Woman raising 2 autistic great-grandsons gets help with rent, bills

At 69, Beatrice Shaw is the legal guardian for her two autistic great-grandsons, ages 7 and 9. Even on a fixed income, she’s scrimped to meet their needs, renting a house to give each his own room; driving them to school, catechism and sports activities; and cooking meals tailored for their dietary needs. But after she was hospitalized for an abdominal infection two years ago, the bills piled up.

“We had been just surviving, but my operation caused us to fall behind,” she said.

The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing fund stepped in to pay one month’s rent and get her current on utility bills. The fund, the largest newspaper charity in the nation, provides temporary help for Bay Area residents facing unexpected life crises.

“Let me tell you, that was such a relief,” Shaw said. “Emotionally, the stress was so hard. Now I’m less stressed so the children are less stressed, too.”

A warm woman with striking cheekbones and a husky voice, Shaw is a stable maternal influence for both boys, who’ve been in her custody for six years while their parents struggle with substance abuse and fallout over brushes with the law.

Anthony, 7, is largely nonverbal. He communicates in grunts and groans, sometimes seeming greatly agitated. But he can point to pictures on an iPad autism app and on a homemade board to indicate that he wants an apple, for instance. And lately, he’s had a breakthrough.

“Anthony’s been more verbal in the past three weeks than in his whole life,” Shaw said proudly. His repertoire includes “eat,” “I want milk,” “in a minute” “bye,” “get off,” “stop it” and “mama” and “grandmama.”

Still, it’s an extra challenge to know what’s going on with him. “If he gets sick, he can’t tell me what hurts, so we end up making a lot of trips to Children’s Hospital,” she said. “I could drive there blindfolded if I had to.”

Boys’ interactions

Saul, 9, also called Junior, is higher functioning and may be able to attend mainstream school in a couple of years. He showed off intricate clay models of dinosaurs, snakes and monsters that he’d crafted, talking intently about their characteristics. “Saul likes to put things together and Anthony likes to take them apart,” Shaw said ruefully.

Shaw, who raised her own children as a single mother, is upbeat about wrangling two rambunctious boys at an age when most of her contemporaries are enjoying retirement. She subsists on her Social Security income from jobs in customer service, as a collections manager and as a real estate agent, plus government stipends for the boys. With both boys in school all day, she’s planning to return to work in real estate.

“You gotta hang in and do what you gotta do,” she said. “And I don’t know what I’d do without them. They are the loves of my life.”

No regrets

Her large Mexican American family, especially her brother, Andrew Montes, 80, are a blessing, she said. Montes is a frequent visitor to her modest Hayward home, sleeping over a few nights a week and taking each boy to spend time at his Oakland apartment — which gives Shaw a chance for a one-on-one “date night” with the other boy. Her son, the boys’ grandfather, watches them on Sunday afternoons to give her a break.

“I always think I’ll do something fun, but I just end up sleeping,” she said.

Shaw has no regrets about their modest existence. “It’s not fancy. We don’t go out to the movies. We don’t go out to dinner or take vacations,” she said. “I can’t even remember the last vacation I had. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. She can be reached by e-mail at csaid@sfchronicle.com.

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