Sam’s Big Move

Change was upon Sam – and the new season was primed to be his best one yet.

His stuff was there. That’s what Sam realized with each visit. Every time he went to the house, walked down the stairs, and entered the bedroom he saw his stuff. And that gave him comfort, familiarity. It began to click: this is going to be my new home.

July 6: Pierce Lane

Christian is strumming on his guitar. He loves music. He especially loves playing music, twanging the strings or tapping the keys or pounding the drums. The tactile feedback is soothing and gives him a way to let off some steam if the occasion calls for it.

Today, however, he’s just showing off, plucking away, while reclining on the back porch of the house on Pierce Lane in Hollis, NH. It’s a lazy summer day, the sun pours down, and the sounds of lunch coming together are audible in the nearby kitchen.

The concert is broken up by the sound of a door opening. Christopher is home. He walks in with his support staff behind him, fresh off a morning’s work of document shredding. Before settling in, he makes a beeline for small container hanging off the side of the back door. He takes the container to the backyard and feeds the day’s food scraps to the composter, closes the door, and lets nature take its course. With another part of his daily routine done, he walks back inside, grabs a seat at the lunch table with Christian and starts in on his sandwich.

There’s still lots to do for both guys before the day’s out—a run to the town dump for Christopher, an afternoon at the YMCA for Christian—and then, as is the custom for the Pierce Boys, a laid-back evening watching Wheel of Fortune.

Both Christopher and Christian have an autism diagnosis and are former Crotched Mountain School students, who found their way to Hollis as part of their transition to adult, community-based services. The Pierce Lane home or, as Samantha the house manager likes to call it, “the bachelor pad,” gives these guys a very similar experience to what other young men in their early-20s have: graduating from school, moving out of their parents’ house, and kicking it with a couple of roommates.

“I love it when I visit here and nobody’s home,” says Sarah Menard, Associate Director of Community Living for Crotched Mountain. “That means they’re out in the community, doing their own grocery shopping, volunteering, going for a swim. They’re learning to live like independent, adult men.”

June 15: Carter Hall

There’s a buzz in the air on the mountain. Twenty-one excited students are lined up and about to graduate from Crotched Mountain School. One of the figures clad in a dark blue cap and gown is Sam Arnold.

Sam also has autism, which, over the years, has severely limited his communication and led to challenging behaviors—behaviors that would sometimes turn into intense, physical aggression. For Sam’s parents, Carol and Enos, this meant he could not remain at home, or continue in his day school programming. Sam needed something more. And that’s how he arrived at Crotched Mountain School, and how he now finds himself sitting alongside 20 of his fellow graduates, listening to the keynote speaker—his mom.

She says: “From the time Sam arrived on campus he grew academically, socially, and emotionally. He was among peers and staff that accepted him, respected him, and made him feel less like a person with special needs and more like a person that is special and unique. We had never seen Sam more comfortable with himself and more at ease with the people around him.”

When the ceremony wraps and the certificates have been handed out, the newly-minted CMS alumni spill out into the sun-splashed campus. Sam’s family gathers and, ushers him toward the flagpole for photos. Standing next to Sam is his younger brother, Zack, recently graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in neuroscience. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder — two young men whose school experiences couldn’t be more different.

But pride is bursting in equal measure for the Arnold parents. Their boys are ready for the next adventure. And for Sam, it’s life at the Pierce Lane Bachelor Pad, where his new room awaits.

In the run-up to The Big Move, Sam’s parents outfitted his new place with his personal items and, over the course of a several weeks, Sam would visit. He got to know the staff, the location, and, most importantly, Chris and Christian. A strong relationship with his direct support staff, Dave, was an essential key to success. Dave got to know Sam in both the school and residential setting while he was a student and then moved with him to Pierce Lane following graduation.

It was a textbook transition, built to ease Sam into the next chapter as neatly as possible.

He was among peers and staff that accepted him, respected him, and made him feel less like a person with special needs and more like a person that is special and unique.

And it’s worked. Chris, Christian, and Sam, Crotched Mountain School alumni all, are doing life together. They each have their own daily routine—jobs, chores, field trips, sports—but at night there’s an excellent chance you’ll find them sitting together at the dinner table, polishing off a meal before settling in for some Wheel of Fortune. Just three 20-something dudes, hanging out in their own place.

Epilogue – July 15: Oak Park

The humidity is thick and day is warm, even with the clouds rolling in. The first annual Crotched Mountain Community Living Picnic is in full swing; residents, staff, home providers, friends, and family members are all together, playing field games, eating pasta salad and watermelon, enjoying the day.

Sam and his parents are here, too. Today, at the playground, the family exchanges words and hugs. They take a moment to pose for a photo, and continue to chat until Sam’s staff pulls up in the car.

“Come on Sam. Time to leave.”

Sam nods and peels away. There are no tears, no screams, no behaviors. There is just a young man saying goodbye to his parents. Carol smiles and waves, the faintest quiver in her lips.

Sam climbs into the car and heads home.


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