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Son's Autism Spurs Ossining's Michele Lawton To Run

Ossining's Michele Lawton, left, will run the Boston Marathon on Monday for The New England Center for Children. Her autistic son, Jack, resided there for 14 years. Photo Credit: Contributed by Michele Lawton
Michele Lawton of Ossining crosses the finish line at the Boston Marathon in 2010. Photo Credit: Contributed by Michele Lawton

OSSINING, N.Y. – Ossining’s Michele Lawton feels indebted to The New England Center for Children for helping her 23-year-old autistic son, Jack, live an independent life. She’s going the extra mile, 26 of them in fact, to prove it.

Lawton will run in the Boston Marathon for the second time on Monday. She is raising money for the NECC in Southborough, Mass. Jack resided at NECC for 14 years before graduating two years ago. He now lives in an adult group home in Ossining. Lawton also ran for the school in Boston in 2010.

“No matter how hard a training run is or how grueling a marathon experience, it will never be as hard a struggle as it is for my son Jack as he strives every day to perform his life tasks as independently as he can in our world,’’ Lawton wrote on her fund-raising page. I will always run for Jack. Every day is a marathon for him.”

Lawton and husband, John, have four other children, ages 10 to 24. Coping with Jack’s autism was a challenge since he was born. When he was 4 years old, Lawton discovered a teaching method, applied behavior analysis, that helped Jack. Lawton started a small school in the basement of their house that included five tutors and 40 hours of one-on-one behavior therapy.

After three years, the challenges became too great for the family. Jack needed a residential program which used applied behavior analysis. No problems in New York State offered that particular teaching method. The Lawtons discovered the NECC, and placed Jack at the school when he was seven years old.

“They provided hope when there was little left,’’ Lawton said. “They provided a place where Jack could learn and thrive. They provided a home and family when we were far away. They provided encouragement when times were difficult and Jack was struggling. But they never gave up. They never would. I could never say enough about their respect for life and their promotion of the dignity for all.”

Jack is in a residential program managed by the Cardinal McCloskey Community Services. He uses an iPad to communicate, has vocational skills and is much more social. “His eyes light up when he sees his family,’’ Lawton said.

Lawton started running in 2006, and it has brought her time to contemplate and relieve stress. “It’s been my meditation time, and time to think about things and look to God for guidance,’’ she said.

Running a marathon is no small task. She feels it is the least she can do, however, for the school that saved her son’s life and gave her hope. The NECC even had a residence in Hopkinton, where the race starts.

“I’m so thankful for that school,’’ she said. “It’s pretty much the reason I run. It’s the only thing that gets me out there in the freezing cold.”

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