A Frazer Family’s Journey

Drew enjoying Frazer’s Thanksgiving celebration with fellow Adult Program participant Sarah

Carol Anderson and her sons, Aaron and Drew, found Frazer Center’s Adult Program in 2012. But they almost didn’t. The brothers are in their thirties now, but before Drew was born, when Aaron was 18 months, he lost his verbal skills. The family was living in Ohio at the time, and Carol set out on a mission to find out what was happening to her son. After a battery of tests, Aaron was diagnosed with autism. Once Drew was born, Carol’s radar was already up thanks to Aaron, so when she realized Drew was not developing language skills at all, she didn’t hesitate to find early intervention for him. Drew had speech, play, occupational, and physical therapies, and he attended a private pre-k for children with autism. Drew developed verbal skills while Aaron remains non-verbal.

The brothers have worked out their arrangement: Aaron uses some sign language and other non-verbal cues to communicate what he wants, and Drew helps Aaron get ready each morning and night, packs his lunch, and plays the role of protector for his older brother.

Carol’s career led the family to Missouri where both brothers grew up and became eligible for Medicaid support services. In 2009 another career move was on the horizon, this time to Atlanta. Carol wanted to do all she could to ensure a smooth transition for her sons, so she sent off a packet of forms and information to set up Medicaid support services through the State of Georgia. After hearing nothing, she re-sent the information and moved her family to Atlanta so she could report for duty at her new job.  Dr. Carol Anderson is a professor, historian, author, and Chair of African American Studies at Emory University.

Dr. Carol Anderson, Emory University (photo credit: Kay Hinton)

She continued the struggle to get support for her sons. “Georgia doesn’t have the money,” she was told. For three years her sons went without support services. They would stay at home while she went to work. She watched Aaron regress from lack of engagement. She fought and struggled, talked to anyone who would listen about her family’s situation, and nearly reached her wit’s end. She was starting to think she would have to leave Georgia just to get some help for her sons. Eventually, she spoke to the right person at the right time, and Aaron and Drew finally received their Medicaid waiver.

Then began the search for a program that would suit both the brothers. The family toured many places that didn’t quite feel right. Last on their list to visit was the Frazer Center. As Carol drove up the long forested driveway, she thought, “Okay, this isn’t real. Wow, what a place!” They toured the facility, and Aaron was smiling, giggling, skipping and happy. Drew said, “Yeah, this is it.”

A big part of the Frazer’s Adult Program mission is community engagement. That means providing opportunities for the participants to leave the Center and get involved with activities of interest to them. Part of Aaron’s regression during his three years without support involved transportation. He became averse to getting in a van, bus, or four-door car and was dependent on his mother to take him anywhere. The Frazer staff immediately began working with Aaron to get him used to various forms of transportation so he could participate in outings. “That might sound like a little thing,” says Carol, “but that’s a life-changer. Frazer Center opened up his life so it’s not hampered.”

Drew settled into Frazer’s Supported Employment Program and eventually landed a job as a barista. One key element of the program is helping employers understand each individual’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Frazer Center staff works with employers to create an environment that allows those strengths to flourish. Drew mastered the required skills for his job, took pride in his work, and loved the independence it gave him. Then a new supervisor, before making the effort to get to know Drew, fired him. Drew was devastated. “Frazer Center stepped in like Superman and helped him understand that it wasn’t on him and began working with other agencies to get him additional job training and rebuild his confidence,” says Carol. “What could have been a disastrous situation wasn’t, thanks to the incredible folks at Frazer.”

Drew on the job search with the help of Supported Employment Specialist Unondus Walker

Drew is now volunteering with a non-profit garden and is actively searching for a new job, with the help of Frazer’s Supported Employment Specialist. Aaron loves his routine of coming to Frazer every day. As for Carol, in addition to her professorship and chair position at Emory, she is a New York Times bestselling author. She was awarded a fellowship to study at Harvard, and with her latest book, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, she continues her commitment to “help shape the narratives that will make this society more just, equitable, and more humane.” She adds, “I’ve got happy, productive children. They’re confident and comfortable. They have an engaging routine. Because of Frazer, I can do what I do.” She has confidence in her boys’ future, and Frazer is honored to be part of that future.