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The Journey to Independence
December 4, 2014
The Journey to Independence

JF&CS News Fall 2014

Shayna and MikeThe job of any parent is to help our children grow and develop so one day they will go out into the world on their own. But for children with autism and the parents who love them, the journey to independence can be challenging and uncertain.

That was the experience for JF&CS client Mike and his family. Mike’s parents wanted him to grow up learning about himself and the world around him. With guidance from educational advocates and the support of his family, Mike attended school, graduated, and eventually earned an associate’s degree.

Mike’s mother says, “Mike had gone through a time of real growth, and we all agreed that it was time to start thinking about how he could live on his own.” The problem was that they didn’t know how to make that happen. She continues, “For most of his life, Mike had access to advocates who could help us meet his needs. But now that Mike was ready to live independently, we didn’t know where to turn. We felt very lost and alone in the process.”

That’s when Mike’s mother turned to JF&CS. Here she found the resources to put Mike on a path  to independence.

The JF&CS Adult Autism Program
Mike began to work with social worker Shayna Fel when he enrolled in the JF&CS Adult Autism Program. Shayna emphasizes, “The Adult Autism Program teaches clients how to live more independently. One of my roles is to act as a connector – connecting clients with the services they need so they are empowered to live with as much independence as they can manage.”

Initially, Shayna worked with Mike and his family to help find an apartment. But after getting to know Mike, Shayna suggested that he would benefit from living with other people. Shayna says, “Mike seemed like an ideal candidate for living in a community setting. Fortunately, JF&CS supported housing offers just this type of environment. Adults like Mike get to live independently, while still enjoying the support and benefits that come from living with others.” Mike and his family agreed. In April 2013, Mike moved into a group home where he lives with seven other men. Though they all live together, each resident has his own room.

Mike’s face lights up when he talks about having his own room, but he also notes that being a part of a community is one of his favorite things about the house. “What is nice about where I live is that I can spend time with other people, but it’s okay to be in my room, too. I like having the choice.”

Empowerment Through Coaching
Shayna continues to serve as a coach for Mike, meeting weekly to discuss specific tasks to work on. Mike is currently focusing on searching for a job, bettering his health, and improving his communication skills.

To support his employment goals, Shayna connected Mike to the JF&CS Pathways to Employment program, a service that helps people with disabilities gain the skills they need to be successful at work. Mike and his career counselor recently met to hone Mike’s interview skills. Mike notes, “I am learning how to talk about my strengths and weaknesses. I need to give them enough information – but not too much!”

Shayna connected Mike to programs that support his goals of health and fitness. Through JF&CS Nutrition Services, Mike worked with a registered dietitian to learn healthy eating habits. Due to Mike’s newfound independence, he has improved how he chooses, prepares, and enjoys food whether at home or out and about. Shayna also guided Mike in his efforts to find a fitness trainer who created a workout routine that he faithfully follows three times a week.

A Happy Future
Mike’s mother is very pleased with the program and the difference it has made in her son’s life. “Like any parent, I worry about the day when I am not here to care for Mike. But when I hear about the work he is doing with Shayna, and see how he is thriving where he lives, I feel much more confident about the future.”

This summer, Mike took a break from his busy schedule to go on a JF&CS sponsored camping trip. Mike enjoyed caring for the llamas, feeding the pigs, and making and beating his own drum in a drum circle. Of all the activities, the camp talent show was his favorite. He says, “One of my favorite singers is Bobby McFerrin. I like him because he doesn’t use instruments and he keeps time his own way by thumping on his chest. So that’s what I did at the talent show, I kept time my own way.”

And the song Mike sang at the Talent Show?

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

In honor of our 150th anniversary, JF&CS published a special 150th anniversary newsletter. View a PDF of the entire newsletter online.

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