When Twenty Years Goes By
Nearly twenty years, while new to living and working in Vermont, I was asked to visit a young boy at his home. I drove down a long, wooded driveway in Northwest Vermont and arrived at a beautiful trailer home. Greeted by a young, warm mother, Lynn, who was eager for help with her son, I stepped inside to meet Daeton. He was playing in the middle of the room with toy trains. I said, "Hi!" He didn't look up.
His mother and I sat on the couch and she began telling me about what he did and didn't do, her concerns for him, and his recent diagnosis of autism. I listened, while observing Daeton out of the corner of my eye, and explained my role as the coordinator for the new regional Autism Collaborative. I tired not to overwhelm her. He would need to begin ABA therapy right away. At that time, 30-40 hours per week was recommended as best practice, though services and service providers in that area were slow to catch up. We would do what we could. She asked about his prognosis, as most parents do, and I said it was too soon to tell, though the best thing we could do was start the therapy.
Lynn told me that Daeton loved tractors and all heavy machinery and we went outside where I could observe him more in another setting. Outside their front door, Daeton bent down and looked at a flower intently. Referring to a bee that was on the flower, he said clearly, "Look, a bee!"I instantly felt more assured. His comment not only illustrated that he had expressive language, but that he wanted to share an experience with someone else. These were two big factors in the life of a young person with autism.
I worked with one of my supervisors who was responsible for the school district where Daeton would attend to order the necessary materials and create an individual learning space in one of the classrooms. The district hired Melody, a lovely, local mother of three children, to provide the daily teaching and support Daeton would need. And we got to work, all of us. Daeton was cooperative, yet not complacent. He wanted to learn, though he also had his own ideas. That was a winning combination, and I was fairly confident Daeton would progress well through his individualized programming and become fully included in general education down the road.
I left Vermont two years later to pursue my Master's degree in New Jersey. I kept in touch with Lynn sporadically through the years. I knew Daeton met some struggles in middle school, and then lost track of his progress. Lynn recently found me on Linkedln. Daeton is attending college, is a board member and global ambassador for Special Olympics, and is writing a book. On my travels this summer, I stopped to see Daeton, and he interviewed me for his book. He spoke so eloquently about people with abilities, and the richness of everyone finding their own voice and talent to share with the world. I am so honored to have been a part of his story, even for a short time, and I feel as assured as I did when I heard him speak those first words nearly twenty years ago.
We plant seeds, and sometimes we are lucky enough to see them in full bloom.