A Vancouver Island couple is doing all they can to secure a positive future for their adult son with autism.
Joyce and Clarence Lazaruk moved to Langford two years ago with their son Tyler, in order to live close to their oldest son, Chad. The two parents have provided full care and support for Tyler, who is now 37, throughout his entire life.
Tyler is non-verbal autistic, however, he uses a small keyboard to communicate with others when necessary.
“It crosses my mind, and I think it crosses Tyler’s mind too, what we will do in the future. Chad has offered to look out for Tyler when we die,” said Joyce. “So we decided to move out here now, so Tyler can get used to living here.”
Tyler was the third born of four children, and was around two years old when signs of autism first presented.
“It was really tough,” said Joyce. “You always had to focus on Tyler. There were things you couldn’t do, places you couldn’t go. I breast-fed my youngest until he was three, so that at least I could be holding him, if my attention had to be on Tyler.”
While raising their family in rural Manitoba, Joyce said she and Clarence were advised by social workers on what to do with Tyler, but often the recommendations wouldn’t work out.
“At the time, there weren’t really any good school programs. There wasn’t much training or knowledge around autism, and being out in the country probably made it more tough,” said Joyce.
In the summers, Tyler would receive visits from interaction specialists, which would spend time and go for walks with him. The family also prioritized spending quality time together, often exploring the outdoors, camping, travelling long distances in their motorhome, ice skating, riding bikes and going swimming.
“Tyler loves nature,” said Joyce. “When we were coming back from New York, we stayed at a bed and breakfast out in the country near Black Creek. There was no traffic, it was nice and hilly, and Tyler wrote, ‘This almost makes my autism go away.’”
Since moving to the Island, Joyce, Clarence and Tyler frequently go for long bike rides along the Galloping Goose Trail.
“We are lucky our oldest son lives near by because those bikes need an awful lot of maintenance,” said Joyce with a laugh.
While preparing for the road ahead, Clarence and Joyce are hoping to receive a government grant so they can enrol Tyler in a day program, where he can participate in more activities.
“He would also be really happy to work more,” said Joyce, noting she has heard of an organization in Alberta which finds jobs that are perfectly matched to people with autism. “I would like to see Tyler suited to a job. He loves fitting things together, so maybe he would enjoy something like working on bicycles. But he would always have to have a mentor there.”
Currently, Tyler has two paper routes with the Goldstream Gazette, and one of his parents goes along with him every week to help with delivery.
“When the newspaper bundles come on Tuesday night, he keeps running to the door to see if they are there. He gets everything absolutely ready, and then first thing in the morning he is awake and can’t wait to get going,” said Joyce. “Tyler loves to feel useful. He’s smiling the whole time he delivers the papers.”
Both Joyce and Clarence have concerns for what the future will hold for their son, and hope that they can find him more support, and transition him into a living situation where he feels safe.
“The biggest challenge is going to be when we die, he is going to have to live with someone else, and it is a big worry about how that is going to happen,” said Clarence, adding they would like to find housing for Tyler through a program called Safe Housing B.C., which pairs people who have special needs with a family to live with.
“It’s a worry because it takes time. At some point we have to let him go and start looking for a place, but when he moves I know he’ll be missing home.”
Joyce added that it’s her dream to eventually set Tyler up with a family housing situation, because he wouldn’t feel comfortable living in a group home.
“We have a very close relationship with Tyler, and understand him,” said Joyce. “We just work on trying to improve his life, and make it as good as possible.”
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