chasing him, and it’d be okay.”
Cassaro also liked that other parents understood what it’s like to raise a child with disabilities, and would even play with her children when she was tired.
She recalled an instance when Factor’s husband played with her son for an hour, while Cassaro’s daughter socialized with other kids.
“I cried because I was so damn happy,” Cassaro said. “I had found my people.”
When Factor was searching for an executive director, she chose Cassaro, who has an executive background.
Cassaro stresses that Extreme Kids and Crew isn’t out to “cure or change anyone.” She finds it repulsive that some try to “teach the autism out” of children.
They run classrooms in Ridgewood and Red Hook, which contain large play spaces and equipment that are similar to those found in occupational or physical therapy settings.
They offer music, art, and dance classes for the children. Parents get to meet each other and recognize their children for who they are.
“These classes are meant to challenge and celebrate children,” Cassaro said, “and meet them where they are and have fun.”