For Donna Roman’s family, meeting the needs of their youngest son, Eli, has been a years-long struggle. “It has been a difficult and, at times, devasting experience,” said Donna. Eli is on the autism spectrum and faces significant mental health challenges, along with learning disabilities. Additionally, Eli sometimes wrestles with his identity as a child who was adopted.

In early 2017, Eli and his family were in all-out crisis. Within a period of six months, Eli was in the hospital three times for a total of 10 weeks, and that was after five previous psychiatric hospitalizations.

Charting a Course

At this point, Eli was already receiving in-home support from JF&CS, which he had been referred to through MassHealth. After his recent spate of hospitalizations, Eli’s in-home team suggested that he work directly with Joan Munnelly, the Autism Navigator at JF&CS.

“Joan was able to help us chart a course,” said Donna. “Eli is lucky to have an amazing team of professionals who are experts in their respective areas. Joan, who is an expert in special education advocacy, quickly became an integral part of Eli’s team.”

Eli and his family at The Einstein Memorial.
Eli and his family at The Einstein Memorial (Courtesy photo)

Joan works with Eli and his family to improve his educational goals and access. She closely coordinates her efforts with Eli’s school and his team of professionals to ensure that his services are implemented effectively. Together, Eli’s team has fought to make sure that he receives the correct type of therapeutic placement.

“When Joan attends meetings with Eli and us, she adds crucial input,” said Donna. “She represents Eli’s voice and encourages Eli to advocate for himself.” Joan also reviews Eli’s Individualized Education Plan, reports and evaluations directly with his parents to improve their understanding of what Eli needs and help them adjust their planning when problems arise.

Looking Toward a Brighter Future

Zip Line Canopy Tour and Treetop Adventure Photos at ArborTrek/S
Eli on a zip line tour (Courtesy photo)

Eli’s life has transformed dramatically since 2017. With coaching and encouragement from Joan, Donna and her husband made the difficult decision that Eli needed a residential placement to make progress. “It was agonizing,” said Donna. “But the results have been amazing.”

In the last two-and-a-half years, Eli hasn’t been in the hospital or ER for mental illness issues at all. He has been able to access his education and has earned almost all As and Bs. “When Eli first met Joan, he had no self-confidence and had told us that he thought he was stupid,” said Donna. “Now, he identifies goals for his future and even said that he would like to go to some type of college program.”

Donna credits JF&CS and Joan for Eli’s progress. “At some of the worst moments for us, Joan was there to help pick us up, dust us off and cheerlead so we could keep going,” said Donna. “She’s an essential resource, friend and ally for us, but even more importantly, for Eli.”

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