A Family’s Journey: The Schunior Joneses

Emily and Larry with sons Hank (left) and Sam

Hank was three years old when his parents, Larry Jones and Emily Schunior, started facing new challenges with him. Emily would drop him off at his childcare center, and he would be “clearly anxious and afraid to go there. They’d call us thirty minutes later to come pick him up,” she says. They were noticing that Hank was having trouble regulating his emotions and behavior, and it wasn’t long before he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. “He’s very sensory,” says Emily, and although Hank was working well with an occupational therapist, it became clear that he needed to be in a different learning environment.

People with autism spectrum disorder tend to have social communication challenges. Even so, Larry says, “Hank definitely wants to have friends and be part of a social group.” So Larry and Emily enrolled him in a program that promised to be conducive for children with sensory issues. But that turned out to be another unsuccessful situation for Hank. “He is perceptive. He had a feeling he failed again. It was heartbreaking,” says Emily. Meanwhile, they hired a nanny as a temporary solution that stretched into a full year. “Sitting with an adult didn’t work with him. Hank really wants to be social with other kids.”

Eventually, some friends recommended the Frazer Center to Larry and Emily. They came for a tour and had several meetings with Frazer’s Child Development Program Director, Pam McClure. Eventually, Hank was enrolled in Pre-K, but the Joneses remained anxious. They had one final meeting with Pam to be sure they were painting as clear a picture as possible: “He’s challenging.”

“We’ve got this,” Pam reassured.

Ms. Caitlin and Hank

Larry and Emily expected a tough transition. “Emily dropped him off the first day. He was really anxious; she was on the verge of tears,” says Larry. Emily knew it was going to be a bad day, that she was going to get a phone call to come pick up Hank. But the day passed without a phone call, then another, and another. “I think it took about two weeks, and he was a different little kid. He was happy, he was sweet,” says Emily. “He told me ‘I love you’ more in that first month than he ever had in his whole life.”

Hank’s occupational therapist continued to work with him at Frazer. “His teachers were receptive for her to come in and share tools. It turned out to be really great for him,” says Larry. Emily adds, “Everybody that was on Team Hank was at the table. It felt very organic and responsive.” The Frazer team understood that when Hank presented with challenges, it wasn’t a behavior issue but “just more evidence and information to use to get him on a better path. They clearly had such confidence: we’re going to figure this out.”

But being part of the inclusion program “wasn’t front and center on a day to day basis.” Hank’s teacher Caitlin would share updates with Larry and Emily and be quick to note that Hank was not the only child experiencing a particular challenge. “Everybody’s learning to get along on the playground,” she would tell them. “That’s been helpful,” says Emily. “Hank was never singled out in class.”

Hank is now at the same school where his big brother goes. “All the work [at Frazer] last year has helped him transition to kindergarten. Ms. Caitlin offered to share tips with his new teachers. He wasn’t perfect, but it really was an amazing turnaround for this kid who tries so hard and really wants to be friends with everybody,” says Emily. “Frazer Center has been transformative to our whole family.”

Hank (right) and brother Sam