Lucas Susa

By Mike and Jen Susa

When your child does not have the ability to talk to you about his day, sending him to school causes a pretty high level of anxiety. At least it did for me, since being non-verbal was the reality for Lucas, who has autism and Fragile X Syndrome. I had many fears when kindergarten rolled around about whether he would be safe and happy at school, and whether or not they would be able to teach him according to his needs and abilities. Lucas always required a lot of one on one attention and I wasn’t sure he could get it in public school. Since his needs did prove greater than what the school district was able to provide for him, Lucas was approved to attend Highlands Regional Center for Autism half way through his first year of school. My anxiety dissipated when I visited the school and saw for myself how well equipped they were to handle each child’s individual needs and that the programming was tailored to meet those specific needs. I also knew he was in good hands because their level of caring was evident to me, and I still see it on my son’s smiling face every time he sees his teachers during home visits or outside activities. Now in third grade, Lucas is not a completely non-verbal boy anymore. He does use an iPad for his primary communication, but talks every day as well. He is using two word phrases regularly, naming objects, colors, letters and numbers, and even stringing together a few sentences. I know that having been allowed access to speech therapy 3 times a week has made a huge difference to him. I am always pleasantly surprised to see the tasks that used to be hard for Lucas becoming easy for him in between parent observation visits and progress reports. Lucas is maintaining all the behavioral coping skills he is learning in school so that he is much less aggressive and can regulate his emotions better most of the time. He is learning to follow directions at school and at home, and this transfers to visiting public places in the community. Lucas enjoys pushing the cart at Target and shopping for his favorite items. Before his time in school, we would never have been able to allow him to walk freely in the store, and he was unable to stand still while waiting in the check out line. The school staff has been very supportive of Lucas and our family, and even helped support the charity we run to help other local kids with autism. We call it The Lucas Fund in honor of our son who has had to work so much harder than most kids do in order to learn as much as he has. As the charity directors, his dad and I have met a lot of local families who want to know about our experiences with school and other services available. I am always so happy to refer someone to Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism when their kids have needs that can’t be met within the regular school district settings, because I know how much is possible. I think Lucas will be much more prepared for the world because of his time at the school and we consider it a blessing to have it in our county.

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