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My son with autism's unique relationship with an Iraqi war veteran

This guest Q&A is with Peter Giese, the President and Co-Founder of United Real Estate. Giese lives with his wife and two sons in Tampa, Florida. His older son, Lucas, was diagnosed with autism at age four. He is now eleven and is a great testimonial for the benefits of early access to care for children diagnosed with autism.

Hi Peter. Can you tell us why you wanted to give back to the autism community?

My family's experience with early intervention with a child on the autism spectrum is a success story that many other families would greatly benefit from hearing. My company, United Real Estate, held two charity golf tournaments to raise money for Autism Speaks. During this time began to share my family’s experience and realized there were many of our brokers and agents and their customers who needed the support of Autism Speaks. This spurred us as a company to become a corporate sponsor of Autism Speaks.

My wife and I are passionate about sharing our story with other parents who have a child who's received an autism diagnosis. We want to share our story to help others and provide acceptance, understanding, and hope. When Lucas was two years old, we began to notice behaviors and delays that were not typical. At the time, there was not much information available to parents with these struggles, and our family pediatrician did not have any answers. 

We finally took him to the University of South Florida, as they had a department dedicated to early childhood development. After weeks of evaluations, we were given an answer, but it was not what we were expecting. Lucas’ diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was just after his fourth birthday. After the initial shock, we began researching and looking for ways to help Lucas. We began occupational therapy for Lucas three times a week for sixty minute sessions. We continued with the occupational therapy and at home added other therapies such as; cranial sacral therapy, Wilbarger Brushing, an integrated listening system, and lots of love and positive praise. After 5 years of treatments, at age 9, he was deemed “All Goals Met”, and now at a glance, appears to be a typical child. There is no cure for autism and we have setbacks but the early intervention made an incredible difference.

How did Lucas and Tyler first meet?

A mutual friend put out a prayer request for a young soldier from Tampa who had been wounded in Afghanistan by an IED, lost both his legs and was at Walter Reed hospital beginning a long journey to recover from his injuries. We shared Tyler’s story with Lucas (Lucas was 7). Lucas decided that he needed to connect with Tyler and provide encouragement. Lucas, by himself, went to his principal and asked to do a school wide project for Tyler, making cards and sending care packages. Lucas continued on his own efforts to write letters to Tyler and they then began texting and talking on the phone. Lucas carefully selected items for care packages (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, warm blanket, inspirational movies like “Dolphin Tale”, “Soul Surfer”); Lucas is very detail oriented!

While Tyler was at Walter Reed, an author was visiting the hospital and planning to write a book about the experience between the moms of a select few wounded veterans and their commitment to their son’s recovery.  She took notice of the consistent care packages that were being sent to Tyler and discovered they were by a little boy with autism in Tampa that had never met Tyler.

Over time how did their relationship develop as they spent more time together?

After Tyler was able to leave the hospital he visited Lucas at his school and home and continues to be a friend to Lucas. Lucas provided Tyler with encouragement during his recovery and rehabilitation and Tyler continues to have an impact on Lucas’s outlook, helping him overcome challenges with resolve. Even though Lucas and Tyler live in different states, they have remained in touch. In fact when Tyler recently proposed to his fiancée on TV, in front of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush at their summer home, Tyler texted Lucas that day to invite him to the wedding.

How is Lucas doing today?

Lucas is amazing! He is now in the 5th grade and is in a classroom with his peers and involved in many activities. He has some accommodations and a private tutor to ensure academic success, and we continue with physical therapy. He is an anchor on the morning show at his school, and he is really good at being able to remember lines and act out skits. These are all things that we never would have thought possible for our son back in 2009, when we weren’t even able to leave him with a babysitter or take him to amusement parks. He is now very comfortable going to new places and enjoys interacting with people he meets and being in front of a camera. He is well known inside United Real Estate for the funny parody video’s he has put together and filmed.

Was Lucas excited to learn that his and Tyler’s story would be published in a book?

Lucas was ecstatic for Tyler that his story would be in a book.  He was very glad that Tyler had his story published as it allowed him to receive additional help and opportunities to rebuild his life.  Lucas never looked at Tyler as disabled or handicapped.

What are your hopes for Lucas in the future?

Our hopes for Lucas are the same as all parents’ wishes for their children.  To live independently, find a career path that he is happy in (which currently is to host the Tonight Show) and someday to have a family of his own. 

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.