Travis Leonard Cahen
November 1990 - March 2021
In November 1990 at San Francisco's Children's Hospital, Travis was born to Murray Cahen and Jane LaPides, joining his big sister, Molly Cahen and later welcoming his younger sibling, Addie Cahen. Travis was a third generation San Franciscan, following in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather, Leonard S. Cahen. This February, Travis's nephew became the fourth generation of San Francisco born Cahens. While Travis didn't get the chance to meet his nephew, he was excited about his sister's pregnancy and suggested naming the baby "Michelle" after Full House's Michelle Tanner - another beloved San Franciscan.
Travis's San Francisco spirit shone as bright as his fiery red hair throughout his life. As an Autistic child, Travis developed routines around the city, many of which he carried on as an Autistic adult. He loved attending Giants games and proudly proclaimed Barry Bonds his favorite player well after the homerun king retired. He followed the Museé Mecanique from the Cliff House to its new home at Fisherman's Wharf where he never missed a chance to see Sal laugh or test his strength against Uncle Fester's electrifying jolts. Travis - with the accompaniment of his loving, patient mother- may have been the only local to boast the status of weekly regular at the tourist-driven Pier 39. Travis was also well-versed in the Bay Area's arcades, bowling alleys and movie theaters. In the last eight years alone, Travis and his dad saw 400 films in the theater - the quality of which ranged from Black Panther to A Dog's Way Home. Travis spent summers and as many weekends as he could manage at his family's home in Sonoma. During this last year with the need to quarantine, Travis moved up to Sonoma full time. He got his wish of days spent enjoying the sensory peace of playing in his pebbles and cozy evenings spent watching The Simpsons and Star Wars.
Travis was an integral member of his extended family, which included cousins, aunts, uncles and his grandparents, Roni Cahen and Allene & Jerry LaPides. These loved ones enthusiastically joined Travis for his favorite activities whenever possible and spent many birthdays and holidays desperately trying to come up with a present that would captivate Travis's interest for more than two minutes.
Travis was supported by wonderful educators and caregivers throughout his life who met his unique needs and provided him with opportunities to learn, grow and thrive. His teachers at Tule Elk, Fairmount Elementary, A.P. Giannini Middle School and Oak Hill School helped Travis develop his life-skills alongside his academics. His lifelong Occupational Therapist, Gwen Wong, facilitated Travis's physical and emotional growth. She gave Travis thoughtful tools that allowed him to mature from an anxious child who needed to fill any moment of unstructured time with highly stimulating distractions, to a relaxed adult who could comfortably take pleasure in a wider range of activities, including leisurely meals at sit-down restaurants with his family. As a young child, Travis enjoyed enriching outings with Michelle Pereira and was nurtured at home by Luz Marina Chavez and later, Lucretia "Lucy" Ramos.
Though Travis never worked a job a day in his life, he had a tremendous impact on the world around him. Travis formed lasting relationships with people he met only briefly by sharing his routines with them and creating inside jokes that made everyone feel special. Travis demonstrated that you don't need the ability to detect nuanced animal behaviors or count a box of fallen toothpicks on sight for neurodiversity to be a tremendous strength. He inspired his older sister to share his story with friends, classmates and college seminars to bring a personal narrative to the label of Autism - but these myriad attempts to explain Travis's unique qualities could never accurately convey the deep bond she shared with her brother. His younger sibling got a tattoo of Travis's signature phrase, "And Then," which has sparked a conversation with everyone who reads it. Travis's life didn't only educate people about Autism, it brought an Autistic community together. Every Wednesday night for many years, a group of families with Autistic children and educators who work with Autistic students, has gathered together for dinner, drinks and a social scene where everyone is understood and welcomed for who they are. Please note that this gathering has been virtual since March 2020. Travis believed in science and would have encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.
In addition to his adoring family and these educational and social networks, Travis's life was defined by his relationship with Dillon Castleton. Dillon began working with Travis when he was five years old and remained by his side for the next twenty-five years. She worked with Travis in the classroom at all of his schools, took him for walks in Golden Gate Park with stops at the Academy of Sciences to take in the planetarium show or relive San Francisco's famous earthquakes, and brought Travis and his friend Eddie to the JCC where they begrudgingly endured the treadmill for the reward of a soak in the hot tub. As a young adult, Travis began living with Dillon a few nights a week as part of a transition plan for more independent living. Finding the right words to describe Dillon's role in Travis's life was always impossible until Travis found himself with a long term stay at the hospital in 2016. The whiteboard in his room informed hospital staff who would be present for Travis's care: Dad - Murray, Mom - Jane, and Parent #3 - Dillon.
While Travis always lived in San Francisco, his true home was in Anaheim. At Disneyland, Travis lit up in new ways. Throughout the year, he excitedly anticipated every detail of his family's annual Christmas-time trip. He would narrate each step of the vacation, from meeting his friend José at the airport, to the stop at Mainstreet's City Hall for his special assistance pass, to the first ride of the trip - which over the years changed from "it's a small world" to the Indiana Jones Adventure to ultimately, and somewhat perplexingly, the Jungle Cruise. No trip was complete without a breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen, where Travis posed for pictures with Minnie Mouse, waved his napkin in the air for the character-led dance party, and indulged in a ceremonial 9am ice cream cone. When we all remember Travis, we will remember him leaning on our shoulders in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle as fireworks light up his smiling face and the White Christmas snowflakes land in his hair.
In honor of Travis's life, please consider a donation to Support for Families of Children with Disabilities, www.supportforfamilies.org