Monday, February 7, 2011

Oh no, it's the 7th already!

I so enjoy being a monthly contributor to Hopeful Parents.  The depth of talent of my fellow writers is truly awesome.  Each entry is a unique expression, and the moving stories I read each and every day never cease to impress upon me how fortunate I am to be included with such an amazing group of writers.  Christina Shaver is our founder, and she has done an amazing job creating this wonderful site.  I'm sure everyone the entire Hopeful Parents community feels the same.

The 7th of each month is my date to post, and it's something I put a lot of effort into because I know the excellent quality of work that is posted each day and I don't want to disappoint.  But this month, lots of great stuff is happening in my life, so I kind of let the 7th happen without the necessary preparation. 

What's really excellent is my new job as the Director of the Long Beach site for the College Intership Program.  It truly is a job come true and something that just sort of happened.  Here's the website link if you'd like to learn more information.

CIP is a comprehensive support program for young adults with Asperbergers and learning differences (we don't refer to it as a disability) that includes a residential component, vocational and academic support, and life skills instruction.  It also targets their needs for health & wellness which means getting them to eat right and excercise as well as participating in weekend activites so they get out of their rooms and get into the community with their peers.  The components of each student's program are specifally tailored to that student according to what he or she needs.   As a parent with a young man who will be graduating from high school in two years, I have a lot of concerns how he'll to transition from teenager to productive and happy adult.  I think CIP will be an excellent program that will help him make this transition.

I'm well aware of the challenges faced by our young adults on the spectrum.  An overwhelming majority do not transtion into to happy, successful, and productive members of their communities.  Many are not employed and do not live independently (which go hand in hand - if you can't work, you can't afford rent, utitlies or food), and they do not have a network of close friends and personal relationships.  This is true across the board, no matter what the family's economic status or the quality or the amount of support services that they have received throughout their lives.  There is a limited amount of reseach in this area, but the results of these studies are consistent:  a large majority of young adults with autism are living unhappy lives isolated from peers lacking meaningful employment that allows them to live indendently.  As a parent of a 17 year old with high funciton autism (a term a really dislike because it tells you nothing about the functioning leave of my son, but I use it for lack of a better word), this fact scares me beyond belief each and every time I think about it. 

I am President of the Autism Society of Los Angeles, and the issue of transition for young adults on the autism spectrum is something we've been working.  We had a conference last year called "Plan and Prepare" and it covered every issue facing our kids including residential options, post-secondary education, safety, legal issues, and more.  Over 400 people attended, mostly parents of teenagers and young adults on the spectrum, and the response from the participants was overwhelming - they didn't know what to do or where to go for services for their child, and they were frightned to think what the future might be.  Though they left more informed after the conference, they still had many questions about what they needed to do for their child.

So, my new job is something I am excited about beyond words.  It is a much needed resource for our community, and it can give parents hope that there is a place for their young adult child that can help him or her achieve a happy and fulfilling life.  Over 50% of the hits to the CIP website came from Southern California which is why we're starting this program in Long Beach.  And it's a perfect site for our students:  Long Beach has an extensive public transportation, something rare in Southern California.  This week, we selected a site that is easily accessilbe to both Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College and has a beautiful Archwood apartment complex just a short walking-distance away where our students will reside matched with a roommate.  It also has groceries, retail, banking, and pharmacies within blocks.  I just need to find the students, though I don't think this will be an issue knowing the need for a program like CIP.  I also need to find an amazing staff that has the commitment and excitement to be working with our students.   I know that the quality of the program will depend on having a staff that is talented enough to meet the needs of our population.  It's a huge job, but I'm very happy to have been choosen for the challenge.   

I have a lot of work ahead of me in setting up our program, but I completely believe in the mission of CIP.  I only hope that Jacob willl find the same opportunity in his life, to secure a job that combines his passions and his abilities as well as serving his community in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling.

Time will tell, but I'm a hopeful parent that he will.