“I’m very lucky for the family that I have,” said Susan Belmore of Fall River, whose son, Luke, 10, was diagnosed with autism two months before his third birthday. “Both sides. They all jumped right in.”
Belmore said that especially in the early days, it was difficult to get Luke to sit for long periods of time and going to family functions took a lot of effort. “Nobody ever complained. They’d all say, ‘There’s nothing he can break that’s not fixable.’”
Belmore says she gets lots of help from family members: Her sister is always Googling information about autism, her 20-year-old niece often babysits the kids, her sister-in-law purchased special learning videos for Luke and her aunt is always willing to pitch in where she can.
Eager to keep her family life as “normal” as possible, Belmore didn’t shy away from taking Luke on outings to the zoo or corn mazes or Laser Gate. “Sometimes it took us longer [to get there] than other families,” explained Belmore. “I wouldn’t go without backup. I had three kids — I needed help!”
Her mother was always ready to provide that backup. Beatrice Martins and her husband, Joe, a Fall River School Committee member, wanted to learn as much as they could about autism. They took a class called “More than Words” to learn how to help their grandson communicate, and each year they participate in a grandparents brunch hosted by Community Autism Resources.
“We are in a position to share what we’ve learned with the group,” said Beatrice Martins. “It’s wonderful to be able to let people know it gets better.” The couple learned to communicate with Luke using pictures, they adapted to helping him follow visual schedules and they learned to keep an extra close eye on him because, like many autistic children, Luke sometimes wanders away, oblivious to danger.
“It really has raised our awareness of what people are going through,” she added. “That’s what this is about — reaching out and helping people.”
Beatrice Martins also accompanies her daughter every year to an autism symposium in Providence. “We’ve learned so much,” she said.
A former educator herself, Beatrice Martins attends Luke’s Individualized Education Program meetings, and from the beginning advised her daughter to keep the atmosphere as friendly and non-adversarial as possible. “You quickly look and learn,” she said of the process, which determines what class Luke attends, what therapies he receives and what lessons he will learn. “My daughter’s role has grown over the years. It’s so interesting to see how you blossom and grow. I’m so proud of my daughter and son-in-law.”