Thank you to Ben’s mom, Gina, for sharing this story.

Last year, VIA turned 25 years old and so did my son Benjamin. They sort of grew up together. Although I did not know that VIA existed until my son Ben, at age 2, was diagnosed with autism. Our Ben and VIA were both toddlers when our family began the autism journey.

The diagnosis of autism radically changed our family’s life. First, you scramble to figure out what to do and where to go. Twenty-three years ago, not much was known about how to treat autism. We were sent home from the doctor’s office with little information and were encouraged to contact the school system, which I did. But I also visited VIA — at the time it was really just a small house with a handful of students. It was just the beginning of things to come.

Although we had a home ABA program for Ben, outside therapies, and the Albemarle County school system, VIA was always there as a safety net — a place I could go to find out information. Back in those days, I read a lot of books; the Internet was still in its infancy. I became involved in a support group at VIA that offered more than just information, but an emotional connection with other families. That was crucial for me.

Eventually, when Ben was a teen (and VIA, too!) we would need VIA’s expertise with some outreach services. At that time no one else knew what to do. Our VIA consultant offered us a lifeline. This guidance and hard work made a huge difference.

When Ben turned 22 years old, we came to a precarious place called the “autism cliff”. At that point, individuals are no longer eligible for services through the school system. It’s like turning off a spigot. One week you have a schedule Monday through Friday with people and activities, the next there’s nothing. As VIA grew up, just like Ben, it grew and changed. Children with autism grow into adults that still need support. Over time, VIA has grown to offer training and employment services that are crucial. Through these services, individuals have the opportunity to have the most independent life possible, something most of us take for granted.

As Benjamin has flourished, VIA has flourished, and we feel very lucky that our son has been able to benefit from VIA’s evolution.