By Debra Muzikar
I write this blog on the eve of my son Kevin’s 22nd birthday. For typical children there are certain ages that are milestones – age 5 – first day of Kindergarten – age 16 – driver’s license – age 18 – graduation from high school. This is no different for children with developmental disabilities except the age associated with an event may not be the same as for “typical” children … and some of these individuals may never drive, graduate from high school, let alone marry and have children. They have their own set of milestones that are to be celebrated unique to their own journeys.
For many adults with developmental disabilities age 22 is a milestone. For the last four years Kevin has participated in transition programs paid through school district services. Transition services are federally mandated for 18 – 21 years old young adults with “intellectual disabilities.” Their purpose is to provide young adults with opportunities to participate in vocational training and learn independent living skills (if they are capable of doing so). Transition services end at age 22.
The last four years of Kevin’s “transition” have been an odyssey – I’m sure as much for Kevin as his family. He started out in a loose transition program in his hometown (more like a babysitting service), he then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and spent over a year in a very structured and expensive transition program. Then he returned to California and has spent the last two years in a transition program hosted on a high school campus in Santee, California.
During his transition years Kevin has worked at a pizza parlor wiping tables and assembling boxes, has volunteered at a senior living facility setting tables and pouring water in their cafeteria, has worked at Walgreen’s scouring product cartons for expired dates and at a Burger Joint sweeping floors and busing tables. He has learned to do his own laundry and cook his own meals. He has his own debit card with which he buys incidentals and meals.
Kevin hasn’t lived at home since he was 19. In Ohio he lived in a dorm-like setting on the Monarch Autism Center campus. Since returning to California he resides in an adult residential facility (not to be confused with a group home which is for children). Living in Kevin’s home are five other adult men. Kevin is the youngest and the only one still receiving school district services. Two of his roommates have paid jobs and are able to navigate public transportation by themselves.
Kevin hasn’t learned yet how to take the bus by himself, nor does he drive, which makes him dependent on others for transportation.
So where does Kevin go from here?
Kevin has been interviewed for adult programs in San Diego County which is much like being interviewed for a job. We learned today that one program has rejected him because they don’t want to deal with an autistic adult who may have behavior issues.
“Autistic people are the hardest to place,” my friend who works in placing adults with developmental disabilities tells me. “The disability is characterized by behaviors but many places are not understanding of the behaviors that are hallmarks of the disability.”
Although Kevin is mild-mannered, he has and will always have “autistic” behaviors. This is why he has a diagnosis of autism. Autistic kids may be cute – adults are not as cute and can be scary – especially to people who are not informed.
When I learned of Kevin’s rejection, I immediately went into “mom” mode – searched the internet and sent his case manager other programs he can apply to.
“I want to work and make money,” Kevin says. Three of Kevin’s last four jobs have been paid.
As with all of Kevin’s transitions, this one will be yet another journey – probably more difficult for me than for him. I wish for Kevin what I wish for all my children – that he find fulfilling work, joy and meaning in his life. Kevin wants a job. He wants friends, and he especially would like a girlfriend. He wants to be accepted … Just like we all do.
On the eve of Kevin’s 22nd birthday, my wish is that Kevin’s wishes are granted.
Happy Birthday Kevin and thank you to my sister-in-law Mary for sending Kevin a birthday card with images of “Cheetohs” – he loved it!
Kevin has the gift of a family who cares. He also has a village that cares. It does take a village.
Kevin Hosseini is a young adult who found a way to communicate through his art. He is the inspiration for the Art of Autism project. His website is www.kevingallery.com. Debra Muzikar is co-founder of the Art of Autism.