Three years ago on Father’s Day, we introduced our readers to Ed Tournu and Kevin Donohue, two Long Island dads who had adopted a boy with autism. Though they had only intended to foster 13 year-old Leo at the time, until a permanent home could be found, the dads fell in love with Leo and have been raising him since.
We checked in with them recently to learn about their plans for young Leo, now 16 and on the verge of entering adulthood. “He’s six feet tall and weighs 220 pounds!” exclaimed Ed proudly. “Still not a week goes by when Leo doesn’t surprise us with what he’s able to do.”
A 10th grader at a special education high school, Leo’s school life is stable. He attends classes with a small group of students who also receive special education services. They’ve been together since elementary school, know each other well, and are comfortable around each other. This familiarity with his peers has helped Leo, who is still non-verbal and according to Ed, is nevertheless quite effective at communicating without words by using gestures and facial expressions. “Somewhere along the line, this child will learn to speak,” insisted Ed, “and when he does, I will be the first to yell out at the top of my lungs!” For now, he’s happy to know that Leo, a sensitive child, can express himself as needed.
Leo is also developing his independence in small steps. He can shower and dress himself with limited help, but in most tasks still requires assistance. After church one afternoon, Leo surprised his dads by removing ingredients from the refrigerator, one at a time – lettuce, cold cuts, cheese, mayo – and making himself a sandwich. He then tapped Kevin on the shoulder to warm it up.
Moments like those move Ed deeply. “I’m so grateful for every little incident like that,” he said. “I’m not in a rush for him to learn everything, but it’s great to see when he does make progress.”
The family is working on helping Leo self-regulate and learn what he can and cannot do, especially as it relates to food. They’ve applied to the Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities for in-home assistance to support Leo in learning that he cannot always have what he desires or eat what he wants.
As for the long term, the dads’ wish is for Leo to stay close, but they recognize the need to plan for the future and explore possible arrangements for Leo when he becomes a young adult. Until then, the family has built a supportive church community, where they’ve connected with parents of children with special needs and where Leo is well-known. They’ve also maintained a strong network of friends, many of whom helped the dads celebrate the renewal of their wedding vows at their 10th anniversary, after 37 of being a committed couple.
Joked Ed, “If all else fails, I’ll just live to be 100! I may not be all there, but I’ll be there for Leo.”
Happy Father’s Day to Ed and Kevin, and all of our dads!
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