One family…Two Children, Different Paths to Success
Their expression of wants and needs is different. Lexi has great verbal skills while her stepbrother Eli is non-verbal. Lexi lives with her mom and stepdad and Eli lives in a group home. They are both loved by their family. They both have autism.
Along with their six additional siblings that comprise the Yeatts/Wilson family, parents Sandy and Tony embark each day as a unified team to bring their children, four of which have special needs, the best life possible. And everything changed when they found Bancroft.
When Eli was a baby, he didn’t speak or babble. His ability to walk was very delayed. Tony and Eli’s mom, Lois, knew something was different by the time he was two and a half. Eli had autism.
“As a special education teacher, I knew we needed to get him the right support early and searched for a program to not only treat his behaviors, but also to teach him skills he needed to make his life easier in the future,” said Tony. “Our doctors recommended Bancroft, and that was 16 years ago. We never looked back.”
Early Intervention and ABA therapy at Bancroft focused on building a strategy for communication and gave Eli basic skills to propel him forward.
“His first word was ‘huggie’ and I can remember hearing it for the first time in amazement. He got big though,” remembers Tony. “His behaviors were incredibly difficult to manage – he eloped all the time, he moved quickly, and his curiosity about how things were put together left much of our home in disarray, as he disassembled things.”
When he was nine, Eli became a residential student on Bancroft’s Haddonfield, N.J. campus and eventually moved into a group home with his peers.
Eli is now nineteen, and continues to live in a Bancroft group home much closer to our home. Every time we visit, he is so happy to see us, especially dad. He has never said the words “dad,” or “mom” but his love for his family is evident in his hugs and vocalizations. He recognizes a lot of words and language, but does not speak himself. Once he has mastered a word, he doesn’t use it any more. He gives hugs, but no longer uses the word, “huggie.” Bancroft continues to provide a safe, loving place where Eli can become the best he can be.
Lexi’s journey is different. She received her autism diagnosis later than her step brother and was able to attend mainstream preschool and kindergarten in her home school district. As she grew, Lexi attended several different schools before experiencing a neurological change as a teen. Suddenly, she needed to re-learn, re-engage and become part of her community again.
Tony, already familiar with Bancroft, brought Lexi and mom Sandy on a tour.
“Lexi still struggled with extreme tiredness so getting her into a full day of school was going to be difficult. She needed breaks,” said Sandy.
Bancroft staff individualized Lexi’s experience, and when she started attending The Bancroft School at 17, she had a special chair that allowed her to rest. Her rest plan was built into her IEP but within a year, she progressed to the point that the chair would sit there, empty, as Lexi broadened her skills and friendships.
Lexi’s plan also included daily exercise, which began as walking around the Bancroft Campus, always stopping in to see Eli, and has progressed to cycling, and to Special Olympics swimming, where she is winning gold medals and feeling a sense of personal success.
The following year, Lexi was eligible for graduation from her school district. In New Jersey however, if a child accepts a High School Diploma, the entitlement funding ceases. Tony and Sandy made sure that Lexi could walk the stage with her peers in her home school district but she did not accept her Diploma. Federal law requires all states to fund educational entitlement until a child is 21 years of age, and Lexi needed continued services. Fortunately, her parents knew the right steps to take as Lexi gained more independence.
But Lexi was ready for a new challenge, with peers her age. As she began her transition planning, a special program caught the attention of her family. She could attend Bancroft classes and learn new vocational experiences through volunteer efforts and work internships while enjoying the company of students her own age on a college campus. Bancroft Transition Program, located on the Camden County College Blackwood campus, allowed Lexi to experience something new and exciting while continuing to receive the extra support she needed. Requiring a one on one bus aide for transportation, Lexi’s sister Corinne, a student at the Campus, was able to serve as the aide and get a daily ride to and from campus, while decreasing Lexi’s anxiety about being further away from home.
Lexi volunteers in three different animal shelters, and has had internships at the Cougar Café and the Registrars Office on campus, then at Camden County Library in Westmont, a local Walgreens and Concord Pets in Cherry Hill. She is finishing with two internships, one at New Behavioral Network assisting with office work and durable medical equipment and at a Day Care Center which has offered her a part time employment position after graduation. “We are so proud of her,” said Sandy and Tony. “In a few weeks, she will walk the stage, receiving her high school Diploma at her Bancroft graduation!”
“Our journey will continue as we prepare to engage Lexi into new environments and activities after graduation, but she now has the tools she needs to make her adult life a success. With our faith, ‘It’s all about the journey.’”