Submitted by Cara Capodice, Lauren Brasington, and Alexa Jaggi (students in the “Digital Content Writing, Management, and Experience Design” Spring 2019 class at UW-La Crosse)
Alex, a graduate of Chileda, learned vital skills while enrolled in their Residential Program. These skills allowed him to go from a completely dependent and unpredictable boy to an independent and successful young man. After his time at Chileda, Alex continued his education by attending college and is now living independently and working full time.
“Chileda is honestly the reason he is where he is now,” said Alex’s mother, Susan.
At the age of 8, Alex was diagnosed with autism. When his behaviors escalated to a crisis level at home, Alex’s family knew they needed help. “He had no sense of consequences. This is the kid I had to chase down one time before he ran into a busy highway. [He] just had no fear.”
Deciding to forgo public education, Susan began searching for alternatives to Alex’s education, specifically looking into residential programs.
After touring various facilities, she found Chileda. “You can tell that real things are happening there.”
“There might be holes in the walls where a kid threw something at it – they were just a very real place… He needed to be someplace without that institutional feeling, where the staff works with the kids one-on-one or takes them out [into the community]. We needed a place like that,” said Susan.
While Alex was adjusting to his new lifestyle at Chileda, Susan recalls an important milestone he overcame. “At first, Alex would have a full-on meltdown when it came to meal time; he only ate a few foods. Through his time at Chileda, not only did he get used to eating other things, but he also ended up being a person who loves to cook.” Although it was a rough start for Alex, he eventually began to adjust to a more structured environment.
“Once he was able to overcome the rebellious stage, I think ultimately he found comfort because he knew what to expect.”
During his time at Chileda, Alex had the opportunity to take part in regular coursework at Aquinas High School where he could take advantage of “a school environment and have the ability to interact with other students, which was really good for him.”
A very important part of Chileda’s curriculum also allowed Alex to grow into a more self-sufficient individual, learning life skills including self-care, budgeting, and cooking, things that Alex’s mom explains are lessons that should be included in all education systems.
When asked about the kinds of opportunities Chileda provides for students, Susan said, “they would go out to eat, to movies, or sometimes shopping. They also had an outing in the summer, a camp that was specifically for kids like Alex. He really enjoyed being a part of that. For Halloween, Chileda partnered with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to go trick-or-treating in the dorms. Alex was also able to participate in various events like the Special Olympics. They really sought out a lot of opportunities.”
As a parent of a child with autism, Susan never imagined her son would live anywhere but under her roof.
Chileda equipped Alex with the tools and skills he needed to live independently, and they continue to provide support and share in Alex’s successes.
To encompass her feelings regarding Chileda, Susan said,
“I just think we are very, very lucky that Chileda exists and that we were able to find them.”
If you were inspired by Alex’s story and want to learn more about the programs and services Chileda offers, please visit http://chileda.org/how-we-help/.