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Joseph Titus

Diane and Bob Titus had planned to name their son Paul. But Diane’s first look at her newborn firstborn changed that. “He just didn’t look like a Paul,” she says with equal parts certainty and wonderment, “so we called him Joseph John…after both grandfathers.” It was perhaps the first indication that the life they’d envisioned would bear little resemblance to the reality about to unfold. For one thing, despite all the thought given to his name, Joseph John didn’t seem to recognize it. He also ignored his toys, preferring instead to spin in circles or fix rapt attention on random objects. When her son was asked to leave two successive playgroups, Diane feared she wasn’t cut out to be a mother. It was a pediatrician in Teaneck—the fourth in a string of doctors—who finally took their concerns seriously. “When Joe was diagnosed, I think my biggest feeling was relief,” Diane says, “because up until then, people blamed me.” Relief, though, was short-lived. The local school district maintained they could serve Joe just fine, but Bob and Diane felt their autistic child needed a program for children with, well, autism. So they did their homework researching programs statewide, and Joe was ultimately accepted at Princeton Child Development Institute. An unhappy school district balked at the tuition. “Their attorney told the court I was cold-hearted,” says Diane, “intent on placement at the expense of our son, whom we were harming by the 65-mile drive to Princeton.” Sigh. Fortunately, the judge didn’t concur. Once Bob’s job transfer cut the commute to single digits, life settled into a semblance of routine. Joe responded to PCDI’s behaviorally based teaching and Diane was home from work by 2:30 to pick up where the school day left off. As Joe reached his late teens, his parents faced the challenge shared by their counterparts from sea to shining sea. For if securing quality services for children with autism is difficult, doing likewise when they become adults redefines the word. Day programs are few, residential ones are fewer and waiting lists are longer than a New Jersey traffic jam. Diane speaks of her initial shock that Eden Autism Services was undaunted by the adult-strength autism her adult son possessed. “They told us never to fear that our child would be kicked out of the program,” she says. “I thought to myself, ‘can they really mean Joe?’” They could and they did. In September 2004, 21 year old Joseph John Titus started working at Clayton Center, one of Eden’s Adult Employment Centers. Fourteen months later, just a few weeks shy of his 23rd birthday, he moved into one of Eden’s Adult Residential group homes. “It is,” says Bob, “what every parent wants—for your child to be happy, healthy and safe, living his life as independently as possible.” At Clayton Center, Joe was quick to pick up all components of the mailing house operation—collating, folding, inserting, labeling, etc. Joe also serves on a crew that provides janitorial services at Princeton’s Garden Theater and the main Eden campus on Route One. On the home front, Joe shares most household chores with his housemates and has taken on plant watering solo. He likes bowling and roller skating, could play air hockey for hours and especially enjoys out-of-town excursions like trips to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Willie Nelson heads his play list, Muppet movies top his DVD collection and colorful jigsaw puzzles never fail to engross. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of Joe’s new life is his new look—since thanks to a combination of diet and exercise, he’s lost upwards of 75 pounds. Burgers, fries and cookies have been replaced by fish, vegetables and salads; a penchant for walking has transferred cheerfully to treadmill. And to keep the new look fresh, Joe will regularly tell the group home staff “haircut.” Sometimes one of the best things about moving away from home is going back to visit. Joe clearly looks forward to time with mom or dad, as well as with long-time friend Mike DeAngelo and furry friends Harry (Bob’s Shetland sheepdog) and Fergie (Diane’s Yorkie). At weekend’s end, father and son have a parting ritual, a simple “Joe, see you later” that carries with it promise of visits to come. Mom and dad, for their part, look forward to the future their son has at Eden. “I see Joe continuing to develop skills, expand his language, work in the community,” says Bob. “And my motivation has gone off the scale to get services like these for other guys and gals like him.” “At Eden, Joe can be Joe,” adds Diane. “PCDI saved his life and Eden has given him the rest of it.”
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