The Memory of Paul Robert Foti Lives On
SEEDs For Autism was created out of the sheer love and devotion for my younger brother, Paul Robert Foti, who was diagnosed with autism in the early 70's. Watching someone you care so much for, struggle daily to find their niche in society is such a helpless feeling, especially when that person tries to reach out in their own way to make conversations and connect socially. Sadly many in the world are not very kind to those they don’t understand, and opportunities for skilled training for adults like Paul are just not readily available.
Paul regularly faced the difficulties of mainstreaming within his community and fellow employees. These job placements were generally menial jobs, lower than his intellectual capabilities, paired with job coaches who didn’t understand his behaviors or social awkwardness. He would occasionally get sent home, when the stress of the job triggered him to begin a repetitive monologue, which frustrated and perplexed untrained job coaches and co-workers. Washing dishes in a hospital was certainly not a good fit for someone who is sensitive to noise, it is extremely loud, and a constant source of anxiety, hundreds and hundreds of glassware clanking and rattling. Then there were the years in the laundry room, at the hospital. Again, a hot, noisy, atmosphere. Regardless, he went to work, and tried to do his job. He tried, and kept a journal to help relieve the stress.
When Paul wasn’t at work, he was creating scenes, buildings and other items for his train set. He loved making buildings from scratch and creating this wonderful make believe world, one that he could escape to and be the sole conductor of. It was his joy and passion, and made him light up to talk about. He would save his money to buy paints, couplers, and engines. Paul preferred to design and create his buildings, layouts, and other accessories mostly with his own hands, and was self taught from reading. He loved to ride his bike to the library and would spend hours there.
In my heart, for years and years I wanted to create a place for him to be able to work, a place that would be safe, loving, nurturing and compassionate. He needed a place where he could be himself and grow, while also continuing to learn and use his passion for creating. It was a constant gnawing inside of me, but something I never knew how to establish.
Finally, it just seemed fitting to take all the skills I had acquired, and gather some friends who too had various skills, and knew how to make things. It was from the understanding of that passion that drove my brother to want to learn, and was so proud of what he created, that I came to create SEEDs.
SEEDs was to be the safe haven for Paul, and others like him, who needed a place to continue to grow, learn and be understood, into adulthood. A place where failure didn’t exist, and oddities were a benefit not a blunder. I wanted Paul to be given the opportunities he deserved.
Paul will sadly never get that opportunity, as God apparently had some other plans for him. Two months after the doors opened for SEEDs, we were told that Paul had pancreatic cancer, and it had spread within his entire intestinal area as well. There was no hope for treatment of any kind. We took him home and my family and I cared for him there through his last difficult five months.
For those who loved Paul, his loss leaves huge gapping holes in our hearts. He was the purpose for my mom, and the bright shining light in our lives. His smile and hearty laugh brightened the room and was contagious. From him, we were taught, and given so much.
Because of Paul, it is in his loving memory that SEEDs continues, and I hope that it will make the difference in the lives it touches, as it was intended to do for him.
Mary Ann LaRoche
Director, SEEDS for Autism