On top of owning a Kosmo screen printing business in Fort Collins with her husband Joel and working full time at the Children's Speech and Reading Center, Laura Decatur is the mother to one really great boy. Thirteen-year-old Trust Decatur is a smart, witty kid who loves Scratch, programming and helping his dad at the screen printing shop. He dreams of writing sitcoms when he grows up. He excels at public speaking and even gives a talk on occasion at events for parents of children with autism titled "What I Want You to Know About Autism" where he explains that he is just a normal kid and to him, autism is no big deal.
His parents say that since he became a teenager, Trust is probably easier than some of his neuro-typical peers. Trust is literal and follows instructions to the letter. He has no interest in experimenting with drugs and knows better than to open the door when he's home alone, even if his mom is on the other side with arms full of groceries. At this time in his life his priorities are finishing his homework so he can play video games or help his dad with the next batch of T-shirts.
But it hasn't always been smooth sailing. We spoke of the fears they experienced. They recalled how being told by a professional that Trust would one day plateau and stop learning petrified them as young parents and how every year they would wonder if this was the year- if this was as good as it would get. Laura shared moments of feeling inadequate as a mother because she didn't know how to handle his meltdowns. She spoke about the hurt she experienced seeing her son get excluded and how she threw a big Halloween party for Trust's class when he was younger to help foster some social opportunities for him. Trust doesn't always notice when other kids are being unkind, but without those same blinders, Laura struggles when she sees this. She spoke of the first time she heard someone call her son "retarded" and how in retrospect she could have handled the situation with more tact. Since then she has honed what Joel calls "the look" and that usually does the trick. I was happy to hear that as Trust gets older he fits in with his peers and the gap is shortening.
The two suicides by 11-year-old Fort Collins' middle school students in 2015 as a result of bullying exposed one of their biggest fears yet. Trust was their same age. Laura spoke of how they started sharing everything with their son, including when they have bad days and how they cope with those feelings. They teach Trust that tomorrow will be a better day and he knows he can talk to them about anything and everything.
Joel and Laura are incredible parents. They never gave up on their son, even when times were hard. Meeting the Decaturs now, when Trust is such a smart and capable young man, you would never guess that when he was 4 years old and his family first moved to Fort Collins, he was still nonverbal. Hours of speech therapy went into helping Trust get to where he is today, as well as some less conventional strategies that Laura and Joel invented, like watching the Brady Bunch together and discussing the social interactions they saw in the show to help Trust learn which were appropriate and which weren't. Fun fact: Trust's favorite sitcoms are Everybody Loves Raymond, The Office and Parks and Rec.
They have two pieces of advice to other parents who are just starting this journey through autism. The first is to embrace it. Being matter-of-fact about their son's diagnosis has allowed them to connect with other families who are on similar journeys and build a village of people who understand. Without having biological family here in Northern Colorado when Trust was small, they created one of their own filled with people who love their son and can relate to both the triumphs and struggles. Their openness also served to dissipate any stigma around autism within their circle, and teach Trust that autism is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it's simply something he has, just like he has brown hair.
Their second piece of advice: "Don't give up on your kid and what they are capable of. Ever. As long as you keep pushing, they will keep growing." The plateau they were told would come? It never happened. Year after year Trust has grown and learned and excelled. The day we met for coffee, Trust was taking tests at school to help prepare him for college.
The dictionary definition of trust is "Reliance in the integrity, strength, ability, surety of a person or thing; Confident expectation of something; hope." To rephrase that, to trust is to believe in someone's ability or potential. What a fitting name for such an able young man with such loving, unwavering parents.