Dozens of plastic-wrapped baskets were on the tables. Children's toys, healthcare products, salon and spa packages, even a cruise. Some people bid $10. Others bid $100.
Hundreds of people attended Sparkle Speaks, a charity tricky tray at The Brownstone in Paterson Thursday. The event raised money for Autism Speaks, an international autism science and advocacy organization.
Jacqueline Laurita from "The Real Housewives" of New Jersey" attended the fundraiser. Her 3-year-old son Nicholas was diagnosed with autism in April. Kathy Wakile is a cast member on the show.
"It's been a learning process. We've learned a lot in such a brief period of time," Laurita said. "My goal is to bring out the best Nicholas that Nicholas can be everyday."
Such a diagnosis changes an entire family, attendees said.
"When you're a parent and you receive a diagnosis like that, your dreams are shattered for your child," said Michael Giangregorio. His 11-year-old Nicholas was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. "The question that I ask myself everyday is: 'What will happen to him when I'm not here.'"
Others stressed that the way autism is diagnosed needs to change.
"It's all observational and each child is affected differently by the disease," said Johanna Burke, publicity chairperson for Autism Speaks of Northern New Jersey. "There's an entire generation of children being affected by autism and we still don't know what causes it."
One in 88 children is diagnosed with autism, the Centers for Disease Control estimates — more than leukemia, muscular dystrophy, and juvenile diabetes. But Autism Speaks estimates the disease receives less than 5 percent of the research funding that organizations battling other, less prominent diseases do. autism costs the nation $137 billion annually.
"It's an epidemic, but it is not getting the national recognition it deserves," Burke said. “It can’t be about awareness anymore.”
The Sparkling Event, an event planning agency run by Candice Laurita and Cristina Granelli, Jacqueline’s nieces, organized Sparkle Speaks.
“You really do see the hardship that a disease like autism has on a family because it affects everyone,” Granelli said. “This was just our way of bringing more attention to the disease and enjoying a nice night out.”
Jacqueline said she and her husband Chris have received a great deal of support from family and friends.
“It is something that we’re taking one day at a time and to get the support that we’ve received from so many people is amazing. Everyone, all of the families who have an Autistic child, they need that support too,” Laurtia said. “We need to make sure other people receive that support too.”