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Emma’s Story


“It was truly a miracle! From the moment we walked into Devereux, we knew immediately this was the perfect home for Emma.”
- Jean, Devereux parent

When the pandemic struck our region, Emma had been with Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health for only four months. After residing with her family for all of her thirty years, she was just learning to live independently.

Emma was diagnosed with autism at two years old and her parents, Jean and John, began a lifetime of advocacy. As Emma grew more aloof, isolated and non-verbal, missing developmental milestones, Jean and John became more desperate. Their journey, however, was filled with many failed school placements and numerous sleepless nights, as Emma’s aggressive and self-destructive behaviors became more severe each year. Jean explained, “We were devastated because we just couldn’t understand why all these so-called professionals could not help my child.” Thankfully, when Emma was nine years old, they found the right school - along with a compassionate group of therapists and educators - to provide the critical services that she so desperately needed.

As Emma became an adult, her family thought it was important for her to live independently, with her own peer group. After another long and frustrating search, Jean was successful in securing both the necessary funding and a place for Emma at Devereux. A warm, bright house on a tree-lined street in a friendly neighborhood was the home Jean had always dreamed for Emma. Jean shared, “It was truly a miracle! From the moment we walked into Devereux, we knew immediately this was the perfect home for Emma.”

In 1912, a young Philadelphia teacher named Helena Trafford Devereux became discouraged as she saw firsthand that those with special needs were underserved by the public education system. Believing she could do better, she began teaching some of these children in her own home. She strongly believed that, regardless of the level of their challenges, these individuals could learn and achieve personal growth in an environment tailored to their needs.

The Devereux staff were pleased with Emma’s progress as they learned how to best communicate with her and to provide the necessary support. She was completing her house chores, attending a community-based job skills program, and even beginning to socialize with her three housemates. Emma enjoyed weekend visits with her family, but was content to return to her Devereux home.

And then Covid-19 protocols were implemented and life as Emma knew it came to a complete stop. For children and adults with severe autism and other challenges, the pandemic brought a unique set of hardships. It brought an abrupt end to essential day programs and community jobs, anticipated weekend outings to movies or shopping, and a halt to in-person visits. Emma was at first confused and her self-destructive behaviors briefly returned, as she could not understand why her life had so drastically changed. She became sad and homesick, retreating alone to her room.

However, the Devereux staff are incredibly resilient and they used all available resources to ensure Emma and her housemates were safe and healthy, both physically and emotionally. A new plan and structure was immediately implemented that included days filled with baking cookies and cupcakes, having pizza parties, watching favorite movies, playing familiar games, sewing masks from old curtains, and even holding delightful winter picnics in their outside yard, with everyone laughing as they bundled up in warm coats, hats and mittens!

The transformative care Devereux provides is made possible by the support of the greater community. Please consider making a gift today so that innovative programs and services can continue providing hope to families like Emma’s.

One of the unexpected gifts of pandemic life soon became Emma’s favorite activity: the twice-weekly video calls with her blended family, who participated from all over the country. Similar to those in-person, these video visits were chaotic and loud with everyone speaking at the same time, but they were always filled with love and laughter. The visits usually ended with a group sing-a-long of Emma’s favorite Disney songs. The Devereux team would marvel that Emma - who rarely speaks - would wait for just the right opening and she, too, would sing softly in her beautiful, perfectly on-key voice.

Jean and John will tell you that the Devereux staff are “true angels” and they will be forever grateful to them for keeping their daughter safe, secure and happy during these unprecedented and turbulent times. The Devereux staff will tell you that they are the fortunate ones, as they have the privilege of caring for Emma and her housemates and experiencing the joy of teaching them to live independently even amidst the uncertainties of a global pandemic.

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