Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

HOPE FUND; Friendships Few as Man Struggles with Disabilities despite Asperger's Syndrome and Other Problems, He's Determined to Better Himself

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

HOPE FUND; Friendships Few as Man Struggles with Disabilities despite Asperger's Syndrome and Other Problems, He's Determined to Better Himself

Article excerpt

Byline: Kelsey Oates

Joseph Lavallee, 57, has struggled with short-term memory loss and Asperger's syndrome all of his life.

Although Lavallee was able to work as a mason for many years, the Jacksonville resident now cannot hold a job. He's been homeless numerous times.

Lavallee, who often finds himself alone, now has his own small apartment. He has no relatives nearby to help him - and while he is a gentle man who smiles and jokes easily, his disabilities make it difficult for him to develop lasting friendships.

James Freeman, a caretaker from the local Agency for Persons with Disabilities, helps Lavallee remember his daily tasks and meets with him four days a week. "I see him more than anyone in his life," Freeman said.

"Yet he still can't remember my name."

The daily challenges in Lavallee's life affect him in numerous ways - and in the smallest ways.

He likes to walk his neighborhood, often stopping at local stores or restaurants. However, simply because Lavallee's mannerisms may unnerve some people around him, managers and owners of store and restaurants sometimes ask him to leave. Due to his issues with short-term memory loss, he often can't remember those incidents - and returns to those establishments.

Freeman said he often visits the businesses to explain the reason for Lavallee's mannerisms. That usually resolves any problems, the caretaker said.

What makes Lavallee's memory problems all the more wrenching is that despite various neurological tests, doctors have never been able to completely pinpoint the cause, said Elise Perkins, Lavallee's legal guardian and friend.

"It's frustrating," said Perkins, who visits Lavallee weekly. "I want to be able to give him so much more. And I would if I could."

Perkins said Lavallee grew up in a small Connecticut town, and had a troubled childhood. …

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