October 31, 2022

Elliot Handin is a fighter. Diagnosed with leukemia at just three months old, Elliot beat the odds, defied his doctors’ grim diagnoses, and is now a thriving 17-year-old student in NECC’s residential program.

 After a near three-year battle with an aggressive form of infant leukemia, Elliot’s parents watched as his language skills disappeared and his behavior deteriorated. A neuropsychologist diagnosed Elliot with autism at the tender age of three.   

“We had been desperately searching for the best school we could find after we learned that Elliot was on the more severe end of the autism spectrum,” shared his mother, Stephanie Carlin. “I remember sleepless nights awaiting word about his acceptance to the NECC preschool program and the enormous relief I felt when I got the call with the good news.”

Elliot joined NECC 14 years ago, first in the preschool program, followed by instruction in an NECC Partner Classroom for some of his elementary school years, before moving into the residential program in 2016 at age 11—an incredibly difficult decision for Stephanie and her husband, David Handin.

“Here we were again with Elliot, facing a different kind of critical decision,” said Stephanie. “He had been making minimal progress on his IEP, his behavior at home was deteriorating and we were running out of therapists and specialists to meet his needs. To say that making the decision to transition Elliot to the residential program was excruciating is an understatement. In retrospect, I think David and I dug back into that same resolve we had when Elliot was a tiny baby heroically facing aggressive leukemia. How can we give this kid a chance at his best life? The answer to that was not complicated though it was emotionally painful.”

Stephanie and ElliotAccording to Stephanie, Elliot’s progress over the last six years in the residential program has been dramatic. While he remains mostly non-verbal, he has gained access to significantly more language through the use of his AAC device and vocal approximations. His behavioral challenges have steadily declined and his independence in daily life skills has improved beyond expectation.

“The most remarkable improvement we have seen is Elliot’s ability to understand and relate to the world around him,” she shared, adding that he now acknowledges and smiles at his two younger siblings (Bryce, 14, and Vera, 11) and parents, and can even have short conversations about their plans during home visits. “We credit the remarkable work done at NECC and cannot wait to see what’s next for Elliot.”

Supporting NECC has been a top priority for the Carlin-Handin family as a sign of appreciation for all NECC has done for their family. Over the last several years, they have raised more than $21,000 for the Center. For the last five summers, Stephanie has run the Falmouth Road Race as a member of Team NECC, raising more than $2,000 each year. They also attend the annual Children of Promise gala, participate in the annual 5k Walk/Run for Autism each spring, and volunteer at staff appreciation events as much as possible. 

“In February 2021, when Elliot’s leukemia returned completely unexpectedly, NECC stepped up to help us in ways for which we will be forever grateful,” said Stephanie. “The care the entire team extended to Elliot and our family during one of the darkest moments of our lives was incredible.”

When his colleagues generously reached out to help during this medical crisis David suggested they donate to NECC.

“I think it is easy to understand why David and I feel so committed to supporting NECC. The entire team works tirelessly to create stability and safety while exposing each child to the best educational opportunities possible,” said Stephanie. “We are proud of what we have been able to give back to a school that has changed the course of our lives.”

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Insight. Read the full issue here.