Advocacy is key to making sure that young adults with disabilities are successful in their lives. This starts early on in the IEP’s, finding the right insurance, doctors, medications, therapists, social services and continues on into employment. The dream is for these adults to have as many life experiences as possible and to ensure that they are empowered to become more independent.
One of the things that is important to keep in mind is the necessity of these newly emerging adults to get out into the community. The transition years from ages 14 through 25 can be some of the most vital in forming how the person develops and sees the value of being part of their community. Parents and support staff will have to let go of their fear. This isn’t an easy process to be sure, however, it is necessary for the young adult to learn, do and possibly make mistakes in order for lessons to be learned. This is sometimes the best way to make sure that the lessons take root and help the person become confident in themselves and their own abilities. Ultimately the goal of any parent regardless of their child’s ability is for the child to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible. Finding other parents who you admire and have already taken this journey could be helpful in guiding you and your adult child toward success.
One way of assisting your child is to make sure that s/he gets out and participates in life – be it school, extra-curricular activities, outside sports organizations, volunteering, working – anything that will have the person interacting with others in their community. Get creative, sign your young person up for a sport, choir, community art class, or acting troupe. What are the person’s interests? Check out your local city’s parks and recreation offerings, the local United Way for volunteer opportunities or the nearest community college for entry-level classes that might be of interest. Help your child to learn how to traverse the local transit system, which will give him or her the freedom to manuver within the community, on their own.
Know that this transition period isn’t just for your young adult, but for you as well. You will need to learn all you can about adult systems. This isn’t going to be easy and at times not so enjoyable, but highly necessary. You will need to connect with Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Home and Community Based Services (Full Access Brokerage and Mentor Oregon – here in Eugene), Social Security, and Medicaid. You can also be referred to benefits counseling (WIN) to learn how SSI or SSDI benefits are affected by earning a living wage. It is best to learn everything that you can to determine the best course of action needed for your young adult. Try not to limit your son or daughter based on something you heard elsewhere, it’s best to get the facts that pertain to your child and plan accordingly. I have adapted a Planning for the Future Checklist I found (from 21 and Able) for the Eugene/Springfield area that might be useful in this process.
Another important aspect of becoming more independent is encouraging your young adult to procure a part-time job, volunteer or take part in an internship program (like ProjectSEARCH) where s/he can gain skills and experience, not to mention build their resume. It has been found that high school students who have paid, competitive employment while still in high school (just like any other typical high school student) are 2.5 times more likely to work after high school. Parents and support staff can help the process of gaining employment by having your young adult help with daily chores, getting paid around the house and neighborhood for helping with odd jobs, participating in volunteer projects, and creating and securing internships with real responsibilities. Paid employment is the first step towards lifelong employment. Since adults are motivated by money for things we want therefore they require a steady income to meet their basic needs. Learning this lesson early is important for the young adult to understand what will be expected of him/her as well as learn how to be responsible.
I will end with where we started – Advocacy. Understand that just getting a job may not be enough. Your young adult may need a job coach or other supports to get started. While your son or daughter should learn to advocate on their own behalf to get what they need from schools, employers, and local or state agencies, sometimes you may need to continue to advocate on your child’s behalf. (At this juncture you may consider having your child participate in their own advocacy). You may even consider advocating to change the system, finding out what state initiatives need your support.
Parenting isn’t easy and being a parent of a young adult with developmental disabilities will involve a learning curve as well as the stamina to continue to forge ahead putting in place the pieces needed to ensure that your child will have what s/he needs to live an empowering, successful, independent and fulfilling life.