A Family’s Journey…
Meet the Saputos
A young man stands amidst the bustle and noise of a graduation ceremony. He accepts his diploma and the cheers from the crowd rise louder than they have for anyone else. His family watches proudly. Joe Saputo is graduating from high school.
This is the culmination of a long Journey and a lot of hard work. He was even awarded an honor cord for the National Business Honor Society. Joe has autism spectrum disorder. He beams with pride. His family played a big part in this victory. This is their story.
Peter and Susan Saputo are quintessential St. Louisans. Born and raised here, they met, married and brought twin boys, Jack and Joe, into the world 18 years ago. Susan states, “because they are twins, we knew early that something was different so we had Joe evaluated.” Neither Peter nor Susan considered autism a possibility. Back then, autism conjured images of a child who rocks and struggles with giving and receiving affection. “That wasn’t Joe so we weren’t sure what was going on.” They learned quickly that autism manifests uniquely in each and every person.
Peter and Susan relentlessly researched to help Joe. First Steps, online community groups, the Special School District, St. Louis Arc, and many others served as support systems throughout the years helping them find their way. The path was often a never-ending string of unknowns and frustrations. “You simply don’t know what you don’t know,” Peter says. “You try everything because you don’t want to miss the possibility of that one right answer.”
Peter and Susan were also willing to rock the boat on behalf of their son. “Fighting for your child is a series of decisions to make sure no ground is lost because if you give a little here and then you give a little more there you may find that you are way off track ultimately.” And Peter and Susan discovered that parental support is an incremental “letting go.” They battled the urge to be overprotective. Susan recalls how hard it was to leave Joe at St. Louis Arc’s summer Teens In Motion program for the first time. After a week, it was clear that Joe was having the time of his life. This was the right place for him at the time – he grew and flourished.
Joe has participated in St. Louis Arc summer programs for 4 years now. “It is not fair to Joe if we assume that we always know what’s best for him. We’ve learned that we can actually hold him back because of our own fears if we are not careful,” Susan shares. “Like all of us, he needs social experiences with his peers and the ability to learn and grow in ways that are meaningful to him.”
For Peter and Susan, though, their situation will continue to be unique. “Both of our sons graduated from high school this year, but one is 5 hours away at college and one remains at home. We’ve learned one important thing: both of our sons’ lives are on upward trajectories. The trajectories may look different but the differences do not make either trajectory any more or less important.” These days they are asking the hard questions, “What happens when we are gone? How can Joe live his happiest, most rewarding and independent life?”
Peter says, “I consider our journey a ‘voyage’ where we encounter lighthouses to guide us along the way. St. Louis Arc is our lighthouse today as we look to plan for Joe’s future transitions. Though we have invested a lot of time and effort thus far, we are still learning.”
“Agencies like St. Louis Arc can be places that provide us with answers, pointing us in the directions we need to go.”
This year, our featured story reminds us how vital supporting the whole family really is. For every child…teen…adult…and family there are organizations that support them on their journey. At the St. Louis Arc, parents, siblings, significant others – all family members are supported. As you consider your giving this season, please consider supporting the St. Louis Arc’s mission to empower people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families for a lifetime. Make a difference and take part in a vision that touches more than 4,000 lives every single year. Give the greatest gift you can give a person with disabilities – the gift of opportunity.