For Young Man With Autism, Love Of Car Rides Put To Use
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Logan Slipow loves to run.
He can’t talk, and he has autism, but since the time he could walk, Logan, now 25, has loved being out in the world.
That has led his parents, Sharon and Larry Slipow, to outfit their Virginia Beach home with all manner of security devices to keep him from running straight into traffic: key pads with special codes to secure the door, a 6-foot fence, outside security cameras.
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Still, Logan yearns to be out. So, they also take him for car rides. Just as a ride can soothe a crying baby, the back seat of the family’s car seems to contain and center him.
“He’ll tug on you to go on a car ride all day long,” Sharon said.
His parents have used those twin loves, running and riding, to create his own community service project: Logan’s Run.
Every Sunday, the young man with tousled, dark hair collects cans of food from people’s front stoops, throws them into the family’s trunk — sometimes with a heave-ho — and leaves a note thanking them for their donation to local food pantries.
“It reinforces the concept of ‘Do not let autism get in the way of doing your bit,'” Sharon said. “That’s the message: Find a way.”
Sharon wants the focus to be on Logan, but it’s only fair to say it’s been mostly her inspiration.
From the time Logan was diagnosed, shortly before the age of 2, she’s tried dozens of approaches to allay the symptoms of a brain-development disorder that impairs communication and social skills: therapy, diets, injections, whatever held hope at the time.
But Logan falls on the severe end of the autism spectrum, and sooner or later she had to accept that he would never have a regular job. Or speak a full sentence. Or be out in the world on his own — except when he escaped.
Maybe that’s why he escapes. Among his forays: climbing out a window to sneak into a neighbor’s house to open the family’s Christmas presents, riding his bike onto traffic-clogged Laskin Road, slipping away to the local grocery store to eat some grapes.
When Logan graduated from public school in 2013, his family faced a question familiar to the parents of the estimated 50,000 people with autism who leave the school system each year: What now?
“That question is very hard,” Sharon said. “What is their future? What happens when you die? And then, the day-to-day, minute-to-minute, ‘What now?’ It’s physically and emotionally hard. It’s huge. It makes you want to cry in your soup. The love in your heart is so huge.”
She acknowledges, though, that her family is one of the lucky ones. Logan has a Medicaid waiver, a government funding tool that pays for support care.
Thousands of people with disabilities are on the waiting list for one in Virginia alone, a state that the U.S. Department of Justice says is woefully behind in providing community services.
He attends a day support program and has caregivers who can take the load off the constant eyes-on-Logan job that has formed the Slipows’ life for more than two decades.
Not long ago, his case manager asked: Does Logan do any community-service work?
It seemed like a strange question to ask of someone who needs help getting dressed.
Another parent might have scoffed at the idea. But it got Sharon thinking: Why not put those Sunday drives to use?
She logged onto Facebook and the Nextdoor social media site to describe her idea: “Then all you have to do is put your goods by the door and Logan will swing by Sunday mornings to pick them up! Everyone needs a purpose, thanks for helping give Logan his.”
People responded, and on a recent Sunday, Sharon cleared suitcases out of the car trunk. Logan had packed them with clothing, swimsuits, toothpaste and deodorant. He loves to travel and is always prepared for the off chance that today might include an airplane and a hotel.
Sharon corralled Logan, who was alternately swiping at his iPad and running through the house. He tapped the screen to show her a photo of a hotel, showing he wants to go on a trip.
“Logan, we’re going. We’re going to go get groceries. Remember last week?”
Larry took the wheel, and Sharon and Logan got in back, with Logan still poking at the photo of the hotel.
At the first stop, Logan and Sharon got out, and Logan picked up the sacks of groceries. He thrust them into the trunk — the same way he throws a bowling ball, from the chest out, Sharon observed.
His vocalizations were almost like singing.
He tore the handle off one of the bags and put it in his mouth.
At one point he left a bag by the side of the road, which a family friend pointed out.
“Logan, come back,” called Sharon. “You left a bag.”
It’s not an easy process, and there are setbacks. He needed to go to the bathroom at one point, so Sharon called ahead to a friend who was next on the list. At another stop, he pulled something out of the bag and tried to eat it himself. He reached for the front-door handle at one house instead of picking up the food.
But they pressed on, with Sharon’s direction and urging, through Birdneck Point, to Bay Colony, up Shore Drive and down Great Neck Road. Before long, he had collected 150 pounds of groceries for food pantries throughout the neighborhood.
It’s not the first time the Slipows have tried putting to use the things Logan loves.
They recall the time they taught him to take out the trash. He had begun scooping up magazines and newspapers they hadn’t yet read.
“It was a race to get to them before he did,” Larry said.
His love of water, a common obsession among those with autism, led them to teach Logan to do the laundry.
He’d wash the clothes, put them in the dryer, then immediately take the clothes out of the dryer and put them right back in the washer, just to see the water gush out.
At their house, the Slipows have a switch that turns off all the water to keep Logan from running his iPad under whichever faucet he can find. Sometimes he just pitches his iPad into Linkhorn Bay behind their house, not to mention car keys, cellphones and his father’s gym bag, which he thinks will keep him from going to work out.
“He has so many eccentricities, some you never figure out,” Sharon said.
Sharon believes in her heart of hearts that Logan enjoys this community service project.
How does she know?
“He’s making his happy sounds. The way he jumps out of the car. If he didn’t like it, he’d be loud and angry. If he doesn’t want to get out of the car, you can’t get him out.”
He has demonstrated that before, at a restaurant he doesn’t care for. Or a doctor’s visit he wants to skip. When he’s frustrated, he’ll flail his arms, jump up and down, do things that make you mad — like tear up family photos.
And so for now, this Sunday moment, and for the rest of the year, this drive through neighborhoods to collect cans of groceries is the answer to the unending “what now” question. Sharon hopes he’ll learn to understand the concept, which has already resulted in more than 600 pounds of food donations.
“It’s connecting the car rides with purpose.”
She’d like to someday widen the scope of it, and she’s no slouch at organization. In 1996, she started a summer camp for children with autism called Camp Gonnawannagoagain in Virginia Beach with six children. Now 240 attend.
So the wheels in her mind are turning: Could Logan’s Run be replicated in other neighborhoods, drawing in more people with disabilities?
“So it’s not just Logan, not just autism,” she said. “Let’s open the door to helping each other.”
In the meantime, she has enjoyed seeing Logan connect with a world he’s often disengaged with. People sometimes greet him at the door. They wave through the window. They urge him on through Facebook: “Go, Logan, go!”
Sharon is thankful for the idea of connecting a community service with Logan’s favorite pastime: being out in the world.
© 2016 The Virginian-Pilot
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