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All in for Tim: Pioneering parents brought autism awareness, education to NH

By Adam Urqhart - Staff Writer | Feb 11, 2018

Staff photo by Adam Urqhart From left to right, Dave and Louise Hackett and their son, Tim, stand together at Tim’s 50th birthday party in December 2017.

On Christmas Eve 1967, Dave and Louise Hackett, of Merrimack, welcomed a baby boy into the world, Tim.

Tim has autism. During a time when no one really knew too much about autism, the couple paved the way for autism awareness and education in New Hampshire. The two of them pioneered in doing so during a time when there were no area agencies, no special education programs and doctors knew very little about the disorder.

Paving the way toward a career path

“We had the opportunity in 1972 to go to the second annual National Autism Conference. We went with her (Louise’s) mother, because she found the information, and we realized other kids were out there like Tim and (there were) programs for kids like him,” Dave said.

(In 1975 Public Law 94-142 was passed, guaranteeing a free appropriate public education to each child with a disability.

The Hacketts were two of the founding members of the New Hampshire Society for Children and Adults with Autism, which also was created in the early 1970s.)

At that time, Tim was 4 years old, and the two of them came back with information that would not only benefit their son, but also help the school he was attending.

Following their return from the conference, Louise made countless phone calls and learned of a program in Lawrence, Mass., that catered to children who had autistic tendencies. For two years, she drove Tim to Lawrence to that school.

“It was a small program that happened to meet in Methuen in a residential school, but was sponsored through the Lawrence School District,” Louise said.

Dave was a teacher in the Merrimack School District from the time Tim was about to be born until 1999. While teaching, he joined area boards and councils, including Gateways Community Services’ board of directors.

Prior to Dave and Louise forming their own chapter of the National Autism Society – the New England Regional Autism Conference, which was formed more than 30 years ago – Louise joined the group’s board of directors and coordinated its conferences. The couple would share what they learned from the conferences with local schools and, by the 1980s, the Merrimack Special Education program was considered one of the best in New England.

“When we started our organization, we had to beat the bushes to find six people in the state. Now, we have like six people on our street. It’s grown since the start,” Louise said.

The couple stepped away from the organization in the 1980s, handing over the reigns to colleagues.

Tim’s Struggles

From age 6 on, Tim was in public school, at least for part of the day, where he went into a variety of programs.

“At the time, I was involved in the PLUS Company. It was kind of the most outstanding program in town at that point, in the Nashua area. Most of the kids that went there had gone to Mount Hope School, which was here in Nashua,” Dave said.

(The Mount Hope School was a private school for children with developmental disabilities. Upon completing their studies at Mount Hope, students attended workshops with at The PLUS Company, Inc.)

Tim was disruptive, had odd sleeping patterns and would get angry as a child. Dave recalled a time when he and Tim were standing in line at the grocery store.

“He was getting fussy, because he wanted to leave the store. I heard someone a couple lines over tell their kid, ‘don’t you be like that bad child over there,’ ” Dave said.

Of the incident, Louise said, “That was one more story for us. We didn’t get offended too easily.”

The mid-1970s was a busy time for the Hacketts. The Louise gave birth to the couple’s second child, a girl, and Dave became involved with Gateways Community Services’ board of directors. He helped hire Sandy Pelletier, the current CEO and president of the organization.

“Sandy was one of the four original case managers in the state. She was fresh out of college when we hired her,” Dave said.

In 1980, the Hacketts helped form a social group for teens with developmental disabilities in Merrimack – Merrimack Friars, which is still in operation today.

“It’s a social group, and we also started doing Special Olympics sports. At our height, we had swim teams of 25 people, cross country, skiing, track and field … and it was run by parents,” Louise said.

Dave’s time at Gateways

Dave began running Gateways’ Parent to Parent program in 2000.

“It’s a program that started out in Kansas for parents who had just received a diagnosis and didn’t know much of anything regarding what they’re dealing with, so they could talk to another parent who had maybe gone the same route a couple years before,” Dave said.

The program was quite successful here in New Hampshire.

“It kind of morphed into what we have today, which is the whole legislative organization,” Dave said. “There are legislative liaisons in most of the regions of the state. There’s 10 regions, and I think they’re eight or nine legislative liaisons, and their job is to get the word out to parents and let them know what’s going on at the state level in Legislature and how it might affect them.”

Also, during his time at Gateways, the whole concept of managed care came into play.

“The managed care thing came in, and it seemed some of our legislators had heard about it from other states and thought it would be a great idea for New Hampshire. So, I spent the entire summer reading everything I could get my hands on about managed care,” he said.

He then spent time advocating with parents, and with state agencies so parents could give their opinions on what they thought of the whole idea of managed care.

“We were trying to perhaps massage it in some way, so it would be something that would work with the system we spent 30 years building here in New Hampshire,” Dave said. “Right now, acute care in New Hampshire for those people who have developmental disabilities is under managed care, as most care is anyway.”

Dave said he enjoyed his time at Gateways, especially when he could help local parents.

“Families knew he was there and had access to information that might help them,” Louise said. “He would call them out of the blue and get information for them so they could do what they needed to do.”

Dave retired on Dec. 28, 2017 and Pelletier spoke highly of him.

“I am privileged to have had Dave by my side for most of my career. He taught me that parents advocate in partnership with policy makers can make significant changes in our system. He and Louise paved the way for individuals with disabilities right to live inclusive, meaningful lives in our communities,” Pelletier said.

Although retired, Dave remains active in the community, serving on the board of New Hampshire Challenge, a newspaper that covers disability-related issues and he’s the parent coordinator for the New Hampshire Family Support Conference.

“One thing I’m planning on doing, probably (in) a couple days when Gateways does get my replacement, is going in and spend a little time training and taking them around to show them who the players are,” Dave said.

The family celebrated Tim’s 50th birthday in December and threw him a big party with relatives and friends. Tim’s been living with the same family for 20 years in Merrimack and he calls his parents twice a day.

“Those people treat him like he’s part of their family and it’s been incredible,” Louise said.

“It certainly has made our lives quite interesting,” Dave added. “He has said when he turns 65 he’s going to retire and live at the beach.”

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206 or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.


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