Meet Colby and Cadence. Two very special people with unique stories.
When you find out you’re going to be a parent, you immediately start dreaming about your child’s future, what they’ll be like, and what their interests will be. We all want what’s best for our children, and we’ll do anything to help them reach their full potential.
That’s exactly what Lisa Lane and Susan Sachs did when they met nearly 25 years ago, as two moms desperately searching for autism services for their two young songs. They couldn’t find what they needed, so they created it together. And that was the beginning of Project HOPE Foundation, a nonprofit organization offering a lifespan of innovative autism services.
We are proud to partner with our friends at HOPE, who’ve taught us a lot about the spectrum disorder. They often remind us, “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Chances are, with a diagnosis rate of 1 in 54, you’ve already met more than one person with autism. And by the time you’re done reading this blog, you will know at least two more.
We are honored to introduce you to Colby and Cadence and share their stories, courtesy of the people who know them better than anyone else – their mothers!
Autism has many challenging statistics, one of the hardest being that 30% of this population is nonverbal, unable to speak at all. Try to imagine not being able to express what you want, what you are thinking, what you are feeling… not being able to share why you are afraid or what has made you happy.
Thankfully, through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, Project HOPE Foundation is able to help individuals gain the ability to communicate, either verbally or through devices. And that ability to communicate is life changing.
With autism limiting his ability to express his thoughts verbally, Colby has to work incredibly hard to give us glimpses of all that is going on in his head. One lesson he continues to teach us is that we need to give him time to get that work done before bombarding him with our guesses about what he wants to tell us. After all these years, we are still learning.
A great example occurred, while eating at a restaurant, Colby looked up and said, “Big knife.” Rather than jumping to conclusions and starting to look for cutlery, I asked him to “tell me more.” Then I waited. Those few extra minutes allowed him to muster up a plan to share his thoughts, even though he didn’t have the language to do so. He pulled out his phone and brought up a YouTube clip of the 1933 version of “The Three Little Pigs.” In the uncanny way of so many of our loved ones on the autism spectrum, he immediately landed on the exact scene he wanted, showing the third little pig building a brick house. Big knife = trowel! Despite knowing him extremely well, I would have NEVER made that connection on my own! Those precious moments of process led to a “conversation” about how the restaurant’s brick wall reminded Colby of the brick wall in the movie. We are grateful for this young man of few words, who actually has quite a bit to say. And we appreciate Colby’s patience and dedication in reminding us that there are many different ways to communicate.
“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism…”
Five years ago, we got some really hard news. The school Cadence attended felt we should put Cadence into full-time residential care. I was devastated. I’m not usually a big crier, but after hearing that, I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t imagine her not being with us, especially at such a young age (she was almost 12 at the time). In my Mama’s heart, I felt this wasn’t the answer and asked God to show me what was.
Our research led us to Project HOPE Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing autism services from childhood to young adulthood. HOPE is an acronym for “Help Our Potential Emerge”, and we knew that was the answer we had prayed for. On December 10, 2014, just a couple days before turning 12, Cadence got the best birthday present she has ever received. We got the word that Cadence was accepted into Project HOPE’s Hope Alive Jr. program, which encompasses Academics, Life skills, Interests, Vocational opportunities, and Experiences. We knew this was an incredible opportunity, and we were thrilled.
Here are all the things we DIDN’T know before joining the HOPE family:
- That this school would change Cadence’s life… and the lives of our whole family.
- That I could face one of Cadence’s birthdays with ONLY tears of joy.
- How hopeful I would feel once I realized how many skills she was gaining and dared to dream of what once seemed impossible… that she will one day have a job!
- The pleasure I would experience as l sat with my extended family, playing UNO, with Cadence playing on her own, after she learned the game at school. For the first time ever, she was a participant instead of a spectator.
- That I would get teary-eyed at a basketball game when Cadence used her iPad to tell the stranger behind the concession stand that she wanted some M&Ms – and even knew how to pay for it.
- The relief that would come from having kind, capable people to help me teach her some very basic, but extremely important hygiene issues, which protects her dignity.
- The peace of sitting through an entire church service without the worry that Cadence would be disruptive. Who knew she could be as quiet as a church mouse?
- The burden that would be lifted now that every day at school is a good day… instead of wondering who she had hit, hurt or how many meltdowns she was having. I didn’t eve realize how much I dreaded hearing the phone ring before, for fear it was the school on the other side.
- How much progress a child could make once they began to use their energy to actually learn, instead of using it all to cope with their surroundings.
- That it was possible to walk into a school meeting and have the teachers ask, “what do you want us to teach her?”… then see her learn the things we talked about.
- That I could have this much respect for a group of teachers. They are smart, well-trained, and know what they are doing. They have sacrificial hearts, devoted to helping those who struggle to help themselves. They have instincts that can’t be taught, and they have deep respect for the woman Cadence is becoming. They spend every day pouring into her future. And they respect my role as mom. Who could ask for more?
- That I could have this much gratitude for two women I didn’t know and who didn’t know me. Those two moms, who had their own struggles raising boys with autism, decided to find a different way to help their kids, and now they have made a difference for hundreds of others. Their vision and hard work have changed so much for our entire family.
I never would have expected one change in our lives to have such a far reach. But as I kissed my girl goodnight on her most recent birthday, all I could think about was the one thing I know for certain: Cadence is one of the greatest gifts I have ever known in my life, and I thank God for her every day.