Austin likes chicken nuggets and Yoda from Star Wars like many boys his age. But Austin has faced many struggles that most 8-year-old boys have not. Austin has very limited sight due to his septo-optic dysplasia. Because his endocrine system does not produce many hormones in typical levels, he also has a weak immune system and issues with digestion and temperature regulation. For him, a fever can be life threatening. However, none of this has stunted his memory or his happy personality. Austin is typically full of energy and lots of fun questions.
Austin’s mom Theresa has appreciated that Lauren, her Independent Living Specialist from DRA, has walked beside her and Austin since he was about five years old. “Lauren is always so patient. She always calls to see how Austin is doing,” said Theresa.
Austin calls Lauren, “The Resource Lady!” and gives Lauren a big hug when he sees her. And rightly so. “Lauren is so knowledgeable about resources for Austin,” bragged Theresa. “She always has a website or ideas that help us. If she doesn’t know an answer to my question, she will find out.”
Austin and his mom first came to DRA to apply for SSI benefits. He did not qualify for these benefits, but Lauren did a complete intake with the family to assess any other needs they had. Since then, Lauren has signed Austin up to receive a free backpack and school supplies each year at DRA’s Annual Back to School Fair. Lauren has also attended every one of his annual IEP (individualized education program) meetings to help Theresa advocate for the plan that will help Austin succeed at school. “It is always so good to have Lauren there. She thinks of things I don’t,” said Theresa. “Sometimes, it is hard to help the school understand what Austin needs. Lauren has been my ‘partner in battle.’ She knows us so well. It’s wonderful to have her as a professional backing me up when there is something that Austin really needs to get the education he deserves.”
This year, getting Austin the services he needs has meant moving to a new school district. Although Austin misses a lot of school due to illness, his new teachers have already seen marked improvement. “They are working with big letters and braille, and he is even reading short words. He never did that before,” Theresa proudly explained. “He is integrated into a typical classroom for parts of the day, and he has little buddies in those classes. He really likes school now.”
It is hard to put a value on what it means to have a professional helping to advocate for your child. “Oh gosh,” said Theresa. “It means everything to know I’m not alone in the fight to see Austin happy and to see him learning!”
Thanks to our generous supporters, DRA is able to provide education advocacy for children like Austin! And professional support for mom’s like Theresa!