TCU Family Finds Victories While Living With Autism

Two of the family's three sons have autism spectrum disorder

To be a member of the Texas Christian University family, you need to take care of one another, and likely, wear a lot of purple.

Mark Cohen does all those things. As TCU's associate athletics director for athletics communications, he oversees communications for TCU's 21 sports.

It's more than a full-time job, it's a way of life. One example: while attending a women's basketball game with his son, he was tapped at the last minute to help with stats.

"When you're not in the middle of football season, you kind of help out where needed," Mark said.

Mark has been part of the TCU family for 15 years, along with his wife, Sarah, and their three boys.

"There's something really special about being part of a college campus community," Sarah said.

That's especially true when challenges come. Like when their second son reached his second birthday and their pediatrician had concerns.

"Mark turned to her and he said, 'Well, worst case scenario, what do you think we might be dealing with?'" Sarah recalled. "And you could almost tell that she didn't want to say it, but she said, 'Worst case, autism.'"

Two of their three sons, Adam and Steven, are living with that diagnosis: autism spectrum disorder.

"I would be lying if I said I don't have pity parties sometimes," Sarah said. "Especially on the really hard days, but yeah, you have those moments where you say, 'Why me? Why them?'"

Those really hard days happened when Adam was younger. Sarah said sensory overload could quickly lead to meltdowns.

"He'll be on the floor. He'll be banging his elbows and his head against the floor and he's just inconsolable," Sarah said.

But the Cohen family is still able to find victories as their children have become adults living autism.

Adam attends Goodwill Industries' S.T.A.R.S. Program, which teaches life skills and independence.

Just this year, Adam's outbursts have happened less often. He and Mark are now able to frequent women's basketball games to spend time together.

"Years ago, we probably couldn't take him to games because of the noise and he didn't want to sit still for three hours," Mark said.

"Coach Raegan Pebley has even said, 'He's our good luck charm! We're winning as long as Adam is there,'" Sarah said with a laugh.

Their youngest son, 19-year-old Steven, has also found success worth celebrating: getting a job at Albertsons.

"I'll never forget that sense of pride when we dropped him off for his first day of work and just seeing him walk inside the store," Mark said. "I go to Albertsons now even if I don't need any groceries."

Steven helps bag groceries and assist shoppers who need help loading their items in their car.

"His line could have the longest line and somebody from another register is waving me over and I'm like, 'No, I'm good. I'm good. I'm going to stay in this line,'" Mark said.

The Cohens said, as their family has grown up at TCU, students, co-workers, and even peers from other colleges have rallied around them with support and acceptance.

"Tonight we're going to one of our family favorite annual events, it's the Chance to Dance," Sarah said.

The TCU chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association hosts the event for young adults with special needs.

It's two hours full of fun and peer interactions

"It makes my heart really full," Sarah said. "Because there was a time when you wondered if he would get an opportunity to do those things."

Mark said another family victory, is seeing Steven look after Adam. The night of the dance, Steven gently took off a colorful feather boa that was wrapped around Adam's neck for a festive photo booth picture.

"Here's a young man with autism, who takes care of his older brother, who has autism," Mark said.

The Cohens offered this advice for other families facing a similar diagnosis: "There's a lot of joy. Even though it's hard and it's very different," Sarah said. "You will have normal days, it's just your normal days will be very different from someone else's normal days."

"You know, just leaning on the support of others and just knowing that you're not alone in it," Mark said.

The victories are still there, Sarah said, they just come in smaller packages -- and they're just as meaningful.

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