By Alyssa Schnugg/The Oxford Eagle
OXFORD — Denise Collier is looking for angels in a haystack.
Since November, she’s been caring for two teenage autistic boys who were orphaned when their mother died.
Collier, a behaviorist analyst for the Oxford School District, had worked with the boys for more than two years before their mother died. She took them in when they had nowhere else to go.
The boys, 15 and 13, are both autistic although the older one is high functioning. Their names are being withheld to protect their privacy.
Collier and her husband, Robert Mongue, want to remain in the boys’ life in a grandparents’ role. But, Collier said, at 60-something years old, she and her husband are just too old to take on caring for any child never mind special needs children on a full-time basis.
“We don’t have the necessary energy and stamina to raise them,” she said. “But we would love the opportunity to stay involved in their lives.”
The Colliers’ commitment as temporary foster care ends Jan. 4. If a home is not found by then, both boys will be turned over to the state for placement.
While the younger boy will probably need to be in a formal institution, she is hoping a local couple will step up and become foster parents to the older boy.
“In my opinion, he’s going to flourish and continue to grow toward independence if in a home environment,” she said. “The younger boy’s needs are much greater. But the older one, the more he’s exposed to, the more he will learn and grow.”
Mississippi lacks state facilities to house autistic children, Collier said. The choices are generally psychiatric wards or facilities for intellectually challenged children, which the boys are neither.
“They don’t have a mental disorder,” Collier said. “You can’t give them a pill and make it go away.”
Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.
Collier said she’s more than happy to work with any prospective foster parents for the older boy.
The Colliers are working toward becoming certified foster grandparents through the Mississippi Department of Human Services’ Division of Family and Children Services in Lafayette County.
“DHS has been great,” Collier said. “They’ve really been trying hard to find a placement for both boys.”
While the older boy is aware his stay with the Colliers is temporary, the family has concentrated on the spending the holidays together.
“He says he knows we have them for a limited time,” she said.