By Shreya Johar, FCSN Voices Senior Youth Reporter
Requiring immense dedication and commitment, the path to being a doctor isn’t an easy one. Lucy is a medical research scientist and her husband, Hua Gao, is an ophthalmologist. While they’ve both gone through intensive schooling in China and the US, their very first role and priority in life is being parents. As parents of Bob, a child with special needs, their journey has had its ups and downs, but it’s one everyone can benefit from hearing.
Due to career obligations, Lucy, Hua, and Bob, have had to move around the states for years. From the Midwest to Los Angeles, they’ve seen it all. Because Bob was diagnosed with autism before he even turned three years old, Lucy and Hua have searched for support centers like FCSN long before they moved back to California, while simultaneously working hard to build their professional careers. Lucy was extremely involved with the local and national chapter activities of the Autism Society of America (ASA) where she and other parents relied on each other for support and assistance. Lucy described the experience of Bob being diagnosed as “extremely devastating” and hard to believe and accept. Neither she nor Hua could understand the “why” and “how” behind this unfathomable time in their lives, but because of the support ASA was able to provide, they got through it. Additionally, no matter where they moved, one of their top priorities was always to reach out to other parents of kids with special needs in order to find a great special education teacher for Bob.
Other parents were also the reason Lucy first heard about FCSN. As she reached retirement, Lucy and Hua decided to move back to California, looking for not only good teachers, but also a good environment to create a better future for Bob now that he was an adult. They had visited FCSN’s Fremont Center before, but as they learned more and more about FCSN, their visits became more frequent. Before long, they knew FCSN was the perfect fit for Bob. Lucy’s thought process in making the decision to move her family to the Bay Area was one primarily focused on Bob. While previous moves had been mostly job-related, this one’s main consideration was finding a good place for him even after she and her husband were gone, including residential and living services. While Lucy knew how expensive it was to live in the Bay Area, she also wanted to prioritize Bob and his quality of life. After seeing and being a part of a multitude of centers in other states, she and Hua believed FCSN “had its uniqueness,” and the multi-racial community made them feel less like foreigners as they had before. Moreover, while Bob has moderate to severe intellectual challenges with autism, he’s a talented musician and has been playing the piano since before he could talk. However, because of his limited language skills, it was difficult for Bob’s parents to find a piano teacher who could easily communicate with him. This forced Lucy and Hua to learn the skill first so they could teach it to Bob themselves. Nevertheless, while it took a family effort, a few years down the line, they came across several teachers who were perfect for the job. In the time he’s been with FCSN, he’s expanded to playing percussion, and was even a finalist in one of the previous talent shows.
While Bob is now flourishing, the journey to where he is today had its ups and downs. One of the hardest things for people with autism is adapting to new environments and changes to their everyday routine. So every time they moved, the adjustment was extremely frustrating for Bob. However, because they’ve moved around so much, they’ve figured out that telling him of their plans ahead of time makes this process much easier. It gives Bob more time to get used to the idea and allows him to make a mental adjustment before a physical one. Another complication that arose with the move was that FCSN’s South Bay center actually had a waiting list, so Bob was put in a separate service organization for a few months while he waited for a spot to open up. He found the temporary placement to be pretty boring because there weren’t many activities for him to occupy his time with.
When Bob finally did get into FCSN, it was easy for him to adjust. He joined various activities in addition to music, and the welcoming atmosphere instantly put a smile on his face. Lucy explained that the move in general wasn’t too difficult for the family compared to previous ones such as the Midwest. The main factor that contributed to this was once again, the significant diversity of the society that made it easier to adjust and adapt to the new environment. Lucy was now fully retired, which was also an adjustment and took some time to get used to.
Despite her retirement, Lucy was still fully dedicated to and involved with FCSN. Her move to California took place just 2 years ago and since then Lucy has become one of the co-directors of the family support group, which is responsible for outreach to families with kids with special needs. Every Friday they hold meetings where they invite these families, as well introduce resources that parents could potentially find useful. Her and Hua’s commitment and devotion to Bob and the entire special needs community is heartwarming and inspiring to any who hear her story.