This blog post is by Amy Landes
We’ve been preparing our 20-year-old son, Teddy to move from home since he was 10 years old. Not because he was difficult to live with-- he is mostly sweet, affectionate and agreeable—if a bit of a chow hound, requiring us to lock the refrigerator and hide the cookies. Something told us early on that a child, even one with autism, should not experience his or her whole life through the filter of parents.
The summer he was 10, we sent Ted to camp in the local mountains for five nights. In the ensuing years, we continued to send Ted until he aged out at age 15. Since Ted is mostly non-verbal, we could never ask him what he liked or disliked about camp. We believed it was important for his development to spend at least a few days away from home each year.
For school and summer vacations we would hire young men to be Teddy’s companion and get him out in the community-- like 1:1 day camp. This way, we were able to send Ted and his buddy on adventures tailored to Ted’s interests—hiking, swimming, riding his scooter, movies, exploring different parts of Los Angeles. We did this not only because I had to work, but because I felt that teenage boys are not meant to hang out with their mothers all summer.
We never gave much thought to Ted’s adult living situation until our friends found a group home for their autistic son, “Alex”. Alex is about five years older than Teddy, yet similar in skills and temperament—good-natured and mostly non-verbal. We watched with interest as Alex thrived in his new home. That’s when we decided we would do for Ted what our friends did for their son.
About three years ago, as Ted approached 18, I went to see Alex’s house. I had no idea what to expect of a group home. I drove up to a pleasant, suburban ranch house in a leafy neighborhood. As soon as walked in, I got it. The home reminded me of a fraternity house, only immaculately clean and not a keg in site. For the first time, I could imagine Ted’s life as a young adult living with peers. It was so normal!
Knowing it could take a year or two for Regional Center to find the right placement, I told Ted’s case manager that we were ready to start looking for a home for him. We prepared Ted by talking to him about living in his own home with friends.
Regional Center sent us to a couple of homes. The first didn’t have a space and the second, wasn’t the right fit. It took another year before Ted’s case manager found another home to check out. By that time, it was August of 2011.
We took Ted to see the house on a Saturday. By Monday we were committed and right after Labor Day, Ted moved in. From the start, he’s been very happy. Each of Ted’s five house mates has his own room with a full sized bed. Staff is on hand 24/7 to prepare meals, help with showering and administer meds. As a total coincidence, Ted knew two of the young men already from his Jewish social groups and they were great about showing Ted the ropes. The home is 10 minutes from our own.
We did this completely for Ted; to launch him into his adult life in a setting that is safe, meets all his needs and helps him become as independent as possible. The by-product is that Stan and I are beginning to get some of our life back. We’ve seen more movies in the last six months than we have in the last six years.
The real payoff was about two weeks into Ted’s living in the house. I lingered a little too long talking to the staff. Ted took me by the shoulders, steered me to the door and said, “Goodbye!”
I chuckled the whole five miles home.