LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Parents of children with autism often say one of their biggest challenges is the shortage of hugs and kisses. It is hard for some children with autism to show the kind of unbridled affection other families may take for granted.
It's one reason the Lussier family will remember this homecoming at Lewiston High School for years to come. As the Public Affairs Officer for the Air Force Junior ROTC program at LHS, it was Caleb Lussier's task to help to escort the media into a special assembly "I was told we were having a meeting with a war hero, but they said it was classified and they wouldn't tell us who," said Lussier as he briefed reporters en route to the conference room.
Many of the cadets seated in the audience are growing up in military families who appreciate the structure and discipline the program provides. That structure may be especially important for Caleb who has a high functioning form of autism. "When he first came to high school, we were lucky if he sat still for five minutes," said Malinda Caron, Caleb's Special Education teacher. Caron says JROTC has help ground Caleb, at least until the moment when the war hero entered the room.
It was his father, Staff Sgt. Richard Lussier, a Desert Storm veteran and father of 4 who re-enlisted at age 49 because he wanted to give some of the younger guys who'd had multiple deployments a break.
Caleb had no idea his father was coming home from Afghanistan "I tricked you," said Lussier with a grin on his face. "You lied," Caleb laughed.
For parents of any teenage boy, a hug is a welcome treat. For parents of a teenage boy with autism, it is an unexpected gift. "With the autism, you just never know what you're gonna get," said Lussier.
What Lussier got was more than a hug. It was a heartfelt, tearful, embrace that lasted for minutes. "It was amazing," said Caren Lussier, Caleb's mother. "Because you don't see that from Caleb. There's no hugs, no kissing or touching." And Staff Sgt Lussier says he's noticed other positive changes in his son this year. "Where he struggled his freshman year, now he says his focus is dress, appearance, and his grades and it really shows," said Lussier.
So while he may may have been the guest star at the assembly...it was also Caleb's moment to shine. "It felt great to see him have a reunion with his dad. That meant a lot, said Caron. "but it's also great to see him shine in his own light because of the gains he's made" Because as Caleb threw his arms around his dad, he was also embracing his own potential.