This blog post is by Ali Dyer, the Social Media Manager at Autism Speaks. Her older brother Jeff has autism.
Twenty years ago, a young man from Ireland standing over seven feet tall walked through our front door. His name was Mark and he had just begun working at Another Step, the agency my brother Jeff was looped in with. At first sight, they looked like brothers. Jeff had many challenges back then, but was instantly taken by Mark – correction; we all were. Our family quickly went from five to six.
Mark came to the United States and was attending a college nearby when he began work at Another Step. After school each day Mark would pick up ‘the boys’ and take them to various activities they were involved in. It started with school or agency associated programs and soon shifted to just real quality time. Rather than Mark simply staying in the lines and following usual protocol, he brought them into his world. The boys would hang out in his dorm, where Jeff would beat all the college kids in Sega, head to athletic events, or go to a restaurant for some wings to watch football on the weekend. A primary goal of Another Step is to integrate their clients into their communities, always working on social skills. Mark was the master at this.
Mark went above and beyond. Back then, there were times when I felt isolated having a sibling with autism. I don’t know how we would have gotten through the tough times without the help of our other autism families, otherwise known as the ‘Lucky Ones.’ There are a bunch of us ‘typical’ siblings in the group which formed a natural support system. Mark treated us all like his younger siblings, goofing with us constantly. To this day, I still hear about a prank phone call incident I had in third grade. Mark coming into our lives may be the ‘luckiest’ thing for all of us.
I will never forget, after Jeff was on a particularly difficult run, going with my family to one of Mark’s basketball games. We were all holding our breath that we’d get through those four quarters without a meltdown and something happened as we entered the gym… It felt like all eyes were on us, and not because Jeff was having a moment, but because they all wanted to say hi to him. Literally, every person we passed said hi to Jeff, having spent time with him through Mark. We couldn’t believe it. I went from feeling so anxious to so optimistic in a matter of moments because Mark included not only Jeff, but all of us into his world.
Overtime Mark shifted jobs and made some moves, but always made a point to stay in touch with us. Jeff literally lights up at the sight of Mark and anytime he would pay a visit to our home, Jeff's over the moon. Mark had been living in North Carolina for years and recently moved back to New York. I don’t know who was more excited, Jeff or me!
(Hugs for Mark, then and now!)
Not only is Mark back in the state, but he’s back working with Another Step! Now the ‘boys’ live together in the most wonderful group home. Mark has seen them go from little boys to grown men, living meaningful and productive lives.
I was having a chat with an amazing guy Nick who also works in the house and I was saying how great Mark is. He said, ‘Ali, you have no idea how much he loves the guys. It is like they are his own.’ I said that I did in fact know how much he does, but I don’t think Mark knows just how much we all love him.
Mark just helped me move, loading up his truck with all of my odds and ends, making multiple trips into Manhattan. My mom told Mark that he was truly a ‘lifesaver,’ to which he responded, ‘I’m just returning the favor.’
But the truth is, I don’t know where we would be without Mark. I cannot imagine us Lucky Ones receiving a better gift this holiday season than having Mark with us again.
(The Erin Lane Family at the Hudson Valley Walk Now for Autism Speaks)