Lebanon County, PA — Deanna was working at Lebanon County Department of Human Services (DHS) when she learned that Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. could help her son, Gavin. Diagnosed with autism at age two, he was now 14 and facing new challenges.
“I didn’t feel like the school was being supportive or sensitive to our needs,” Deanna said. “When Gavin got to high school it was harder for me to navigate all of his services, including his IEP mostly because of his avoidance issues with going to school.”
An IEP, which Gavin had since elementary school, is an Individualized Education Plan, required by federal law to ensure that students with disabilities get needed support at school.
“As a caseworker I was referring clients to YAP for services. That is when I decided to call them to help our family as well,” she said
Gavin has not-so-great memories of that time, saying he was dealing with a lot of anger issues, particularly when people told him what he could not do. Speaking of that time in a new YAP public service ad (PSA), he says, “It’s enough to make you feel hopeless.”
Now in its 47th year with programs in 32 states and the District of Columbia, YAP partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, intellectual disabilities and other systems to provide community-based alternatives to youth incarceration and congregate care.
“YAP provided us with family-based behavioral health services and Michelle Heim [YAP Regional Quality Manager] was our savior. She attended the IEP meetings with us and explained things that were difficult to understand,” Deanna said. “She assisted with referring us for other services and most of all she truly cared about Gavin and our family. She would email me and check in on things even after she wasn’t working with us anymore.”
The new understanding and support enabled Gavin to be included in classroom and other school activities in a manner that addressed his individual needs, giving him confidence as he matured. Through YAP, he also received home-based Behavioral Health program therapeutic services to help with his anger issues.
“The therapists, Advocates – everyone was great. [National Coordinator of Developmental Disabilities Programs} Lori Burruss is a wonderful, wonderful person,” Deanna said. “[Lebanon & Schuylkill Counties Director] Deidra Deiter, too. They always helped us when we needed services.”
Deanna said the YAP Behavioral Health services team helped the family understand unhealthy behaviors that often take form when there are children who have special needs.
“They helped us understand that one family member is not allowed to be the center of everything and dictate what happens with everyone else. That was a huge transition, something we needed to work on. If it wasn’t for our YAP therapists, we never would have seen that.”
After Gavin graduated from high school in 2019, he transitioned to YAP’s Intellectual Disabilities Advocate support program, where he is now paired with Advocate Frances Rimby. Appearing alongside Gavin in the new :60 PSA, Rimby shares how she helps him see his strengths and who he can become.