-Robin Suzelis, Director, Autism Society of Mahoning Valley

Director Robin and her two sons on vacation

I always take a moment at the start of the calendar year and then again at the beginning of the school year to evaluate how we are doing. 

My oldest will soon be turning 17 years old. At his age, a neurotypical teen would drive, hang out with friends, and probably work. Our son needs adult supervision, help with self-care, an individualized academic and behavior school plan, and more. He has come a long way, though, so we are grateful to our team of teachers, therapists, and other providers who have helped us get this far.  

Our youngest is turning 12 years old next week, and he also has autism and an intellectual disability. He is the sweetest boy, but his learning needs, along with his communication and processing needs due to his autism, make it difficult for him to communicate and learn.

So, what do both of the boys need this year? Our oldest has a new intervention specialist teacher, and we are communicating with her about our expectations of him becoming more independent and learning more academically this year. Let’s challenge him even more. As our ABA (behavioral therapy) services have now dwindled to 2 hours a week, we must look at what we need help with to utilize our best time with the experts.  

And as always as parents, we are the primary teachers and life skills educators for our boys.  

How can we improve our morning and evening routines to increase independence? 

How can I put in a little time after school to work on their academic or self-care needs a few times a week? 

Then, it’s working on our self-care as parents and direct caregivers. We plan to be their caregivers for most of their adult lives with help from independent providers, so we have to take care of ourselves. Eating well, exercising, getting good sleep, and caring for our marriage and friendships are complex, but we must also make it a priority.

If you’re a parent, keep making positive changes in your life and helping your child do the same. Our September 20 Sophia’s Workshop is an excellent opportunity to work on your family’s legal and financial needs. Caring for our children’s future and proper life planning can relieve stress and help the family in every stage of life.

I hope all of your children, no matter their age, have a great school year or a great year working, volunteering, or enjoying their day program. Keep working to improve their quality of life and yours.