Whenever Jocelyn Flashinski was coming over for therapy, young Mario Martinez, who is autistic, would wait impatiently for her.
“He would sit at the window or the door. He would recognize her car. He would say ‘Jocelyn’s coming today,’” said the now 9-year-old boy’s father, Jesse Martinez of Milwaukee.
Martinez paused to stifle tears Tuesday as he talked about the Wauwatosa woman who became more than just a therapist to his young son, and who had known Mario since he “was in Pampers.” When she met Mario, he couldn’t talk.
“He was afraid of the wind when the trees would move. She got him past that,” Martinez said. “I told her, ‘Thank you for giving us back our son. Thank you for letting us know who Mario is. I think it was just the confidence she gave to him, repeating things over and over. She would never give up.”
Now Martinez and other friends and co-workers of Flashinski are struggling to understand how a woman who helped others truly live, and who never gave up on autistic children even when others had, could have somehow given up on herself.
“Maybe God needed someone to take care of the kids, needed some help,” Martinez said, voice faltering, as he pondered how and when to tell his son that Jocelyn wasn’t coming over again anymore — in fact, even though Mario was no longer her client, she had called the boy just a couple of weeks ago to see how he was doing. “When Mario heard her voice on the phone, he said, ‘That’s my Jocelyn,’” Martinez said. She was scheduled to take him to play glow-in-the-dark golf at a local mall this Wednesday.
This time, though, her car won’t come. Flashinski, 32, died on Friday when she ran into the path of an Amtrak Hiawatha train in Caledonia. Police believe the death was self-inflicted. The train was traveling from Milwaukee to Chicago.
She was the daughter of Stan and Linda Flashinski of Caledonia. In a story from the Racine Journal Times, Linda said Jocelyn "...will be remembered 'for her generous, joyful and precious spirit. Our loss is beyond any words.'” According to the family’s obituary for Jocelyn, she was “a sweet, smart and beautiful young woman who everyone knew by her happy smile, her big eyes and her warm heart.” She had a new home and loved to read, the family wrote.
Her funeral will be Thursday at 6 p.m. with the Rev. Tony Larsen officiating at the Maresh-Meredith & Acklam Funeral Home, 803 Main St., in Racine. Visitation will be at the funeral home from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial donations can be made to Olympia Brown Church, 625 College Ave., in Racine, or to the Jocelyn Flashinski Autism Memorial Fund, to be used for the education of those with autism spectrum disorder.
'She was so positive'
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Flashinski turned to working with children with autism spectrum disorders.
Dr. J. Jeffrey Crisco, the director of Pediatric Psychology Associates, LLC and, Autism Behavioral Network (ABN), 3636 N. 124th St., gave Flashinski her first job in 2002 working with autistic children at the network when she was still a student at UW-Milwaukee. She needed to work with children or animals as a class project. She chose children. She had such a knack with the youth that he hired her and soon promoted her to a supervisory role. They worked together for 11 years.
She worked with him until last year, when he slowed down his involvement in the practice due to age, and she left for another program working with autistic children.
“She was gentle. She was kind,” Dr. Crisco said, his voice also breaking up. “When she arrived it was almost like the kids knew their life would get better. She was so positive.”
The Wauwatosa program provides intensive in-home treatment for autistic children, providing 30-35 hours per week of therapy for the children on “skill development and development of communication," Crisco said. "About half of the kids are non-verbal and need adaptive behavior skills like toilet training, teeth brushing, eating and language.”
Autistic children sometimes “scream or holler,” Crisco said. "But she knew how to interact with them. She knew how to motivate them. It was hard for other people to do. We moved her up to the senior staff level after about two years, and put her in our mentoring program where she would run a team.” Eventually, Jocelyn had 7-8 teams.
Deeply committed to her kids
She would sometimes call Crisco at 11 p.m. about clients. Martinez also said that Jocelyn’s life seemed consumed by work, noting, “she lived her life for her clients, her kids. Her clients were her kids. If a blizzard came, she was still here. Nothing kept her from her work.”
The Martinez family came to trust Jocelyn so much with Mario that she was the only person they allowed to take him without his parents, except for a grandmother.
“When she arrived it was almost like the kids knew their life would get better. She was so positive.”
Crisco said Jocelyn was a natural at working with the children. “She could defuse a situation quickly by getting down on her knees, facing a child, and saying, ‘you need to come’, and the child would come,” he said. “Meltdowns are common among the kids we see.”
She was also fun, and the children perceived that, Crisco recalled. For example, the therapists would show autistic children pictures to teach them language skills. Jocelyn would always include a flamingo.
“I would tell her, 'Jocelyn, they don’t need to know what a flamingo is,' and she would say, 'Maybe they will go to the zoo someday.'”
Crisco’s voice faltered again, as memories washed over him. He had closed down his Facebook account and just reopened it; he found a Facebook request from Jocelyn the day after she died.
She never thought she was good enough, he said, “but she was.” And she would get frustrated easily sometimes. Crisco is getting calls now from families, distraught and wondering what to tell their children because Jocelyn maintained contact with families even when therapy was done. It wasn't just Mario Martinez. It was many.
“Part of me thinks, ‘Oh, Jocelyn, why didn’t you come talk to us?’ It’s tragic," says Crisco. "When I got through the shock part, I was mad as hell. I wanted to say to her, ‘Don’t you realize how much we miss you and what you had to contribute? How many lives you affected, in a positive way? Your memory will ripple on forever; the way you shaped other adults to be like you will be passed on.”