The following is a client testimonial from a mother about her son’s first year at Haven Academy. My son came in to this world before his body was ready. Will’s lungs weren’t completely developed and this required an additional five days in NICU before he could come home with us. We faced these initial complications together as a family and we were happy to see that Will was meeting his developmental goals as a newborn. He was such a good sleeper and a joyful baby boy who loved to laugh and play just as much as all of his friends and peers.

But as he grew, we began to notice that he wasn’t using words to communicate and that he would play with his toys in a different way than what we had expected. Our sweet boy was like a boomerang in the house and started having trouble sleeping. We brought Will to a pediatric neurologist for an evaluation and were given the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was a toddler.

We were shocked as we found ourselves thrown into a world of medical appointments, behavior, occupational and speech therapy sessions, constant struggles with our health insurance company to cover sessions, and negotiating with the school system for Will’s specialized educational needs. It became a full-time job to manage his care and for Will’s typical sibling.

No approach is considered the panacea for treating the symptoms of Autism. Parents are left to figure out what works best and to see how their child responds. We had limited access to programs and desired to find the right fit for Will but every possible solution was met with mixed experiences…

And then we found The Haven.

Haven staff listened to our concerns, gave us a tour, and provided us with the opportunity to send Will to The Haven’s summer camp. The  instructors and program objectives at Haven Academy, The Haven’s high school environment, gave my husband and I peace of mind. His transition to Haven Academy was a great success! The atmosphere is accepting, friendly, and suited to Will’s needs. The best part of The Haven is the sense of community emanated by the staff, volunteers, students and clients. It is a constant reminder that we have found a safe haven for our son.

We know that the work The Haven does for my son is making a difference in his life. This school year, Will was invited to a classmate’s birthday party at a local entertainment center. For individuals with environmental sensitivities, an entertainment center can pose many unique challenges that typical families would not be concerned with. Loud music, distractions, flashing lights, crowded rooms, and other stimuli can create sensory overload.

When we went to the party, we didn’t know what to expect. In similar situation, Will tends to stand and cover his ears, refuse to participate fully, and make it clear that he wants to leave after the first 15 minutes. As Will’s father and I sat at a nearby table, we observed how comfortable Will was as he laughed and interacted socially with his classmates. There are no words to express the sense of relief we had that day. To see him build friendships is something parents of children with special needs desire to see for their children. This new level of social skills and confidence was not possible before and we credit The Haven’s professional and caring staff as a major factor in his personal growth and sense of belonging.

There are many families at The Haven who share similar experiences to our story. We wish Will would have had the opportunity to attend a caring preschool environment like Selby Preschool, a Montessori style early education program at The Haven. It is encouraging, as a caregiver and mother, to know that there are additional resources for loved ones with disabilities at The Haven. From residential services to life skills and job training programs, every client is seen as an individual to support their unique abilities and personal goals.

We are very grateful for the generosity of Suncoast Charities for Children and all of the community supporters who make it possible for The Haven to do good work in Sarasota-Manatee. Without your financial support we would not have had the opportunity to find a “safe haven” for my Will to experience the power of his potential.