Jim, Miriam, Daniel and Nicola (Nick)
It is obvious when you meet Jim and Miriam Aune that what has kept their marriage together for 22 years is their sense of humor. Since Jim and Miriam each have a doctorate degree in Speech and Communication, they believe that having two children with severe speech and language problems is “proof that God really does have a sense of humor.” Their two sons, Daniel, 17, and Nick, 19, were both born with autism.
When their sons were born, the parents were told to put both of their children in an institution and forget about them. Miriam still asks, “How do you forget about your children?” The Aunes moved from Minnesota to Bryan in 1996 because both had been hired by Texas A&M University as professors in the Communication Department. Miriam ultimately quit her professorship to stay home and take care of their children while Jim carried the financial burden. This was very difficult as they also managed $10,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses for their sons’ medications.
The Aunes credit the Bryan school system with their sanity during the nine years they waited for Community Living Assistance and Support Services (CLASS). “The schools have always been our last defense,” says Miriam. One day, Nick hit Miriam so hard that she was almost knocked out. She called the school’s Autism Director for help and within 20 minutes, she had four professionals at her door. They stayed with her for four hours until Nick had calmed down.
The Aunes began receiving CLASS services one year ago, and say that it has been both a blessing and a challenge. “CLASS allows you to put together your own kids’ program based on their needs. The biggest difference in our lives since we have had the CLASS program is that for the first time in our lives, we can just parent our children. We are not their therapists, and we don’t have to be their teachers.”
The challenge for the Aunes is the Consumer Directed Services (CDS) option under CLASS. Miriam stated, “That was scary. It’s like running a small business. It took us more than four months just to deal with the paperwork. CDS means you are doing it all. It’s been forced upon us.” One of the most frustrating aspects of CDS for Miriam was the hiring process. As she explained, “How do I write an ad for someone to come into my home and take care of the most important thing in my life and be sweet, nice and love my babies?”
After receiving CLASS services, Miriam says, “The changes in our lives have been indescribable. We can go to a movie at night now. Before CLASS, we could only attend matinees while the boys were in school.” Daniel and Nick are both going to camp for one week this summer, and Jim and Miriam are going to take their first vacation in 21 years.
The Aunes report that both Nick and Daniel have made tremendous progress over the past year, but, “CLASS would have been the biggest miracle of our lives had we gotten it when they were young. We’re not asking for a Cadillac. We just wanted early intervention.” Miriam adds jokingly, “Can you be late to be early?”