By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
Anybody who has teenage sons knows how this can impact the family.
Just ask Cindy and Frank Puskas of Mannington. They have three sons: Derek, 16; Tyler, 14; and Tanner, 7.
They have been married for 17 years.
“We met at Fairmont State,” Frank said. “I was majoring in education, and Cindy was majoring in nursing.”
They met in 1988 while he was in ROTC. They dated off and on for a couple of years, before marrying in 1995.
An art teacher at Mannington Middle School, he’s not one for planning the future.
“We just take one day at a time. In the summer, we’ll wake up and go camping in Elkins. Cindy rearranges her schedule for that.
“We make our own schedule. She can schedule to work Monday through Wednesday, and take Thursday and Friday off to go our camp in Elkins. We spend a lot of time there in the spring, summer and fall.
“But when school starts, it’s crazy.”
Each son attends a different school: Derek, North Marion High School; Tyler, Mannington Middle; and Tanner, Blackshere.
Still, their lives haven’t changed that much, he said.
“Their likes and interests have changed,” he said of the teens. “They’re not into toys any more. Now it’s computers and higher-tech video games. Other than that, nothing else much has changed.”
Derek is into iPad-type technology and history, while Tyler is more interested in videos and art.
Then there’s Tanner.
“He hates homework. He just wants to come home from school and run in the woods, go fishing, squirrel hunting. He’s the outdoorsman.”
Derek is involved in a cooking class at the Vo-Tech School. Tyler is active in student council and is more involved in school.
None of the boys is active in sports.
“So we don’t have to take then to practice. Still, our schedule is always crazy,” Frank said, laughing. “It can get a little hectic.”
Cindy is involved with the West Virginia Birth to Three Early Intervention Program.
The three boys provide both special gifts and challenges to their family because they all have varying degrees of autism.
“It has improved somewhat,” Frank said. “It’s a social thing. Tanner plays with the neighborhood kids. There’s no problem with him. Tyler is socializing more at school. In some classes he doesn’t say much. In others, he’s more involved in groups.”
Derek is the same, he added.
“They really don’t play with too many kids around here, but at camp they have kids they hang around with.
“We don’t make any special accommodations for them. We used to take them to a social skills class in Morgantown, but not lately.”
Their major goal is to teach their sons more responsibility, Cindy said.
“We have them help out more. Derek helps with dinner and with the pets. This teaches responsibility.”
The three have “totally different” personalities, she added.
“Derek is more to himself. He’s the typical teen with his iPad and video games. Tayler is more into drawing and art. Tanner is outdoors from the time he gets home.
“We try to keep in communication with each other as much as we can, like texting. This helps things run smoother. It’s hectic with three kids. We are so busy.”
For example, that day she was busy with her sister-in-law and then spent three hours at parent-teacher conferences. When she got home, her first question was if Frank had fed the kids.
“OK. They don’t seem to be killing each other, so things much be all right.” She laughed.
“You have to laugh. I always joke, keep things light. You can’t take life too seriously.
“We’re just like all families the way we live our lives. I don’t think we’re much different from anybody else.”
Each son has unique talents that comes with being on the autism spectrum, she said.
“But they also have their own set of challenges. This makes us work harder. We’re more aware of the little things. When we go to parent-teacher conferences, we’re not focusing so much on grades. It’s how the son is doing socially with group activities, things like that.
“Tyler is very bright and artistic. He’s very sensitive to the world around.
“Derek is into computers and wants to learn more. As for the little one, he’s more about the environment. He knows things I never knew about things like fishing.
“It’s great when you can learn from your children. And I learn from all of them. Tyler said he liked one class because they do more lateral thinking.
“I said, ‘What?’ I had to ask. He said it’s thinking outside the box.
“And Derek and Tyler have that teenage attitude. ‘Oh, come on, Mom.’ That kind of thing.
“I’ll take time for each of them individually. When you do that, you see less of the behaviors.”
She likes her family, she said.
“It’s exhausting staying one step ahead. Sometimes that’s not possible.
“But I like my family. They’re fun. Exhausting, but fun,” she said with a laugh.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.