I have some big shoes to fill.
A wonderful writer named Yuji Fukunaga was kind enough, amid his challenges, to contribute stories over the past year to Patch about his 8-year-old son Kai. That being said, I would like to pick up where Yuji left off. Two decades of networking, trying “snake oil” therapies, and tearing my hair out have taught me much about autism.
I have been waiting for years to tell this story.
I want to share with Patch readers information, anecdotes and the amusing antics of Luke. You will hear from me, as well as Luke’s sister Jamie, his friends, caregivers and teachers. We want to paint a picture of this “man child,” who is all at once amazing, frustrating, egocentric, curious and quite handsome! He has come a long way from being a silent, odd, impetuous toddler to the citizen he has become.
As Luke has lived his entire life in Highland Park, many of you reading this may even know him. Employees at the Ravinia Walgreen’s, Sunset Foods, and the Highland Park Public Library are all considered by him to be “buddies.” If you wear a nametag, you’re fair game. If you’re not and he has met you a hundred times, he will still repeatedly ask your name. Just ask our neighbors. This is one of his quirks.
You no doubt have been bombarded by the media about the incidence of autism—it seems to change daily – now 1 in 66 or is it 1 in 88? Someone with autism or another disability has probably touched your life, and you want to know more.
By North Suburban Special Education figures, there are 5,700 individuals with special needs in the 12 communities served by NSSED on the North Shore. That figure only includes NSSED classrooms. There are many more special needs children, ages three to 22, who have been mainstreamed in the public schools or in private schools. I know first-hand that many families move here for the quality of our special education services and the many resources that are available. I will try to shed light on how to utilize those resources.
When Luke was about eight years old, we lived in Sunset Park in a vibrant and friendly neighborhood. By then, Luke’s differences were clear to most people and we had received his diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, definitively, after five years of evaluations. Before that, the doctors labeled his disability speech apraxia, pervasive developmental disorder, auditory processing delay, the list goes on.
About that time, we decided to send a letter to all of our friends, neighbors and relatives about Luke. We asked them for their patience and understanding. We asked them to watch out for him on the street, and we tried to give them a description of Luke’s odd autistic tendencies: yelling, walking in people’s homes unannounced, and especially his inability to play with other children. We even asked them to “have the chat” with their own children and encouraged them to befriend Luke.
More on that next week.
I welcome your comments and suggestions for future articles. Some topics I’ve planned include:
“Cultivating Friendships that Last”
“Basketball, Baseball, Swimming—Oh My!”
“Luke’s Defining Moment (Bar Mitzvah)”
“Traveling with Luke: It’s a Trip, Not a Vacation”
Barney the Dinosaur