When her son was diagnosed with autism, Debra Vines said she had nowhere to turn for assistance. However, through research and trial and error the west suburban mom said she found The Answer. Now, she’s helping thousands of families get the help they need.
Vines still recalls the challenges she and her family encountered when her son Jason was diagnosed with autism. She said she lived in a very dark place for a long time.
Jason is now 32 and was diagnosed at 18-months-old. Vines said she and her late husband James knew very little about caring for a child with autism.
“I couldn’t really take Jason anywhere because his behavior was out of control,” she said. “He would just pull at things, he would bite people things like that. I didn’t even know how to handle it myself.”
As she began to meet other parents with special needs children in her community, she noticed a lack of support programs.
“I didn’t see any programs of parents that look like me, nothing in underserved communities,” she said. “Everything that I went to, to be totally transparent, they were very affluent families.”
In 2007, Vines decided to fill that void by founding The Answer Inc. — a non-profit organization in Forest Park that offers resources to autistic children and their families including educational programs, contacts for counseling services as well a dance program to promote health and wellness for young adults.
“I learned that once children age out of school they don’t have a lot of movement so they start gaining weight,” she said. “What happens is diabetes, all the other things that come with weight gain.”
But it may be the support system Vines offers parents that has been the most beneficial for some. Estella Solid’s 11-year-old son David was also diagnosed with autism at a young age. She said she didn’t understand her son’s behavior until she met Vines seven years ago.
“Like, for 10 minutes, I sat there and just cried and she was like, ‘OK, now that we got that out, we have work to do,’” Solid said.
And that work is teaching parents how to advocate for themselves and their children.
Once a month, Vines hosts a segment on her website called “Ask Jason’s Mom” and gives parents the answer to their questions.
Before his death in 2018, Vines’ husband James created a support group called “Just for Men” and posted a heartfelt message for fathers.
“This group is to help empower men. Growing up we’re taught that men don’t cry. Well, real men cry,” he said in the message.
Since its inception, The Answer has serviced more than 4,000 individuals with an impact that is immeasurable.
“Life is calmer,” Solid said. “We still have meltdowns, we still have things that come up, but I know that I have the support.”
And through all of the ups and downs, Vines said she, too, finally feels balanced.
"That’s when you know you are really really well, when you are well enough to help someone else," Vines said.
Vines she is one of Chicago’s Very Own.
For more information about The Action, visit theanswerinc.org.