The Runaway

*This story was originally written and submitted for my Reporting class. I thought to share this story on my blog because Lynn was the first person to freely open up to me about all aspects of her life. As a journalism student, I appreciate people who go out of their way to help someone out, in this case, me. There are people out there that will share their story with you, just keep interviewing :)*

Lynn Chayatanan takes her break at Stonestown Mall to visit old co-workers, and gets ready to drive to her next client’s house, where she will set goals with a child with Autism.

Lynn Chayatanan, 27, works for Class ABA, a company that provides behavioral therapy for children with Autism. She is a behavioral therapist and spends at least two hours each visit with the child, where she tries to get them to complete a goal, such as making eye contact without prompting with a toy or food. Chayatanan believes this is not a job for everyone because of how stressful it can be, but loves how rewarding the job is when she gets a child to say their name for the first time.

“You have these little victories that create a whole human being,” Chayatanan said proudly.

Chayatanan was born and raised in Pleasanton where her parents opened a restaurant, “Lux Thai Cuisine,” six months after she was born. By the age of seven, she worked side by side her parents and older brother at the restaurant. Despite looking like the picture perfect family that works together, there were problems at home, she always seemed to butt heads with her mother, her father was an alcoholic, and she said she also experienced physical abuse.

 

Chayatanan was always into fashion and cosplay, so she would make her own costumes and clothing, she really thought that was going to be what she went to college for. Her parents were always on her case about school because her brother was such a great student. She didn’t take school seriously, her parents feared she wouldn’t succeed.

In high school, Chayatanan’s mother encouraged her to take an AP course. Chayatanan took AP psychology because she thought it would be easy, but in the end fell in love with the subject. It was then she realized that she wanted to go to school for psychology.

In the summer of 2007, Chayatanan ran away from home with just $600 in her bank account. She had enough of the physical abuse that was going on at home, and was fed up with living there. She informed her family that she ran away by calling them on a “pay as you go” phone, and moved in with her boyfriend.

“This may sound cruel, but I had no fear of her not making it,” said her brother, Charlee Chayatanan. “There weren’t any doubts that she could make it.”

She decided to continue her education at Las Positas Community College in Livermore. Chayatanan couch surfed at different friends’ houses because the people she would live with couldn’t “grow up.” She said that they were stuck in the cosplay life and couldn’t take on responsibilities, and this caused her to lose interest in the cosplay scene.

Once Chayatanan was done with community college, she decided to commute to San Francisco State University and moved back in with her mother in Pleasanton. Chayatanan also picked up a barista job at Nordstrom in Stonestown Mall. By this time, her mother kicked her father out of the house, and not long after that, her father died in Thailand, and the family restaurant of 23 years closed down. All these factors made the already rocky relationship between mother and daughter a little harder.

“It was like walking on glass, not even eggshells,” Chayatanan said about moving back in with her mother.

After she graduated from San Francisco State in 2014, Chayatanan continued to work at Nordstrom where she was promised that if she stayed, she would be promoted to manager. She worked harder to get the manager position to the point where she felt overqualified, but it always seemed like she would get passed up for someone else. She thought she hit a dead end until her boss’s girlfriend asked her if she wanted to join the Class ABA Company, since she knew Chayatanan had a degree in psychology.

Now Chayatanan works as a behavioral therapist and has three Autistic children that she meets with every week. She sets up goals at each visit, and feels really accomplished when a child meets those goals.

One of Chayatanan’s greatest accomplishments was when she was at the mall waiting in line for the public restroom with a child she works with. The child looked Chayatanan in the eye and voiced that they had to use the bathroom, and even though they ended up having an accident, Chayatanan was proud that the child verbally communicated, step by step, what was going on.

Even though Chayatanan never expected to go to school for psychology, people that know her aren’t surprised.

“She’s extremely patient and expects a lot from people,” former coworker, Marie Obuhoff said. “She’s able to keep a cool head under pressure.”

It was Chayatanan’s journey that helped her realize what she wanted to do in her life. She remembers the days when she was a runaway and really needed help, and she’s happy that she can extended her help and services to children with Autism. It is bittersweet because she knows that the goal is for her not to be needed anymore once the child fulfills all the requirements.

“I’m basically a tool,” Chayatanan said. “I’ll help anyone who needs my help.”

All For You

Lee Ann graduated from SFSU with a Bachelors degree in Child Development in 2015. She has the most patients with children and has the biggest heart. All her former co workers could only tell me good things about her. She’s that kind of girl that nobody can ever speak ill about even if you tried. She has a heart of gold and a passion for learning.

She is now a pre school teacher and is working on getting her credentials. She is so relieved that all her hard work has paid off, saying that once you receive that diploma, everything you had to do to get to that point will be worth it. I congratulated her on all of her accomplishments and asked how her love life is and if there is someone special in her life.

Lee Ann told me that she didn’t have the normal “high school experience” like dating, going to parties, or being young and careless because she lost her father to ASL, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

“Losing my Dad really made me driven,” Lee Ann said. “I wanted to succeed for him. So I threw myself into school. And because of that I tried balancing work and school. It was also how I coped with grief. I somewhat pushed aside any kind of “social life”. The busier I was, the less I had to think. Education has always been so important to me. I’ve had a love for learning. The more I learned, the more experienced I felt. It gave me a sense of accomplishment.”

Education became Lee Ann’s main focus. It was her form of coping with the grief of losing her father. She told me how growing up she wasn’t involved in any sports or other activities. When I asked her why she told me that her father traveled a lot for work, but he would always come back home on the weekends. Her mom didn’t want to enroll Lee Ann in weekend activities because the weekend was a time for the family to be all together. She said she is happy that that’s how it was.

“The other reason I did that was so that I could focus on me,” Lee Ann said. “I was so unsure of myself and lacked confidence. If I wasn’t confident in myself how could I be supportive in a relationship? But now that school is done and I’ve reflected and grown a little bit of that confidence. There is one aspect that’s missing. I look forward to the future and being there for someone. I can’t wait to be a Mom and watch someone grow. Teach them and watch the world through their eyes.”

Now Lee Ann has accomplished what she wanted to do and now has a career. Next she will fulfill her next dream: to fall in love and start a family.