Readjusting focus: Following son’s autism diagnosis, Canfield family takes creative path

CANFIELD — Austin Lucas is learning to carve out his own space in the world.

With an autism diagnosis behind them and a bright future ahead, his parents, Ashley and Kenny, have their eyes set on the “in-between.”

The family, including Austin’s sister, Raegan, 9, has its own wood-carving business, A and R Designs, named after the kids.

The Lucases bought an X-Carve machine during the COVID-19 pandemic and assembled its 1,900 pieces by watching videos, a task Ashley called “daunting.”

The 3D carving machine, which cost $2,000, uses CNC, or computer numerical control. This helps automate the movement of tools through pre-programmed software to manufacture signs and other items they sell.

Austin, 11, was diagnosed in 2019 and Ashley left an 18-year banking career in 2021 to focus on her son.

“It just got to the point where I didn’t have the balance that I needed to accommodate his needs so I quit,” she said, explaining the business is teaching Austin skills he will use throughout his life.

Ashley is back to work full-time, helping retirees with their investments. She makes her own schedule and said she works from home so she can be present for her kids.

Kenny, an electrician and president of IBEW Local 64, said the business has helped Austin expand his creativity and improve his dexterity.

“He’s more hands-on with a lot of stuff,” Kenny said. “He’s definitely come a long way with working with his hands.”

Ashley’s mom, Donna Salinsky, was a woodworker, cutting everything by hand. She passed away in 2018, so the family pitched in to work the Christmas in the Woods show in Columbiana, where she planned to sell her work.

That sparked the idea for the business, which is run out of the family’s garage. They take orders for custom designs, but also make Christmas decor, Youngstown signs and other items for Youngstown Flea shows.

“Our goal is that one day (the kids) take this over,” Ashley said of the business.

Austin, who wants to be an engineer or scientist, once struggled with fine and gross motor skills, but Ashley said working with his hands, along with therapy, has done wonders.

“I like using my hands and building stuff,” Austin said, explaining he wants to build a dog house this summer. “I also like to stain wood.”

Austin loves nature, the color yellow, visiting Florida and the No. 12 meal at Tequila Jalisco in Canfield. He also participates in the Archery for Autism program at On Target in Canfield, where he is a member of the archery team.

In the summer, Austin volunteers as a helper at Hilltop Elementary School, where he assists head custodian Bruce Ware, preparing the building for the upcoming school year.

He helps with wiping down tables and desks, cleaning and making repairs.

“I call him the foreman,” Ware said. “He has his own set of keys.”

Ware said the two sat together for lunch for two years and that they formed a bond during their time together.

“He’s just a great kid and I love him,” Ware said. “He’s always welcome here.”

Changes in Austin’s schedule can throw off his day, but Ashley said they try to put him in as many uncomfortable situations as possible to help him adapt to the world.

The family’s weekly schedule is posted on a whiteboard in the kitchen, and Ashley said day-to-day life is “a well-oiled machine.”

Noise and social situations can also trigger Austin, but Ashley said therapy, counseling and tutoring have helped tremendously.

The family chooses a new travel destination each year and lets Austin choose the route, using maps to guide them.

Ashley said Austin, a high-honors student, favors math and science but struggled to read until recently.

“He’s made huge gains this year,” she said, explaining she was told when Austin was a baby he may never learn the alphabet or read fluently.

“Our focus has always been … if Austin can’t read words, we want him to be able to read the world around him,” she added.

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