Imagine, as a child, not being able to tell your parents that you are scared. Imagine, as a parent, not being able to understand what is troubling your child. For many families navigating the challenges of autism, life becomes flooded with questions and the search for answers can be exhausting. When Lynn was six months old, her mom, Marilyn, recognized that something wasn’t quite right. “She was a beautiful child, but I noticed she didn’t cuddle like our first child and she started looking past people. That’s when I became concerned.” And so began Marilyn and her husband, Bob’s, energy-draining search for answers and ways to support their daughter. Lynn grew up in the early 1960’s when little was known about autism. “We felt badly for Lynn. So many clinics, doctors, tests.” Marilyn recalls. “So many wonderful people worked with us, but nobody had answers.” Throughout her early childhood, Lynn met with doctors, speech therapists and hearing specialists, and was subjected to test after test. It seemed like each new visit produced a new diagnosis. Early on, Lynn was even diagnosed as being deaf and was fitted with hearing aids. During these early years, Lynn also attended a variety of day programs.
As the years progressed, Marilyn and Bob’s family grew, and Lynn’s behavior became more and more difficult to manage. “She never slept through the night. She was hyperactive and getting into things and her behavior became very challenging. This was a tough period.” The combination of navigating the system of doctors and clinics looking for answers, managing an evergrowing household (now four children) and supporting their daughter, Marilyn and Bob came to the realization that they needed additional support for Lynn. “We looked at many places and people were so sympathetic, but we kept hearing, ‘We’re sorry. We don’t have anything here.’” In 1972, someone recommended visiting Laura Baker School in Northfield. After meeting with the administration, Marilyn says, “We heard something we had never heard before … We’ll try! We couldn’t believe it.” Lynn moved into LBSA within a couple of months. For the first several years, Marilyn and Bob drove to Northfield every week to visit Lynn. They would often take her on car rides and spend time together at LBSA. Eventually, Marilyn and Bob moved to the Northfield area to be closer to Lynn. Car rides evolved into visits home which Lynn loved. Lynn grew up knowing she had a family who loved her, and Lynn loved them – and music. Ever since Lynn was a baby, music played an important role in her life. She loves to be sung to. As a very young child, music was one of the few things that would calm Lynn down when she was upset. In later years during visits home, Lynn would enjoy sitting with Marilyn at the piano, listening to her play Lynn’s favorite selections. “We had a special song which I would play when it was time to return to her home at LBSA. As soon as she heard that particular tune being played, she would get up and head for the garage.” LBSA Music Therapist, Jenny Solar, says Lynn loves participating in her household music sessions. “Lynn gets a huge smile on her face when we start music and pull out instruments. She really enjoys the social aspect of groups and the positive interactions between herself, staff, housemates and me that the groups help facilitate. She also likes to say ‘cheese’ so then we’ll sing ‘On Top of Spaghetti’ and let her sing the ‘cheese.’ Even if she doesn’t fill in the word, she still gets a huge smile!” In addition to music, Lynn loves spending time outside (when the weather is WARM), going for walks and van rides, trips to A Great Day Farm and attending her day program at Epic Enterprise Monday through Friday. Marilyn says she and her family are very appreciative for everyone at LBSA. “Lynn is treated with respect and care from everybody; from Sandi (Executive Director Sandi Gerdes) on down. Household Director Katie Swenson and her staff in Lynn’s neighborhood home are wonderful. Lynn appears more peaceful and content than ever. She is in a place she loves – her home with her housemates.”