Louis Teller and Luke Dicker have never met. Teller is a psychotherapist with a practice in Holland. Dicker lives in Wiltshire, England, with his mother.
But the two share a bond that transcends geography, that connects them across the pond. They are both autistic.
So when Teller heard that Dicker’s condition was worsening, he sprung to action. He offered to treat Dicker for free, so long as Dicker could find a way to the United States. The thought of boarding an airplane proved gut-wrenching for Dicker, though.
Teller, a member of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, instead set up a crowdfunding page on youcaring.com to help Dicker’s mother, Jan Lane, pay for private therapy sessions. The page raised about $2,900, and Dicker got the help he needed.
“I consider he did save my son’s life,” Lane said.
Teller knew from a young age he was different, but had little recourse against bullying classmates and teachers who didn’t believe in him. At a conference to review his report card, Teller’s kindergarten teacher told his mom, Carol Cohen, that he would never succeed.
“I said, ‘How dare you say that? That’s very insensitive,’” Cohen recalled. “Because of that, he was always determined to go to college.”
Cohen knew her son stared at walls and was slow to pick up social cues. But he had a top-notch memory and a thirst for knowledge.
He graduated with honors from Northeast High School, then earned his bachelor’s degree from Temple University. From there, he earned a master’s degree from Fairfield University and, finally, a doctorate in psychology from Walden University.
Teller wanted to prove the doubters wrong, of course, but his motivation sprouted from a more earnest place. He wanted to help those who struggled with the things he did.
“To be a really good psychotherapist, you have to really care. You have to be genuine and have genuine care for your clients,” he said.
It helps that he has a natural sense for noticing autistic traits in others. It’s a phenomenon he’s experienced from the other side, too. Teller recalled a session with a client who has Asperger’s syndrome.
“He said, ‘Dr. Teller, when were you diagnosed?” Teller said.
He was looking for books that could be used as resources for his clients when he stumbled upon Lane’s book (published as Jan Greenman), Life at the Edge and Beyond: Living with ADHD and Asperger Syndrome. The book offers a glimpse into Lane’s parenting style, which calls for patience and understanding when it comes to dealing with people with autism, Teller said. He admired it.
Dicker’s autism manifested in extreme anxiety, and he tried to kill himself, she said. Lane wrote on Facebook about her frustrations with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, which didn’t have an available therapy session for eight months.
Teller, having exchanged Facebook messages with Lane about her book, felt a personal connection. He reached out, and not a moment too soon, Lane said.
“He had a complete and utter mental breakdown. He wanted to kill himself,” Lane said. “I literally was on 24/7 duty, taking knives from my son, watching him cut himself, smack his head on the floor. He literally had lost his mind.”
With the money Teller raised, Dicker had about 40 sessions with Neil Keenan, a psychotherapist specializing in treating autism, Lane said.
“He’s a genius,” Lane said of Keenan.
Instead of directly probing Dicker about his life, Keenan steered their conversations about how difficult life is for someone who’s not neurotypical. In a roundabout way, he prompted Dicker to share his experiences.
Dicker’s anxiety gradually subsided. He has been increasingly reclusive, though, and Lane wonders if a service dog might be helpful. Teller is ready to create another crowdfunding page if necessary.
In the meantime, he’s hoping to visit Dicker and Lane in Wiltshire. Lane is grateful for Teller’s generosity and wants to show him what her and Luke’s lives look like. And Teller wants to show them part of his.
“I was looking for a synagogue nearby,” Teller said.
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