In our daughter’s case, her life is being managed by the agency Ability Beyond (formerly Ability Beyond Disability), which provides staffing and handles disbursement of her entitlements for rent, food, vocational training, and social programming. Three of her buddies from Riverview School, a special education boarding school located on Cape Cod, share a home that was set up by two of the moms in conjunction with government agencies in Massachusetts; as with my daughter, the young women live in a cozy home and are busy with jobs and social activities. Some of our daughter’s public school friends who remained in the area now attend the same day program as our daughter, have jobs, and are living in their parents’ homes while awaiting residential opportunities. A former camp friend lives in his own apartment with minimal supervision and works in a local supermarket. Several of our daughter’s former classmates attend specialized academic programs on college campuses for students with challenges. Another lives independently within a large supervised complex in California and travels back and forth to a job on her own.
Rich in Difference
Years ago, when I was a special needs parent on the front lines and all was unknown (and what was known was harrowing), the idea that our daughter’s life would never morph into a ‘normal’ one slowly, slowly, began to lose its ominous significance as we journeyed forward. And the idea of her future as a void...well, that was an unacceptable possibility. I simply had to grasp onto a possibility of some independence for her; the knowledge of that possibility was and remains a defining element of my existence.
Despite all my determination to pound out a safe and satisfying adulthood for our daughter, it was ultimately surprising and humorous how unprepared I was for the reality: I became the mother of a young adult with special needs who was no longer under momma’s wing, enjoying her life 15 minutes due west. It didn’t take long, though, for me to happily make the adjustment.
If you are a parent still hoping to raise your child of difference out of difference, then my story may be disturbing, discouraging, or worthy of dismissal. But if you are a parent who is raising a child with the potential or likelihood to be as rich in difference as possible, then you will take heart in knowing how our story, and the stories of many of our friends, have taken shape.
Every child’s future is unknown. A child of difference has a future that is more reliant on parental management and vision. Your child’s crystal ball will eventually be filled up with swirling colors, and together you will see an image of a safe, joyful, and satisfying adulthood emerge. We got there. You will too. Good luck in your journey.
Jill Edelman, a mother of two grown children, is a licensed clinical social worker, psychoanalyst, and couples therapist in Redding, CT. The author of This Crazy Quilt: Parenting Adult Special Needs One Day At a Time, Edelman blogs at parentingadultspecialneeds.com.