Julie and Michael Tracy are the proud parents of two young adults sons, Joseph and John. While Joseph developed typically, John was diagnosed with autism at age two. Like many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, John’s growth and development presented with unique and puzzling challenges. Though intelligent, funny and articulate, John struggled in school socially. His unusual observations, sense of humor and sheer determination forged a path in childhood, which was supported by his family and the public school environment. His struggles grew during adolescence, splintering his hard earned success to shards of a challenging diagnostic puzzle. After a number of hospitalizations, John was enrolled at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School at the beginning of his junior year of high school. The “O” School is a residential, therapeutic school serving children with significant challenges associated with both autism and mental illness, and is affiliated with the University of Chicago in Hyde Park.
Unpredictably, John’s mental health declined, and his autism diagnosis complicated treatment. He was admitted to Rush University Medical Center during the summer of 2011, where he stayed for five weeks. It was almost impossible to stabilize John, and it was during these uncertain months that the impetus for the Tracys’ work emerged. Observing the need for more specific psychiatric and transitional care directed towards young adults with autism and comorbid mental health problems, the Tracys’ vision emerged: residential, vocational, and social solutions for young adults located on the Near West Side of Chicago, working closely with the newly established center for Autism research and treatment at Rush. In just under two short years, JMTF has made this vision a reality.
From early childhood, John has always loved zebras. He wrote about them when he was nine years old. They have inspired us in our design plans as well. They are isolated animals of prey who are easily scattered. No two are the same, just like people with autism and the solutions that will carry them safely through their young lives and beyond. John had it right all along.