When Debbie Lopez needs help with her computer, she knows she can call on her son, Peter.
Lopez, a 47-year-old Poughkeepsie resident, said Peter punches a few buttons, and the machine is like new again.
“He does things you never thought he would be able to do,” she said. “We just feel so warm-hearted about his accomplishments and we are so proud of him.”
Peter Lopez was among 17 students who graduated from the Anderson Center for Autism on Friday, the second-largest class in the residential school’s 91-year history. Only the Class of 2014, which had 18 graduates, has been larger.
To respect the privacy of the students, their last names and those of their parents have been abbreviated unless otherwise allowed by the parents.
“It takes a village, so it is said,” Anderson Executive Director Neil Pollack said. “Here, it takes an army.”
Indeed, parents, family members and staff packed the auditorium at the school, and an overflow crowd watched a simulcast in a nearby room.
And while the students were being honored, it was clear that they were not the only ones who benefited from a learning experience at the center.
“While I was trying to teach them, they were teaching me,” said Suzanne Blatter, who is retiring as Anderson’s transition coordinator.
In one of the most poignant moments, the commencement address was given by two Anderson graduates from the Class of 2006 who now live in a community home, or individual residential alternative. The homes, located in Dutchess, Ulster and Orange counties, are supported by Anderson’s adult services program.
Marcos Davila and Jonah Fields spoke confidently about the skills they have learned.
Fields spoke of the four-step plan to verbalize feelings, express what is not liked, communicate desires and “tell what could happen if you can’t work it out.”
Davila emphasized to his peers the value of listening.
Some of the students will remain on the center’s campus along Route 9 as part of Anderson’s LifeLong Learning program, Jeff Russell’s son Darien among them.
Russell, a 60-year-old resident of Southold, Suffolk County praised the staff at Anderson.
“It’s very difficult. There is no place on Long Island,” Russell said.
His voice shaking, Russell said his son has given him insight into what is important in life.
“And that is family, and betterment,” he said. “You can always learn, no matter where you are.”